The White River hopper bite is on. Around this neck of the woods, fishing hoppers can be one of the hottest techniques for enticing big browns to rise to the occasion. August and September are the prime months to get in on the action. Of course, I’ve seen this bite last all the way through November, but to key in on the bite without playing the guessing game, I would plan a trip around these particular months.
All the Ozark tailwaters support this type of fly fishing, but some are better than others depending on the brown trout population. The two main tailwaters that I think have an abundance of trout would be the White River and the Little Red River. They hold a lot more browns which are the primary fish feeding on dries in these areas. Of course cutthroat love dries too, and so do rainbows, but the main fish we are targeting are BIG browns. The first choice on my list would be the White River because of the brown trout population. About five years ago Arkansas Game & Fish put a size limit on the browns. Because keepers must measure at least 24 inches along the entire White River, we are seeing a marked increase in the number of 17-20 inch browns. This is a good goal for anybody trying to catch one of these amazing fish, and it can be done pretty quickly. But what about the browns over 20 inches? These are also in abundance and can be easy to target with hoppers. A few years ago I hooked into a brown over ten pounds; now I’m a believer that big fish will eat dries.
The Trick to the White River Hopper Bite
I really believe that you can program fish to do what you want them to do. It’s no different than having fish for a pet. After a period of time, you will notice that every time you feed them they get excited and swim toward you. They know when it’s time to eat. When you first put them in the tank, they seemed a little nervous and hadn’t recognized a pattern. Over time, though, they became conditioned. I think this is what happens to fish in our rivers. If everyone is doing the same thing, I think fish start seeing the same thing. Of course there have to be real hoppers jumping in the water to entice the fish to look up, but I really don’t think that is as important as everyone thinks. All it takes is a few guides or fisherman to boast of catching a few big fish on a forum and the next you know everyone is throwing hoppers. On top of that, they start saying what colors they are using and soon everyone is throwing that color.
Good example – I’ve been throwing hoppers for over a month now, long before anyone said to do it. In fact, I started when hoppers invaded my garden, but more importantly, fish never forget how they see insects in the water and how they relate to them. Let’s just say if a trout has been in the wild long enough to make it through a whole calendar year, then they are getting educated on what they see and how they relate to what they see. Successful anglers will then focus on a presentation which takes into account how the fish relates to what is being offered. I’ll bet you could fish a hopper all year long even if there weren’t insects landing on the water. I don’t think you should expect to have many stellar days, but I suspect if you did it long enough throughout the day, you would get a number of hits if the presentation was dead on and yes…..I said presentation. I do not recommend dead drifting hoppers with no type of action in the prime months when everyone else is doing it. You would probably have a horrible day fishing hoppers. If you can entice the trout to come over and see what all the commotion is about on the water, you might have a better shot at hooking up with the fish. To me, dead drifting hoppers is the worst way to fish them, unless you are focusing more on the dropper suspended from the hopper. You can’t hop hoppers if you want to fish something underneath requiring a dead drift. Conversely, if you fish something underneath that benefits from a swimming action in the water column under the hopper, then by all means, hop away. Remember, the trout will likely react if it can relate to your presentation, so do your best to think like a trout.
Hopefully this gives you some insight into why trout do what they do. Consider this: why do trout often hit strike indicators? They didn’t do this 30 years ago because no one was really fishing indicators then, but now everyone does and I bet everyone reading this has had a trout hit their indicators. Why? Because trout hit what they see regularly. In other words, they have been programmed.
This river can be a hit or a miss proposition and there is really no way to judge when bigger fish are in this stretch, but when they are it can be rewarding water. This tailwater offers a bonus absent from the White—cutthroats that will eagerly rise to a well-presented hopper. So it can be a mixed bag of tricks and can make for an interesting day. I used to guide on this river more regularly, but the 2011 floods changed this river—and not for the better—so I really don’t fish it much. I would much rather bet on the White with my clients. I love this river and it really feels like you are fly fishing a river, but that is pretty much it. The D.O. is always low and the river has filled in quite a bit from the flood so it’s hard to float it from a drift boat unless the water is running.
