Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hopper vs. Nocturnal Stone

It's pretty much just like Alien vs. Predator, really both of them are bad ass... Grasshoppers and the recently more popularized midnight stones that make their way to the rivers of SW Montana every summer make for some damn fine dry fly fishing in August and September. But oftentimes anglers get caught up in the dry fly frenzy and don't stop to think why the fish are popping big pieces of foam with rubberlegs into their mouths all summer long. That's why I thought it would be sweet to let the two face off against one another and let the crowd decide who'd win in a fish fight.

In the red corner we have the common Grasshopper weighing in at under an ounce and in the blue corner we have the Nocturnal Goldenstone weighing in at under an ounce. Ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rumble...

Grasshoppers really start showing up in July in large numbers in the grassy farmers fields, and typically when you first see them they are all pretty small, looking about like a size 14 or 16 and rarely are they found around the rivers at that time. Grasshoppers are perfectly content with eating grass in the middle of juicy big lush green fields all summer long if they can, they don't need riverside grassy banks to live. Therefore early on in the summer (late July and early August) you don't find a ton of them around the river just yet, because they are out in the fields where the grass is still green, its only when you begin to see the grass in the farm fields being cut or drying out that hoppers begin making their way closer to the water. Walking around a river out into waist high grass will give you a pretty good idea of just how many more hoppers there are in the fields than there are along river banks early on in the summer, and also is a good gauge for how successful your hopper fishing is going to be based on how many are around the river banks. When the farmers begin cutting hay and grass in August/September you see a big push of grasshoppers towards the river banks and for good reason - grass along the river rarely gets cut and it's always green and luscious. That's when the hopper fishing really gets good - mid to late August and September.

Now, the midnight stone (or nocturnal stone, or whatever you'd like to call it) makes it's emergence on freestone streams and rivers closer to the end of July beginning of August and oftentimes is never seen by the common angler. If you are wade fishing one of your favorite streams in August and you see a bunch of stonefly shucks like the one pictured here, then what you are seeing is not the emergence from June of the Giant Stoneflies, those are midnight stone shucks from recently hatched bugs. Because of the nocturnal emergence of the stoneflies - they come out late and night into the wee hours of the morning and are rarely seen in daylight because they don't fly around like your larger stones - most anglers never lay eyes on the actual insect and so it doesn't get as much fame as the Grasshopper. However, these stoneflies emerge on the rocky banks of the river and hang out in shallow water and inside riffles, preferring to skitter across the top of the water instead of flying, which makes them immediately accessible to trout unlike the Grasshopper that might hang out in the fields for weeks on end before making it to a riverbank. So in terms of immediacy of trout food, advantage Mr. Stonefly, sorry Grasshopper...

Now, Grasshoppers tend to find their way to the river along nice undercut big, long, slow grassy banks that typically hold some nice fat brown trout. Midnight stones hatch around riffles and along rocky shorelines and gravel bars, you won't find them hatching along these same grassy banks. But midnight stones can be fished right through the middle of the river off of gravel bar shelves and elicit big splashy rises. Advantage? I'd call it a push.

Midnight stones really begin to peter out towards the end of August and although you'll see a few shucks here and there in September, their emergence is completely done before fall comes around. Grasshoppers on the other hand get nice and fat and happy into September and if there's a nice long hot Indian Summer you can fish them right on through into October. So the midnight stones are around first, and available to the trout first, but fade out like a flame eventually, hoppers have a little more staying power but are slower to get started. Stones are the pump primer, the super hot chick that gets your blood boiling, and the Grasshopper is there like a reliable girl who sticks around no matter what you do... Advantage? Hmmmm, no comment.

Now from the fisherman's standpoint, we love throwing big chunks of floaty materials with rubberlegs dancing all over the place, both stone and hopper patterns fit this bill, so really it's six one half dozen the other as far as how cool the patterns are. Many of the stonefly patterns have a nice big distinctive white wing to follow down the river making for a nice visual cue, hopper patterns oftentimes sit lower in the water and don't fish as well with a big white wing hanging off of them, so in terms of ease of sight I'd have to say if you can't find a size 6 or 8 grasshopper you're in trouble anyways... What's the most fun is both hoppers and nocturnal stones have a similar silhouette from under the water, both have pronounced legs and antennae, both skitter around, both can be mistaken by fish for the other making pattern selection more personal than important. Advantage? Again, a push.

So I'll let the masses and the trout decide which one they like better. Me, I'll be happy to pitch them both, after all my favorite summer combo on the Yellowstone is a Chubby Golden trailed by a Grand Hopper. Clearly I don't pick favorites...

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