A battle of the best hopper patterns
By Patrick Straub
EBS Fishing Columnist
Blessed with above average snowpack last winter, and now normal or slightly above-normal streamflows, our local trout are happy and hungry. And with the abundance of spring moisture and summer sunshine, the creation of ideal habitat for grasshoppers has emerged. When you add up the two parts you get prime conditions for trout eating grasshoppers.
Having success with grasshopper patterns is often easier said than done—late summer conditions can stack up against us as the prolonged days of bright sunshine cause water temps to often climb into the high 60s. However, armed with the right grasshopper pattern, you can beat the conditions and find success. Here’s eight of the best hopper patterns going head to head.
Stalcup’s Hopper versus the Panty Dropper Hopper. I first fished the Stalcup’s hopper back in the ‘90s on the Missouri River. Craig was a sleepy riverside hamlet with only one fly shop and a bar. These days the Panty Dropper is the more appropriate pattern for the epicenter of fly-fishing hipness. Both hoppers are easy to see with a chunk of orange foam on their backs. The Panty Dropper is appealing with its large foam legs and foam underwing, but once in the water, the sleekness of the tube legs and marabou feet of the Stalcup’s outperforms the sexier-sounding pattern. Winner: Stalcup’s Hopper.
Morrish Hopper versus Fat Frank. This is a battle of the legs. Both are easy to see—they’re hoppers, they should be—and feature an abundance of rubber legs. A Fat Frank will float a dropper nymph better, but this battle is about getting a fish to eat your hopper. The Morrish Hopper’s all-foam body and its loosey-goosey thin rubber legs provide life-like action while drifting down the river. Winner: Morrish Hopper.
Parachute Hopper versus Dave’s Hopper. A dog fight of the old school greats, the Dave’s Hopper and Parachute Hopper are tied without foam or rubber legs. With its spun deer-hair head the Dave’s Hopper looks buggier than the Parachute Hopper, but the Parachute Hopper doesn’t sit quite as high on the surface, which makes it a very successful pattern for trout who are selective in their hopper eating. The legs and wings are similar, but it’s the spun deer-hair head that makes the Dave’s Hopper so lifelike and thus so effective. Winner: Dave’s Hopper.
Chubby Chernobyl versus Carnage Hopper. Every trout angler must have a few Chubby Chernobyls in their fly box—and after reading this you should also have a few Carnage Hoppers. A Chubby Chernobyl with its massive white-foam wing is easy to see, but the Carnage Hopper with its segmented foam body, large foam head and glossy eye, is a very close imitation to the real thing. Tied with flexi-floss and rubber, the Carnage Hopper’s legs take the cake for the most lifelike hopper imitation available today. Winner: Carnage Hopper.
Semi-final one: Stalcup’s versus Morrish. A grind out battle to the finish, but the Stalcup’s Hopper is more durable over the long haul. With a body made entirely out of foam, the Morrish’s lifespan is short—a few teethy fish and the foam weakens and spins on the hook. If you have the ability for an endless supply of Morrish hoppers, it’s a tie. Otherwise, the winner is: Stalcup’s Hopper.
Semi-final two: Dave’s versus Carnage. Both have very realistic profiles when seen from a trout’s vantage point. But beyond that, they are very different—the Carnage is tied with all synthetic materials while the Dave’s is traditional. But it’s the Carnage Hopper’s segmented body and glossy eye that imitate a real-life hopper better. This battle went deep into overtime, but its flexi-floss and rubber legs left the Carnage Hopper standing. Winner: Carnage Hopper.
Championship: Stalcup’s versus Carnage. Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson. Tom Brady versus Joe Montana. Lionel Messi versus Christiano Ronaldo. Well, it’s not quite that grand, but choosing the right hopper is important. My choice is the Stalcup’s mostly for sentimental reasons as I’ve caught more large trout on this pattern than any other. It’s slimmer than the Carnage and tied with traditional materials along with plenty of foam to help it float well. It’s caught selectively feeding trout on the Paradise Valley spring creeks, ambush-hungry browns on the Yellowstone, pressured trout on the Madison and Missouri rivers, so it’s the first hopper I reach for this time of year. Winner: Stalcup’s Hopper.
While the Stalcup’s won this battle, faith in your favorite hopper pattern goes a long way. Your top choice may not be my top choice. What matters is that you play the game—and soak it up because soon you’ll be fishing fall Blue Winged Olives and struggling just to see your fly on the water.
Pat Straub is a 20-year veteran guide on Montana’s waters and has fished the world-over. The co-founder of the Montana Fishing Guide School, he’s the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.