Drowned Hopper Fly

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

Earlier this year I invited a new friend, Jason, I made at church to join me on one of my favorite stretches. There was an ulterior motive; a beaver family resides in that stretch and kept scaring the living bajeebies out of me (not that I have any of those, or that they are living) when they slap their tails a few feet away from me in the dark. My friend is a trapper. He is also a spin caster who is at least open to the better way of fly fishing.

brown trout

It was early in the season and it turned out the fish were very lethargic. I mostly guided him for the first hour or so hoping he would connect with a couple of fish. He never turned  or saw a fish with a variety of spinners and small minnow crankbaits. Eventually I sent him downstream to another hole that should have been good. While he was gone I refished the last stretch he had fished; I knew fish were probably there. Sure enough, by the time he returned fishless from the other hole, I had already landed three fish. I gave him a quick casting lesson and he landed his first fly rod caught trout in short order. We traded the fly rod back and forth for the remainder of the outing and caught several more fish. By the end of the outing it was clear he was an excellent fisherman.

Because of that first trip we compare notes every so often as he goes back to the same area to fish. Late in August, he texted me the photo of himself with a 16” brown he had caught that afternoon with his father. I quickly responded and asked what he had caught it on.

His response was short and to the point, “Grasshopper!”

I saw him at church later that week and I asked how he was able to cast the grasshopper with his spin casting rod.

He replied, “It wasn't hard as the grasshopper is so light.”

I assumed the grasshopper was floating (I find assumptions most often get me into more trouble!). I kept thinking about this as I had been using a grasshopper for over a month and had caught a few browns and turned a couple of decent fish in riffles that had missed the fly (I have often wondered whether lending these trout my trifocals would help them see the fly better!). None of the fish I had seen were anywhere near 16”. Eventually it occurred to me, maybe the grasshopper wasn’t floating. I asked him at church the next week.

His answer, “Nope, it was slowly sinking – I actually watched the fish take it in the pool.”

In my mind I was thinking, “Ah ha! A sunken grasshopper – why didn’t I think of that?”

Later that afternoon I sat down at my vise and tied up three slightly weighted grasshoppers. When I tie flies my first rule of thumb is to spend less time tying the fly than it usually takes me to lose a fly (that can be as little as 15 minutes or less). In this case, it took me longer to find the ingredients in my drawers than to tie the fly. It can easily be tied in less than 10 minutes.

The next afternoon I tied on a #14 Joe’s Hopper as the lead fly while using my new sunken grasshopper pattern as the dropper. I headed to a shaded pool as the river is very low and clear this time of the year. If you try to fish in sections in direct sunlight all you see is fish running for the hills when the fly line hits the water. The current is very minimal in this pool so I either shake my rod tip until the lead dry fly just twitches 2-4” or slowly tow the dry across the surface. The first cast had barely settled when I saw a fish turn on the sunken hopper. I instinctively set the hook – fish on! It turned out to be a 13 ½“ brown. The fly was all the way down its throat. While this was no 16-incher it was still a respectable fish and on the first cast no less.

“Not bad – this is promising!” I thought.

Just a couple of casts later I saw the lead fly move 3-4 inches as another fish slammed the sunken hopper. This turned out to be a 14” brown. In 30 minutes I caught 7 trout total on the sunken grasshopper!

That prompted me to write this blog since I figured others might want to hear about this and give the fly a try. The recipe below is literally the one I made up at the vise. I am sure it can be perfected and improved (please let me know if you have any suggestions), however, it does work (My plan is to write a full description on the final version later.). The materials are listed in the order that I tied the fly. This should be enough to get you going, so here you go:

How to Tie the Drowned Hopper Fly

Drowned Hopper Fly Materials

Fly Part

Material Used

Comments and Tying Instructions

Hook Daiichi 1530 size 6 Hook

2X-heavy wet, down eye; 1-2 wraps of lead can be added to the center of the hook. It doesn't take much to make this sink quickly because of the heavy hook


Black Danville's #210 denier

Purists would use brown or green thread; I don't have room to store a lot of thread so I usually use black

Body Medium Hareline Cactus Chenille, Olive

Tie in just before the bend and make tight uniform wraps about 2/3 of the way to hook eye and tie off

Wings Mottled turkey quill

I use a smaller feather with thinner fibers. Cut ~1/2" section and fold in half with the shiny sides out. Tie Mottled turkey quill in just after the chenille body with one set on each side of the hook. Cut off the excess feather material and lay down an even thread bed to tie in the legs.


Antron #2 blends, March Brown

I suspect the head color is not important. I make a fairly tight dubbing noodle and make two wraps immediately after the body. This helps force the legs to splay away from the body.


Install the legs, then finish dubbing the head, finish with one wrap of dubbing in front of the front legs to get them to splay back. Make a couple of thread wraps behind the hook eye and whip finish.


Brown and black barred rubber legging material

I use ~1 1/2" pieces. Tie an overhand knot at about 2/3 of the length. Slowly cinch down the knot until it doesn't unwrap this produces the leg bend. Be careful - it is easy to over tighten and snap off one side of the leg.


First, tie in the leg on the side away from you; snug it up to the 2 wraps of dubbing. You will likely have to mess around with the thread and leg to get the leg to lie in the proper position. Start with looser wraps and use tighter wraps once it is positioned properly. Wrap thread forward over the leg for about 3/16". The forward part serves as the front legs. Repeat this process for the leg on the side nearest you.

Drowned Hopper Fly: The Finished Product

Here are some different views of the sunken grasshopper and the turkey quill I used for the fly.

drowned hopper
drowned hopper top
drowned hopper bottom
turkey quill

This feather has thinner fibers than the usual turkey quill and increases the rate that the fly sinks. Thicker quill fibers cause the fly to sink more slowly. You can use this to your advantage if you are fishing shallow water. If you only have quills with thicker fibers, tie in the wings at the tips and trim off the thicker quill section to size the wings.

Here’s a picture of how trout typically takes the fly – all the way in their mouth. It is not unusual to see a swirl as soon as the fly hits the water. Timing the hookset can be a little tricky, it seems like the sooner the better works best, but you may have to experiment with the timing to get the best hook-up rate.

hopper in fish

Picture of where the drowned hopper typically is in a trout’s mouth!
Hope this works as well for you as it did for me! Feel free to let me know how it goes.


Jason O'Shea

Jason O'Shea

Thanks for a good read. I landed on this write up as I was searching for info on submerged hopper patterns. Last summer, I discovered that huge Rainbow trout in one of our local lakes here in the interior of BC were gorging on hoppers and since we rarely see these big fish rising, I wanted to come up with an approach for targeting them subsurface next season.

Joe Dellaria

Joe Dellaria

A further update on tying the fly. After making the overhand knot in the leg material, pull the ends of the legs until the resulting knot is slightly loose. Then add a little spot of super glue (I really like and prefer the gel type) to the center of the knot and pull repeatedly on the ends until the knot remains closed. This keeps the knot from undoing itself while you are fishing it! Hope this works as well for you as it has for me!

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