Dave’s Hopper is probably the most popular grasshopper pattern in existence.
It’s certainly the most famous, and with good reason. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a fly shop in North America that doesn’t offer Dave’s Hopper in some form or other.
Personally, while I like the high floatability and visibility of some other hopper patterns, there’s something that’s just so authentic about how this one sits and moves in the water that’s its still my go-to grasshopper pattern.
Description of The Dave’s Hopper
Usually, you’ll see this tied on a pretty large hook. After all, as far as insects go, grasshoppers are pretty large and creating a tiny little grasshopper the size of a midge does no one any good.
The standard Dave’s Hopper uses red deer hair for the tail. The body was originally tied with yellow yarn wool but most modern versions substitute synthetic wool to improve flotation.
The body is ribbed with a brown rooster neck hackle and the wing is created from a section of mottled turkey tail or wing feather. It’s funny how precisely a piece of turkey feather resembles a grasshopper wing. The head and collar are created with spun and clipped deer hair, which keeps everything high and dry.
The legs, however, are where this pattern really shines.
They’re simulated with a yellow grizzly hackle stem that is knotted to resemble those big grasshopper legs. Not only do they look the part, they do an excellent job of jerking like a drowning grasshopper.
History of The Dave’s Hopper
This pattern was created by the legendary Oklahoman fly tier Dave Whitlock, and combines the older Joe’s Hopper pattern, created in the 1920’s with the spun deer hair had of a Muddler Minnow.
The story is that Whitlock conceived the Hopper in the 1950’s, being dissatisfied with the performance of the Joe’s Hopper patterns, which were the only commercially available grasshopper patterns available back then.
Whitlock believed the biggest fault of the older pattern were the tendency to twist the leader and the failure to float well for long periods and Whitlock’s friend, Joe Brooks, suggested the spun deer hair head as a remedy.
Adding Legs (History Part 2)
Originally, the fly was tied without the grizzly hackle legs – which to me, really make the pattern. I’m told that these were added at the suggestion of fishing guide Jay Buckner of Jackson, Wyoming.
So, maybe it’s not quite right to give Whitlock all the credit for this one. He did invent the prototype pattern (and he really deserved all the credit he gets. The man’s a flyfishing and tying pioneer). But, this one feels like a bit of a collaborative effort, with Dave as the lead.
What Does The Dave’s Hopper Fly Pattern Imitate?
Dave’s Hopper imitates adult short-horned grasshoppers of which there are thousands of individual species.
Since Grasshoppers are common in open areas adjecent to waterbodies and aren’t particularly strong fliers, it’s no surprise that they frequently hit the water. And, it’s also no surprise that surface feeding fish are all too happy to consume such a big meal.
Where and When to Fish The Dave’s Hopper
Grasshoppers aren’t native water-dwellers and they only get into the water by accident, either by falling from overhanging vegetation or by being blown into the water during flight.
In the still waters of lakes or large rivers, it’s reccommended to fish this near the bank – fish that are way out in the middle of a lake probably aren’t too used to seeing a grasshopper hit the water near them. But, those fish that lurk near the bank are.
Fish a hopper where real grasshoppers are likely to land in the water.
I tend to pull out hopper patterns in the heat of late summer, when grasshoppers start to appear in large numbers. And, I find I have the best success with it on clear, hot, windy days. I think the addition of a bit of wind is pushing some real hoppers into the water and fish are starting to key on this.
How to Fish It
In slow water situations (lakes or big, lazy, rivers), giving the fly a bit of action can do great things, too.
Grasshoppers that hit the water typically don’t just sit and wait for their inevitble death. They usually struggle wildly for a little bit before tiring.
I’ve had a ton of success fishing for goldeye by dragging a hopper, in short inch-or-two jerks, back against the current in deep holes of big prairie rivers.
In faster water, you can let it drift in the current as you would any larger dry fly. A little bit of action can be helpful, but don’t overdo it. A real grasshopper’s not going to be able to fight a strong current very well.
My favorite thing about big terrestrials is that you can’t really present them wrong.
The delicate presentation of the dry fly doesn’t matter here. We’re imitating something that’s big and clumsy and scared, so if you land a hopper with a big splash, that’s ok. It might even help a little bit.
If you’re going to pack around only one big, grasshopper pattern in your box, it should probably be this one (or one of the variations of it). Some others are easier to see, some others float higher. Very few, if any, do a better job of looking and acting like a real grasshopper.