The Truth About Hoppers
Want to really catch more fish with hoppers?Here's the low down on proper selection.
Last summer I had an elderly fellow come into my shop and he, like many others, began to recount his endless history about the flies he had once tied and the countless roosters to which he had survived taking "beatings" while he collected his "donations" from neighboring farms. These amusing stories are always funny to hear and guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. However, this gent was different.
After he completed his resume, he began to move about the shop studying the feathers which adorn the walls. Suddenly he stopped and looked in my direction.
"You're selling premium flies for a dollar apiece. Is that true?" He asked.
"Sure is," I answered proudly. I quickly added, "probably, much like yourself, I was tired of being overcharged by fly shops for most everything. So, when I opened up this place I decided that this shop would be different. That is why all of my flies this year are a dollar each. I'll also tell you what you need instead of just selling you hoppers".
The old man just looked at me for a second as though I struck some kind of nerve. He picked up a plastic cup and began to select several dozen flies. He was transfixed in his work. I could tell by the selection he was purchasing flies for his home waters. After several minutes he placed three individual cups in front of me.
"I owe you forty eight bucks," he said as he began to drag out his wallet. "At this price an old guy like me would be hard pressed to tie his own flies. Especially since I can barely see what I'm doing anymore." I took his money and as I handed him some change, he added, "these flies would have cost me over a hundred dollars in any shop "downtown". I don't see how you can do it."
"Well, I do raise the birds. Most people do not realize that," I said as I place the cups in a small bag. "You probably thought I was just another fly shop didn't you?" I asked.
The man thought for a second.
"I was wondering why your sign on Highway 89 had "and Fly Shop" in different colored letters." He then leaned closer to me as though he was divulging a secret and asked quietly, "Tell me. . . Doesn't the fact that you're selling flies at this price. . . doesn't it cut into your hackle sales?"
"Not at all," I answered as I placed a cold Coka-Cola on the counter before him. "Have a Coke. It's on the house... The answer is simple. Either you tie or you don't. It's that simple. I have anglers coming here from all over the world they're all the same. Some tie and others wouldn't dream of it. I guess it boils down to how much time you have... or dexterity."
The man nodded a thank you as he raised the cold can to his lips.
I then raised up my hand and displayed my fingers. " Do you see these stumpy Italian fingers?" I asked. "They can't tie Muddlers and Hair flies for nothing. It doesn't mean I don't fish with them."
As we politely began to discuss our family genetics, I looked out the window as another car drove up and parked in front of the shop. I recognized the car and knew it contained a neighbor and her fly fishing son. Within seconds the young boy, who was all of eleven or twelve, came quickly through the doorway. Upon seeing I was with a customer he went about his own business. He stepped before the fly display and gathered up several very specific flies. After a few seconds he turned and spoke to me.
"Hello Doc," he said and then he pointed to the soda cooler. (I have a thing about giving away free soda. Or for you in certain regions...pop. ) I nodded and he quickly retrieved an Orange soda. He greedily guzzled it down the way kids (in a hurry) do.
The old man was intrigued with what he was witnessing. As the boy paid for the five flies with a very crumpled five dollar bill the visitor asked the youngster, "so what are they biting on?"
"Not Hoppers," the lad answered with a big smile as he looked in my direction. "Are you fishing the river?" The youngster added.
The old man said he was planning to later that day.
"Try a tentwing or Goddard caddis later this afternoon. There will be a hatch coming off the water. Sorry , but I have to split. My Mom is meeting some people at Chico Hot Springs and she is in a big hurry. See you later Doc," he said as he quickly shot out of the shop.
Slowly the old man spun around to look at me. "The kid hates hoppers also," he said to continue our own conversation.
"He doesn't hate them. He learned and he understands what the fish really eat. He's not about to deceive you. He knows that you came here to simply catch some fish, take a picture or two and then leave." I finally had to ask, "so, where are you from?"
"New York. Upstate, near Utica."
"I take that you have been told to fish Hoppers?"
"Several times. . . I was beginning to think it was the instant solution for a big Montana trout," He said before he raised his can again to his mouth.
"Sometimes it is but not to the extent some anglers believe," I said as I sat myself down on a stool. "Visiting anglers see thousands of hoppers as the walk to the river so it seems logical that a hopper might work. Another reason they are offered up as a solution is that many novice anglers have a hard time seeing a #18 anything. But, tie a hopper on and they're good for hours of water whipping entertainment. Then, I must admit there is the financial aspect. Most visiting anglers are infatuated with hopper selections and naturally assume . . .a big fly means a bigger fish. Suprisingly the truth is; not too many of those hoppers which line the bank actually fall into the river. The big ones can fly from bank to bank."
"So what do you suggest I use?"
"Most of the standard flies you chose are good... but try something from this box," I said as I reached up and opened a box labeled "August / Yellowstone".
"What are you hiding the good ones?" the New Yorker said with Eastern charm.
"Not at all," I said as I laid the box before him. "I just narrowed down the selection. I can't hook them for you but I'll sure try to help you catch a dream. After all, you came a long way to hang a picture on a wall that is not just trees and mountains."
The box opened and he immediately saw a few hopper patterns. "You have hoppers in here," he said as he picked one up and studied it.
"Sure... but they're smaller then what is normally sold. I never said you couldn't use them. You just have to size them appropriately."
The old man returned several days later and proudly showed me a series of freshly processed photos. He had found his Yellowstone dream with tentwing caddis late in the afternoon. He's coming back for some fall fishing...
I sure do enjoy getting people into good fish... almost more then catching them myself. But, then again, I guess it's my job. So try small hoppers this season and you'll see (or feel) the difference.