Hopper Time Close to Melbourne

Got less than a full day for a stream trip out of Melbourne? Scott has just the thing.

After an afternoon of first-class hopper fishing, I was sitting on the banks of the Delatite River with a Melbourne-based client, when the conversation naturally turned to other good hopper waters in Victoria. Then he narrowed the question further by asking, “What are the best hopper waters I could get to by 10am, and still be home in time for dinner?” It was this query which got me motivated to write this article; and more to the point, to nominate three great hopper waters. Close enough to Melbourne that you could drop the kids off at their basketball game in the morning, go fishing for a few hours, and then be back by dinner. Everyone’s happy!

Hopper Time

When it comes to flyfishing for trout, most of us would agree that catching one on a dry fly is the pinnacle of the sport. The mere thought of a trout gently coming to the surface to sip down a mayfly, is enough to cause many flyfishers to call in sick for the day. However, there is possibly one other insect that might trump the ol’ mayfly when it comes to playing hooky to fish: the grasshopper. What could be better than a huge dry drifting down a clear mountain stream and watching a fish come from the depths to inhale it? Gives me goose-bumps just thinking about it!

Hopper patterns only need to approximate the size, shape and colour of the real thing.

Along many of our Victorian trout streams, the hopper season begins some time in December, with numbers and hopper size progressively increasing as summer wears on. In many years, the hopper action then persists right up until the end of April.

The best time of day to tie on a hopper, is anytime between 10am and dusk. In other words, gentleman’s hours. It’s actually best NOT to be on the water too early (the hoppers are still asleep) and while you can hang around until evening, the hopper fishing is likely to be no better than for several hours beforehand.  Nice warm, sunny weather – 25 to 35 degrees with a breeze – will help get these tasty morsels active and off the banks into the water, where the fish will be eagerly waiting.

Perfect hopper placement on the Steavenson: hard against the bank.

Concentrate plenty of casts along steep, grassy edges; particularly where foam lines meet these areas. The trout will often sit high in the water in such locations, so it’s worth having a good look through your polaroids before splatting your hopper down. Blind searching with hopper patterns is also a great option. Work metre by metre up the river – the trout will often appear from nowhere to smash your fly.

Hopper Streams

Rubicon River

This water is one of Victoria best-known trout streams and when the hoppers are on, it’s not hard to see why. There are three main sections of the Rubicon: the lower reaches below the Taggerty-Thornton road bridge, the middle reaches above this bridge to the first power station, and the upper section above the power station.

In December, the sections to concentrate your efforts are the middle and upper reaches. The middle reaches have some first-class runs and glides, flowing through a mixture of bush and farmland. As the season progresses, and the paddocks dry out, you’ll find the hoppers migrating from the paddocks to the edge of the river in search of green grass to feed on. Inevitably, with so many hoppers on the edge of the stream, many end up on the water, where the trout await.

A hopper from the higher reaches.

Although the forested upper sections don’t seem like ideal hopper water at first glance, in fact, in early summer, they provided excellent fishing with hopper patterns. This part of the river is more suited to the adventurous angler, as it’s strewn with large boulders and fast-flowing pocket water. The trout in this section, although usually a bit smaller than downstream, are only too keen to take a hopper. Stay low behind the large boulders and fish the deep pockets in front. Fish will come from nowhere to inhale your fly.

During the period from February though to April, the river level generally drops and the lower reaches fish best. Good sections included from the confluence with the Goulburn River up to Christies Road. In this section, the water can sometimes be a little off colour, but don’t let this discourage you. The trout will use this cover to their advantage, holding a bit deeper and just out of sight, waiting for your hopper to drift by.

A hopper feeder from the lower Rubicon.

When the fish are really on, this section can also provide excellent polaroiding, with the trout sitting high in the water, right under the bubble-line. Walk slowly and have a long, careful look off the steep banks. This is an ideal stretch to tackle with a mate: you can take it in turns spotting and fishing. After a trout has engulfed the fly, it’s time to hang on, as this area is laced with snags and submerged logs. Use heavy leaders, preferably 3X, to prevent break offs. In this section of the river I like to use larger hopper patterns from size 10 even right up to size 6.

Steavenson and Taggerty rivers

I thought I would cover these two rivers together as the latter is the main branch of the former. The headwaters of both these streams flow down from Lake Mountain and then the main stream eventually joins the Acheron River.

These two streams are on the smaller side and are both excellent hopper waters, perfect for your 3 or 4 weight rod. The best hopper section on the Taggerty River is above the main bridge on the Buxton-Marysville Road, while for the Steavenson, it’s pretty much all the river from the Taggerty junction to where it meets the Acheron River near Buxton.

