Leader System and Tips for Hopper Fishing

August 11, 2016

Hop hop hop... splash.  The overweight hopper falls in the water and begins drifting downstream.  Struggling, wiggling, and trying to paddle his way back to shore. Its pathetic.  He simply can't swim.  In the process the sharks... um... trout begin to circle eye balling the hopper. Is it real?  Is it safe to eat?  The trout has to decide.

By this point in the summer I would say most mature trout on many streams have been hooked a few times at least on big leggy dry fly patterns.  While they still want to eat the big stuff, in fact they have to, trout have a right to be picky!  This is a life or death situation. Often times we treat our relationship with the trout as some type of gentleman's game.  Sometimes we win, sometimes they win. To the trout, I assure you this is no game. This is mortal combat.  They make a mistake, they die. That is how they view this.  Life or death. Early in life these trout discovered that by aggressively foraging on suspicious things leads to pain and trama.  They don't forget.

This is why the angler must be smart, stealthy, and present his or her fly with delicacy, precision, and have appropriate tackle.  A good fly and a good leader can help with that. Now there is no substitue for simply being a good fisherman.  In my several thousand floats down the Yakima Canyon I have watched some guys that simply "get it".  They are hunters and understand that the little things matter.  The twitches, mends, wiggles, and splashes and stealth of which their fly approaches their quarry is paramount to their success.  

I use this analogy in many of my classes.  If you were hunting deer would you just bumble through the woods like Elmer Fudd kicking bushes and randomly shooting your gun?  No?  Then why do we do it fly casting?  A good hopper fisherman, and I mean GOOD, (sorry not everyone gets a trophy here) understand this. Casts are calculated, focused, and concentration is applied.  When you think about aren't we trying to sneak this fly into their living room?  Think your casts through and make every cast count. There are no practice shots. Just like deer hunting, practice shots scare away the game.

Before I introduce the leader system I like for Hoppers in the later summer, I want to emphasize that I am not a total psycho path about catching "more" fish.  That's not the case.  I apply a lot of thought into my fishing and guiding because I want to fish on my terms with the flies and strategies that I enjoy. I personally love dry fly fishing, short line nymphing, dry dropper fishing, swinging flies on tight lines. I don't mind indicator fishing and both guide and fish with strike indicators a lot, but have found if I heighten my skills most often I don't have to fall back on deep water indicator fishing in order to generate some hookups.  So let that be my inspiration to you. Learn as much as you can, cast as best you can, and eventually you will posses the skill set necessary to fish using the methods that YOU enjoy. 

Anyway, learn this leader system and it will help you come away successful late  in the summer as the trout on many rivers become wise to your flies.  If the fish are swirling, short striking, and you are missing a  lot of fish this system will help put a few of those buggers in the net.


7.5' 3X RIO Powerflex PLUS Tapered Leader (I will use 4X in many conditions if the water is clear)

I will generally tie a "non slip mono loop" to the dry fly.  

  1. Outstanding write up and very insightful. Thanks Joe!
  2. Joe, Excellent video presentation. Question that often comes up - "with today's improved leaders, do I attach my leader directly to the fly line or should I attach a butt section of heavier mono to the fly line first, (to help turn over the bug) then attach the leader to it? Regards, Hambone
  3. Joe, I meant "maxima" not mono. HB
  4. I like my set-up as clean as possible so I attach the leader directly to the fly line. I feel like less knots in the the heavy section helps the fly line float better and slither through the water while mending better.