The window of hopper-tunity opens just briefly each day on the Yampa River, but it's one that fly fishermen ought to climb through.
Steamboat fishing guide Tim Widmer is an expert on tying fly patterns that resemble large terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers and beetles. And he's a big believer in seizing the angling opportunity they represent.
One fly pattern, "Timmy's Hoppindicator," has proven so successful that he has been able to license the pattern to Solitude Fly Company of Alhambra, Calif. You can buy the big, buggy-looking fly at local fly shops or from Solitude's catalogue.
Flies tied to look like grasshoppers can be magical on summer afternoons, Widmer said. But this summer, anglers will have to strike quickly during the window of time when the insects' wings have dried from the morning dew and before the water temperature in the Yampa gets too warm. When the water gets above 70 degrees as it did briefly several days last week, the fish become sluggish. And it's best not to stress the trout at that time anyway. Alert anglers can catch trout in the riffles and pour-overs of the town section of the Yampa River between 11:30 a.m. and noon.
"Hoppers and beetles are peaking when other hatches are tapering off," Widmer said. "You have these hot, dry days when the wind blows a lot, and it blows them into the river. By 11 a.m., I'm fishing hoppers."
Widmer, 27, began his commercial guiding career seven years ago in his native Estes Park. He has been guiding for Steamboat Fishing Co. for four years.
Invariably, when fishing the Hoppindicator, Widmer ties a second fly off the bend in the hook of the grasshopper or beetle. Typically, it's a nymph meant to be fished below the surface. He is biased toward another pattern he created called the "Nymphicator." It has a tungsten bead head that gets it below the surface quickly. The pattern resembles another caddis larvae pattern called a "Serendipity," only with a white hula skirt tied around its waist. He demonstrated its effectiveness one morning last week by plucking three rainbows out of a single piece of pocket water in the city limits.
Grasshoppers aren't the plague this year that they were in the summer of 2003, but they are present in large numbers in the tall grasses and shrubs that line the banks of the Yampa River. Similarly, bank-feeding trout always are keeping an eye out for black beetles that often fall into the water from dangling branches and overhanging grass stems.
Widmer fished large black beetles on the tailwater section of the Yampa last weekend when other anglers were struggling to get the right drift on tiny mayfly patterns. He attracted four dramatic strikes from large trout. He also fishes the big beetles to the finicky brown trout in the skinny water adjacent to Fetcher Park. He's seen fish move four feet out of their feeding lanes to eat his beetle pattern.
Relatively inexperienced guiding clients enjoy improved success when fishing with one of the beetles, Widmer finds, because the flies don't require a subtle presentation to fool the trout.
"It doesn't matter if it makes a splat when it hits the water, and it helps if they twitch it," he said.
Widmer's grasshopper and beetle patterns have one thing in common -- bodies fashioned from closed-cell foam and a pair of buggy eyes that rattle when they hit the water.
Widmer creates the grasshopper bodies by laminating together three layers of foam -- brown, white and yellow. Once the glue has set, he trims out narrow strips of foam just the right size to tie on a hook and tapers the butt end to resemble the shape of a grasshopper's abdomen. He adds a wing made of deer or elk hair and a flashy underwing. Next come four round, rubber legs that twitch invitingly in the water.
Finally, he ties on a yellow foam strike indicator at the joint where the wings are tied. The little foam pad ensures his guiding clients can always spot the fly on the water.
The piÃce de resistance is a pair of eyes glued onto the fly's head. Widmer uses a single-edged razor blade to bevel off the corners of the head and create a flat space on which to glue the eyes. He swears by a brand of glue called "Zap-a-Gap" and uses it liberally to reinforce the Hoppindicator wherever he wraps in new material with his heavy gauge thread.
The closed-cell foam Widmer purchases from fly shops to create his flies is critical to their success. They make the flies virtually unsinkable and able to support weighted nymphs that often catch more fish than the grasshoppers and beetles on the surface. When that is the case, the Hoppindicator becomes a strike indicator alerting the angler to the fact that a trout has intercepted his nymph.
The weather of Thursday and Friday suggests a monsoonal pattern already may be upon the Yampa Valley, which could mean more and cooler water for the Yampa River. Between showers, anglers should be drifting Timmy's Hoppindicator and a caddis emerger such as the Nymphicator through riffles and behind rocks in the river.
Remember, hopper-tunity rarely knocks twice.