Hooked up on Steavenson in one of grassier sections.

The Steavenson River offers classic freestone stream fishing as it flows through paddocks, lined in places by native bush and willows. There are fantastic pools and glides. A lot of this section is relatively easy to fish and a good option for beginners, although the tighter spots can take a bit of skill to fish well. Steep grassy banks here and there make for excellent grasshopper water. A mixture of brown and rainbow trout inhabit the Steavenson and although most are small, they provide a heap of fun. Hopper fishing works right through the December to April period; occasionally even into May. Smaller patterns seem to perform best, so stick with sizes 12-14.

Steavenson brownie.

The Taggerty River above the Buxton-Marysville Rd is a fast-flowing mountain stream, choked with logs and debris. It is more suited to adventurous anglers wanting a flyfishing challenge and is best fished with a mate. This water has mainly feisty rainbow trout, although you can also find some nice browns in the tangled log jams. The Taggerty is ideal 3 weight territory. Keep your leaders short, nothing longer than 9ft, as this water requires a fair bit of leader-flicking, roll-casting and bow-and- arrow casting.

Typically water on the Taggerty: steep, with plenty of logs and boulders.

Despite being surrounded by bush in the many places, the Taggerty is a fantastic hopper water right through the hopper season; in fact it’s a stream where the fish are often more likely to hit a large hopper pattern than a small, delicately-presented parachute fly.

Delatite River

Although I’ve listed all the streams here in no particular order, the Delatite certainly is one of my favourite waters to fish right through hopper season. In the upper reaches, the water runs cool right through the peak of summer as it rolls down from the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling ski fields, and the cool water keeps the trout active right through grasshopper time. If other waters are suffering after a string of hot days, the upper Delatite is good bet.

Lovely water on the upper Delatite.

Though it’s the longest daytrip from Melbourne on this list, the hopper fishing can be well worth the drive, especially in January and February when large winged hoppers are often around in good numbers. For cold water in summer, the best stretches to fish are upstream of Merrijig. There’s reasonable access around Merrijig itself, then increasingly good access from pull-offs on the Buller Road the closer you get to Mirimbah. This is classic fastwater hopper fishing, perfect for 3 and 4 weight rods. Upstream of Mirimbah, the water becomes even more boisterous and bouldery, and is accessible from a major mountain bike track which stays fairly close to the river. This section is suited to the more nimble angler, and watch out for those crazy bikers flying down the track!

A typical Delatite rainbow.

With a mixture of rainbow and browns, the Delatite is usually gin-clear and it can provide excellent sight fishing for hopper-munchers. When water levels recede in late summer and early autumn, the trout can become flighty, so it pays to use a 5X leader and to move upstream slowly and carefully. My favourite hopper pattern for the Delatite is the Royal X Stimulator in size 14, 12 and 10. When fishing the deeper pools, it can pay to hang a size 14 tungsten-beaded Hares Ear Nymph off your Royal X.

Lucky Hoppers

While I could name at least another dozen hopper streams, all things considered, these are your best options for a day trip out of Melbourne. And remember, worldwide, grasshoppers are a symbol of good luck: they can only jump forward, not sideways or backwards. So why not try your luck on hoppers this autumn? Stock up the hopper box and hit the rivers – those trout will be sitting under the foam-lines waiting for you!

FlyStream Facts – Hopper Patterns

Choosing the right hopper pattern isn’t rocket science. With around 11,000 species, matching the hatch exactly is nearly impossible. Mostly, you’re better off choosing a general pattern that roughly covers the size, shape and colour of the hoppers that are bouncing around your feet as you walk. Many of our hoppers are tan, green and yellow.

In December, which is early in hopper season, I usually find size 14 hoppers work well. Then, as the season progresses, your hopper patterns should increase in size: size 12s, 10s and even up to size 6. And don’t be afraid to go big: sometimes, using a size up from what’s bouncing around in the grass, can provoke more interest on the water.

After a few days chasing hopper feeders, there’s as much variation on the vest patch as there is in the grass!

Some of my favourite patterns when hoppers are about include the Royal X Stimulator, Lime X Stimulator, Wee Creek Hopper, the Commonwealth Hopper, Dave’s Hopper, Royal Wulff and Yellow Humpy.

FlyStream Facts – Starting Early

If school sport is cancelled, you might be able to get up to the rivers earlier than true hopper time. But if you still want to start with a hopper pattern, simply fish a nymph off the back of your hopper fly. The nymph will catch you trout which aren’t too keen to come to the surface just yet, and most hopper patterns also make nice buoyant, visible indicators.