Hoppers on the Delatite

Leon Schoots observes and adapts

For the small-stream fly fisher there is no better time to employ dry fly tactics than during the long days of summer. However, the warmer months also bring with them the challenge of shallow water, running clear. Trout seem to be suspended in mid-air but quickly disappear with a splash if a clumsy approach is made. These precarious conditions can often lead to long days of heartbreak, with bow-waves appearing out of nowhere as large trout flee from underfoot. Peculiar weather patterns and other external factors can also dramatically affect fish behaviour, but those of us with keen observation skills can still do well during these periods. Remaining observant and adapting to changes can often save a poor day’s fishing and make a good day great. Dry fly action builds during the last weeks of spring and the beginning of summer. It was during this time, as we were making our way back to the car after a day’s fishing, that we started to dream about grasshopper season. We noticed hoppers flicking and flying about, but unfortunately it was still a few weeks too early. When those weeks finally passed and we again got the opportunity to pursue those high-country jewels, with their buttery bellies and iridescent red spots, we decided there was no better place than the Delatite River. THE DELATITE This river, in the Goulburn Broken Catchment in Victoria, has been written about extensively. It was Philip Weigall’s home water growing up, and you don’t have to look much further than Phil himself to find a champion for this small stream. It provides fly anglers with magnificent fishing and easy access, and it never fails to surprise. Unfortunately the Delatite is not a day trip for us. It is, however, the perfect excuse to escape the dry, hot and dusty surrounds of Bendigo for a weekend, and on this occasion it didn’t take long to realise it would be an exceptional time for large dry flies on small twiggy water. As we pulled onto the banks of the river we could already hear the familiar sound of grasshoppers. The sun was warm and a slight breeze rustled the leaves of the large eucalypts surrounding the river. Rigged up with suitable imitations, we made our way to our first entry point. Immediately the bright yellow grasshoppers took off like Spitfires, buzzing through the sky as we approached the water. HOPPER TACTICS Our imitations varied from large, foam-bodied flies to more subtle Yellow Sally Stimulator patterns. Within a matter of seconds the first cast landed and was eagerly greeted by a beautiful brown trout. The take was unmistakable and we knew it was going to be a great day. Keeping our approach as quiet as possible, we worked our way methodically up the small twisting runs as they bubbled over rocks and fallen timber. Our presentations were subtle, although the takes they induced were anything but. As in many north-east Victorian streams, long casts were unnecessary and rarely possible. In most cases, anything more than a few feet of fly line beyond the tip guide made it quite difficult to achieve a drag-free drift. Instead, a 9-foot leader with a 12-inch section of fine tippet makes for subtle presentations that can often be improved by using the high-sticking method employed by Czech nymphers. Minimising the amount of line on the water allows you to place flies in small pockets that would otherwise be unmanageable without drag immediately setting in. The morning passed quickly as we worked our way upstream, picking fish from likely pockets of water. By midday we were ready for a well-deserved lunch and a discussion of the morning’s events. We re-tied and double-checked our leaders, tippets and hook-points before commencing the afternoon session. RETHINK The afternoon started much like the morning had finished, but seemed to slow after an hour had passed. As often happens in the high country, a thin cover of cloud appeared and the fish seemed to react to it almost immediately. Places where we expected our dries to be engulfed, suddenly seemed devoid of fish. Were we following behind another fisherman, or had something changed drastically without us noticing? Pausing to rethink our tactics, it seemed that the dip in temperature had affected the grasshopper activity and thus the eagerness of trout to feed on the surface. As we approached a deeper pool we decided that the addition of a nymph on a dropper might be the answer to enticing those fish that we knew were hiding in its depths. Having read the recently published article on Frank Sawyer’s Killer Bug (FL#82), we sat down and tied one on. It didn’t take long to yield results. Our dries were not disappearing with a splash of water; instead they vanished as the Bug was hit hard, sub-surface. We still managed a few takes on our dries, but it wasn’t until we used an old technique that the fishing really became interesting. Frank Sawyer developed not only the Pheasant Tail Nymph and the Killer Bug but also the accompanying technique known as the ‘induced take’, mimicking the nymph’s rise to the surface prior to hatching. Sawyer used the method as a blind fishing technique as well as, famously, while sight fishing to large sub-surface feeding trout. Inducing the take simply involves raising the rod tip at the critical moment to lift slack line off the water and lift the nymph through the water column. This can be done either when fishing directly upstream, just before the next cast is made, or as the nymph passes when fishing directly across the current. For us, this subtle technique yielded great results when using the Killer Bug in tandem with our hoppers. By pausing to reconsider our tactics as the day progressed, we were able to adapt our approach to suit the conditions. Grasshopper season is undoubtedly a highlight of the dry-fly months and it can be difficult to break from those techniques and patterns that we expect will produce results. We often try to force conditions to suit our desired approach, but in doing so disadvantage ourselves. On the other hand, being observant and prepared to experiment with new techniques and fly patterns can yield valuable lessons, building our confidence and dramatically improving our ability to deal with changing conditions on the water.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.