Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hopper/Dropper Fishing

Working the BWO hatch on the Dream Stream after a late summer storm.  

You got 'em ?

How do I like to fish the Hopper Juan? 

I often start fishing the hopper in early spring. I know that there are no hoppers out in February, but that is not what I am expecting. On the Arkansas River, above Canon City, CO, the water is low and clear in early spring. In late February, the BWO nymphs are numerous and are just starting to become a more important food source for the fish. After eating mostly midges during the winter, the sight of drifting baetis nymphs must be a sight. I still like to use a nymph rig for the deep dredging of stoneflies and midge larva, but as soon as there is a temperature rise and fish become more active, I like to fish with a dry/dropper. The fish may move up to feed on drifting BWO nymphs in the riffles and adding a heavy dropper such as a Copper John or a stonefly nymph followed by a Randy’s Baetis or a 719 Baetis nymph may just be the ticket. I can fish closer and have more control over my flies than a nymph rig. Also, fish may be nosed up in warmer, more shallow water, picking off a few bugs in about 6” of water. By putting a dry/dropper rig over those fish, you have less of a chance of spooking them. I would rather use a smaller caddis or mayfly dry at that point, but if you are already rigged up and only have one rod with you, then chances are you don’t want to change out and chances are that you might get that fish to eat one of your bugs. As early spring moves into late spring and early summer, I can still use the same rig to target fish eating BWOs and caddis nymphs. Over the last few years, I have hit more days where the fish were keyed into the BWO emergence and not the duns. This is usually due to the fact that the bugs are out and so is the sun. 

The fish can eat right below the surface without having to expose themselves up higher in the water column. As the fish move into the upper third of the water column, you can see them feeding on nymphs and emergers, but they are too high to use a nymph rig and too deep to use a small dry like a Parachute Adams with a dropper that will not get down deep enough to them. This is where I like a hopper on top followed by a tungsten dropper like a Glossy Back or a 2 Bit Hooker to get down in front of their faces. I then follow that with a more impressionistic pattern like an RS2 or a Foam Back Emerger. This set up works great and adjustments can be made by the length of your dropper tippet. 
In the early summer, when runoff has the flows higher, there is a time and place for the same set up. When the South Platte is running higher than normal, a lot of those fish retreat to the banks where they can still eat with out having to exert too much energy. This means the pocket water that has been created by the higher flows and close to the banks. Again, a hopper pattern followed by a heavy stonefly or heavy mayfly pattern thrown up against the bank where a 6”wide holding slot holds a fish can mean the difference between a couple fish and a couple of good fish. I know a spot near Deckers that has always held a nice fish, up against a rock, where only a rig such as this one has been able to get the fish to eat. The fly needs to get in front of their face in order for them to eat. If they don’t see the dropper, they won’t eat it. As the water starts to drop, the fish settle down into a more normal summer routine. On the S. Platte, flows can move up and down like the stock market. Fish move according to these ups and downs. When flows are more stable, fish are more stable. I like to fish those spots that most people miss because they are fishing a nymph rig. Those slots behind small rocks are everywhere in the summer and the fish are in there. The beautiful seams become more defined and knee-deep water is everywhere. 

 I can target those fish with the dropper, again making sure it is heavy enough to drop in front of the fish and matches something they are eating. I love those slots about 6” wide and knee deep. I have pulled some really nice fish out of those places when a nymph rig would have been too much. A dry/dropper rig is more precise and I have more control over it in those situations than a nymph rig. Also, how many times have you seen a fish feeding in the hydraulic cushion in front of a rock? The one time I tried to use a nymph rig, I ended up having the flies go one way around the rock and the indicator going the other way. After breaking off the rig, losing everything and scaring off the fish, I decided never to try that again. 

By late summer and early fall, I have already targeted the BWOs, Caddis, Stoneflies and PMDs with this set up. The Hopper Juan was designed as a hopper and while it is not the answer for everything and doesn’t exactly look like a hopper, it makes a fine imitation. As many of you know, here in Colorado and more specifically, the S. Platte, it’s not known as a huge hopper river. Sure they are around and fish eat them, but it’s not like fishing in a Montana meadow stream. I didn’t specifically design this pattern for a particular stretch of water. I designed it to work as more of a problem solver pattern. Those situations I mentioned above led me to find a pattern that floated well and caught fish and held up well after a few fish. While I do love plopping this pattern on the water and hoping for a fish to smash it, generally that is not the case. I enjoy watching it float along perfectly on the waters surface, only to be jerked down by a fish eating the offering below the surface. Either way, as long as there is some action and fish are landed and released, everything in my world is right. The really good days are when you only fish the hopper and a dropper is not needed. This sometimes happens earlier in the season when fish are keyed into the Golden Stoneflies. 

Again, more often than not, they like to eat the bug below rather than bug on the surface. As fall gives way to colder water and lower flows, this set up again proves its worth by being able to hit the nooks and crannies where fish are feeding. Usually at this time, fish are on the feed before spawning and winter. Big nasty streamers are great fun during this time and are effective. By late fall, the hopper/dropper set up is replaced by the standard nymph rig for fishing the deeper water where the fish are waiting for the baetis nymphs begin to start drifting and the cycle begins again. While I prefer to use a Hopper Juan for this style of fishing, please don’t think that this is the only way to fish it. I generally use a size 8 to hold up most of my droppers. When I tie the flies, I always finish it with a good waterproofing material such as Water Shed. I cannot stress how important I think this is. While foam floats great, once you put everything together; foam, elk hair, wing material, thread and a water absorbent antron wing, it tends to take on water and sink. By adding a waterproofing agent, along with some floatant, it will repel water and keep on floating for a long time. Without a good waterproofing, it tends to sink in rough water or if you have too much weight off the back end of it. Again, you can use any fly you like to use in this system. I often use an Amy’s Ant, a Chubby Chernobyl, a Club Sandwich or a Fat Albert in place of the Hopper Juan. When fishing in smaller streams, I often downsize my offerings. A size 10 or 12 works better and is better suited for the smaller fish. I also like to use a Juanna Be Hopper Juan, which will hold up a small tungsten dropper and allows the small Cutts and Brookies to get it in their mouth. Whatever fly patterns you choose to use and what ever style of fishing you choose to do, just remember to have fun. It’s the reason why we tie and why we spend time standing in a river waving a stick.
A good day at work.  Durability is a must!

The Mini -or Juanna Be Hopper Juan

I like me some Chubby too!


  1. Juan ... Great post with priceless information!

  2. Juan. Great information!!!

  3. That's an awesome technical article Juan.. Great job!

  4. Thanks Juan, I hope to throw a couple of these guys in a river this coming week...

  5. A mini-hopper and dropper combo is my go-to from about May to November. Got to love doubling up your odds...


  6. This is the fishiest post I have ever read on the Hopper Juan...
    I like how your roll!

  7. Nice Juan, I fished the Hopper Juan exclusively this summer during hopper time. I didn't carry any other pattern. Just different sizes and colors. The fly is an easy tie and works.

  8. So Juan, when am I going to see your new fly to post on my site?

  9. Thanks fellas for reading the post. I appreciate it. I'll try to get a few more of these every now and then. Herm-I'll get that pattern to you very soon.

  10. Thanks Bra'h, family stuff first. You don't happen to have a a hook up in NM for pinions?
    They want $4.29 for 2 ozs. That's over $33 a pound.

  11. Crazy! I'll ask my parents if they have any. They might. I'd like to find some too. I'll let you know.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. Got 'em. I'll get them as soon as I can!

    Mahalo!!! Did you see my PM from CFF?


  14. Hello, I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject.
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