A Tale of Two Hoppers

One fly, one date, two rivers, a year and many miles apart.

The 5th of April 2022: “What a day!” is the opening remark in my journal.

The 5th of April 2023: “What a day!” is the closing remark in my journal.

And that wasn’t contrived. I just discovered it now as I sat down to write this tale. The two hoppers, both missing legs and with tooth marks in them, sit side by side on my fly-tying desk. The one used in 2022 is on a conventional dry fly hook, and the later model is on a Varivas terrestrial hook. Both are two-tone Hopper Juans. One took a bundle of Rainbows in the Eastern Cape, the other took a mess of Browns in KZN. But let me start at the beginning.

We were on our regular “Rhodes Trip” in 2022, and we were several days in when Rhett, Doctor Harry and I were assigned a day on the Riflespruit.  It was a sunny, windy day with drifting clouds, but it was cool, especially when you got into the shade.


It was a sunny, windy day with drifting clouds, but it was cool, especially when you got into the shade.

In the past, Rhett has seen to it that we walk our legs off on this stream, and I remember wondering if he was about to hurt me again like he has done before. But I need not have worried.  The fish were so active, and we were having so much fun, that we really didn’t go very far at all.

Dr Harry

I remember Rhett and the Doc getting in early on the first pools, and starting to get fish right from the start, which was around 10:30 am. Now that’s not very early, but if memory serves, we had lost that ‘first day restlessness’, had a good slow breakfast, and made our way unhurriedly up the valley.   My notes don’t relate a blow-by-blow account. I normally fill in a table with each fish, what I got it on, its approximate size etc. I am probably a bit inaccurate when I fill this in, but my memory is often aided by the photos I have taken. The camera time-stamps them you see. But on a day when the number of fish exceeds the 10 lines provided for in the journal, and when you only photograph the odd one, it gets a bit sketchy. This is particularly true if I am having a lot of fun, if I am immersed in the moment, and if all the cares of the world have left me.

So when I returned from the Riflespruit that evening, the best I was able to record  in terms of numbers was “Who knows:  20 ,maybe 30? “. I thought most of the fish were between  9 and 10 inches, but that there were enough 11 and 12 inch fish to keep me interested. About 60% of the fish took the hopper (#14) and the balance took a #18 perdigon that I fished behind it, ‘truck and trailer’ style.

Rainbow Trout

I remember the fish having a ferocious hunger. They pounced on the hopper. Gobbled it. Slashed at it. Devoured it with gusto. They also seemed not to spook at all, such that we were able to take countless fish from the same pool. I think the other two also experienced this, because they were moving as slowly up the river as I was.  These were Rainbows of course, and they were fat and spirited, and as the photos confirm, “heavily spotted and with crimson flanks”. I remember standing beside a quick tongue of current, throwing the hopper in far too close to my own feet and chuckling in delight when the best fish of the run rose to take it. I had stalked the run from below, throwing loose loops for perfect drifts. Now I stood beside it, tossing the hopper in under the rod tip, with about as much finesse as a builder offloading a truck of bricks. It made little difference. The fish wanted the fly.

It reached a point where I was standing in the river drifting the fly off a shelf ahead of me, and catching fish at will. The others passed me, and I remember thinking that I had had my fill. I might catch up with them when I was done, to watch them fish but I would not be leap-frogging above them to get in another piece of river. My cup was overflowing. I was done.

Riflespruit valley
The Riflespruit

When I pulled out a crisp new journal sheet the other day, I had to look at my phone to remind myself the date of my fishing. I thought it was the 6th. No..I was wrong…..It had been the 5th of April. 

I started to write. Under weather I recorded “Perfection! Sunny, cool, clear. The odd cloud here and there. Beautiful”.    Location: The Mooi. Fly: The two-tone Hopper Juan in brown/tan livery.  Number of fish: “I have no idea, but probably in excess of 20 fish…maybe 30”.

Reekie Lynn

I arrived at the foot of the pocket water, rigged up, and quickly recorded a video for readers of Delicate Presentations. Then I picked up the rod, with the Hopper tied on, and the Pheasant Tail Nymph behind it, and ran a drift through the pocket nearest me. The water was lit by the morning sun, and the bedrock glowed a pale golden colour beneath the swirling surface of the clear water. A fish appeared and ate the hopper just before it was sucked over the lip at the tail of the pocket. I landed it off to the side, and flicked the fly in, and up came another. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It was remarkable.

Brown Trout
Brown Trout
Catch and release

In that first piece, which was no bigger than the space on my lounge floor between the chairs, I landed six fish and had one come off, and two come up under the hopper and then change their minds, no doubt due to drag.  Three were on the hopper, as was the bigger one that pulled loose.

And so it went.

It was a reasonable stretch of pocket water and glides. There was only one pool as such, and the tail and centre of the pool produced nothing, but the thalweg at the head sure did. In fact, as I landed yet another fish there, I clearly remembered Roy landing a lovely 15 inch fish there back in 2003. I remembered his sheer delight. His utter immersion in the moment. His appreciation of the gift. I could sense his smile in my own moment.

Roy at Reekie Lyn

At that point I re-tied both flies, simply because I know that one’s luck runs out with so much strain on a single meagre connection. Then I moved on up towards Moser’s run, hooking, landing, and missing fish as I went, all on the identical rig. They were all in the size range from 10 to 15 inches: magnificent little Browns, with golden bellies, and great big blotches on their sides.   As I neared  “The Drip” hunger started to overtake me, and my concentration started to waiver. Nearly three hours had passed since I had started. I resolved to fish one last run, and then stop for lunch on a flat rock which I had already decided would make a good resting spot. By the time I sat down to a lunch of biscuits, chunks of cheese, olives and slices of cheese-griller sausages, I was satisfied to the point of needing no more from the day. I gazed back down at where I had come from. I have since measured it, and can confirm that I had fished less than 300 metres of river!

Mosers Run
Upper Mooi River
Brown Trout
Hoper caught Brown
Brown Trout

From there on up, I changed to a bigger hopper in green livery and tied a longer piece of 6X  to a heavier point fly for a deep pool. Then I changed back down to a shorter piece and fished some runs, but by then the early afternoon sun had started presenting me with a silver shimmer, and I could no longer see the fly. I missed a few fish. Then I stopped and changed rig to a two-nymph setup, under a dark red indicator as I normally do in silver light. I landed several more fish, missed a few, and then decided I was done.  I climbed out of the river and walked on up to a favourite stretch below Krantz pool. I got a few more and then I really was done, and I reeled in and headed off in the direction of my bakkie.

The 5th of April. Pick a year.  What a day!

Hopper patterns


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4 Responses

  1. Great post, what a day indeed. Since I am from KZN, and have a special place in my heart for brownies in small streams, the section on the Mooi was most relevant. I have fished the section at Reekie Lyn a couple of times in the distant past, but can honestly say I have never had too much success there. Well done!

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