This fishery can be on fire for dries, but that is usually when the cicadas come into town by the thousands. Fishing dries is dicey and this water seldom yields big browns. Rainbows are the common fare in the upper reaches where a fly rod makes best sense. This river holds browns differently than the White does. We have three miles of good water and then it gets deep and that is where these browns live. You will hear stories of big browns being caught on Taneycomo, but these usually result from one of two likely scenarios. One is as a result of the October upstream spawn, and the other is the result of bait fishing in the no-regulations area below Fall Creek where you can keep fish between 12-20 inches. Taneycomo browns like holding under docks where they can dine on guts or anything else, such as trout, crawdads, baitfish, or the good ol’ traditional power bait and night crawlers. You just don’t read stories of big browns caught on flies, and that all has to do with where these fish hold in relation to how fisherman are fishing for them and it’s not below the dam, especially during the summer months.
I’ve had some luck at the bluffs going from Lookout Hole down to Fall Creek, but I’ve had more luck fishing them in lower levels when the generating units are running. This allows more seams to develop and more bubble lines where fish like to hold when eating bigger dries. That’s really all I can say about Taneycomo when fishing hoppers. Just try it and see.
To Take Advantage of the White River Hopper Bite, You Do Not Need to be a Professional Fly Fisher
The great thing about fishing hoppers is you don’t have to be a great fly fisherman to target this bite. All you need is the ability to cast 30-40 feet from the boat. It doesn’t have to look pretty, either; it just has to be out there. This isn’t for the beginner who doesn’t know a thing about fly line, but if you have fished with a fly rod for bass, bluegill, or any other type of fish, then you have a concept of how to get it out there. I can work with you and have you fishing hoppers in no time. After that it is more about the presentation, and again, if you have landed fish before on any type of rod, then you have the basics and it’s just a matter of fine tuning you on playing the fish. In other words, moderate skill will suit most anglers just fine, but even beginners can pick up on this technique pretty quickly, and anyone who considers himself too accomplished to learn any new stuff probably ought to just stay home, anyway!
Now, here’s the really good news–if you ever wanted to hook into a sizable fish (over 20 inches) without working too hard, then this is your time!!
What is the best way to fish for browns throwing a hopper? Jeremy, make this sub-head the same format, font, etc. as your previous ones.
The very best thing about this is……..if you ever wanted to hook into a sizable fish (over 20 inches) without working to hard to do it then this is your time!! Throwing streamers is a lot more work and you have to have a accurate cast to put it where it counts most of the time.
What is the best way to fish for browns throwing a hopper?
Now that is a tricky question, but the simplest answer is this—FROM A BOAT. You have to cover water and stay on new fish to get new fish to look at your fly. It’s a little different than wade fishing where you have more than one opportunity to target the same fish, but then again I don’t think that is the right way to approach fishing big hoppers in front of big fish. I think the big ones will make their minds up fast or not at all. Another reason for using a boat is that you need to stay stealthy. Wading quietly is much more difficult than approaching a feeding brown from the quiet of a well-operated drift boat. My approach is to cover miles of water without making a bunch of noise. It’s really easy when you do it that way.
Current plays a huge role in this style of fishing, so some stars do have to line up if catching multiple browns over 20 inches is the goal. Most people who are fishing hoppers out of a boat concentrate on the banks, but there has to be current to get some fish to the bank. If the current is minimal then you really need to read seams, even if that means those in the middle of the river. In a way, it’s like streamer fishing. You always have to be thinking about your next cast. However, I do think browns hold like bass during the top water months, and they look for shade that is less strain on their eyes. So they could very well be holding along the banks in less current, but they will more than likely be where trees shade the river.
What I have been doing this year is trailing smaller dries below my big dry so I can get a few more hits throughout the day. I do this same thing when I’m fishing big streamers. I always put a leech or bugger-style fly 20 inches below my main streamer. Make sure you have some good dry fly floatant because that smaller fly will need it if you are fishing natural dries (adams, light cahills, caddis, etc.) constructed without foam. I prefer to trail terrestrials behind the big dry.
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