Foodie trout tastes are all over the map this time of year. The fish ride out the summer feeding on extremes.
The most pronounced insect “hatches” in August and September are tiny tricos and more-than-a-mouthful grasshoppers. Trout preferences don’t get much smaller, or larger, than these late-summer snacks.
Tricos, short for Tricorythodes, are tiny white-winged mayflies that become the center of attention in late summer. Their bigger, more glamorous cousins, the bugs with poetic names like Pale Morning Dun and Blue-Winged Olive, have already made their fleeting appearance above the rivers of the West. But there’s little in the surface film to distract a trout’s attention from tricos this time of year.
This is challenging fishing. The flies are mostly smaller than No. 20s, so they’re not easy to see as they drift in the current. The rule is if you can’t see your fly, set the hook if there’s a rise anywhere in the vicinity.
Anglers working this hatch often tie a larger bug higher up the leader from the trico. Again, you’re still using the “swing if it’s in the vicinity’” standard for hook sets, but I prefer this method. Having a fly on the water to monitor helps me focus. I’ve never been comfortable, or very effective, fishing a dry fly I can’t see.
Regardless of your means for dealing with low-vis flies, tricos are tough. Since the fly is so tiny, your tippet needs to be a long wisp of monofilament to match it and avoid drag. For anything No. 20 or smaller you’ll have to scale down to 6X. That means when you do hook a fish, it pays to play it gingerly so your light leader won’t snap.
Playing a fish isn’t always an option in late summer, however. The trico hatch often comes with some of the warmest water temperatures of the season. When the water warms fly fishers know they need to play trout as quickly as prudent to avoid exhausting the fish to the point it can’t recover. Many released trout swim away in the warmer months, only to die later.
Because it can be so warm in late summer, both above and below the surface, trico fishing is usually a morning-to-lunchtime tactic. In the afternoon, things shift about as far as you can go from light lines and delicate presentations when fly fishers switch to hoppers. Well, streamer fishing is probably an even greater departure, but hoppers are certainly the far end of the dry fly spectrum.
Hopper patterns are big. And presentations are anything but delicate. Slapping a hopper pattern along a grassy bank is a little like ringing a dinner bell.
If you’re with kids, there may be no better way to fish for trout than with hoppers of the live variety. Not only do you have the joy of fishing, but the kids often have as much fun catching the grasshoppers for bait.
And a live hopper, squirming on the hook that impales it while drifted behind a clear casting bubble, is about as irresistible to trout as chapulines are to taco aficionados in certain parts of Mexico.
Chapulín is the culinary name for the grasshoppers used in Mexican cuisine. They’re roasted and sprinkled with chili and lime and apparently add a crunchy bite. I’ve never tried them, but that’s only because I just don’t run across chapulines very often this far north of the border. Someday that dinner bell will ring for me.
One of the advantages of fishing hoppers is that compared to 6X, your leader is practically a steel cable. In late summer that can be a life saver for trout. Set the hook, horse the fish in and get it back in the water.
It’s late-summer fun at its finest.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.