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Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Friday, April 13, 2018
Sierra Opener X-factor


The Rapala hopper bite?
Out of every technique I have learned in over a quarter century of Eastern Sierra fishing, each was exactly that: learned. I either read it somewhere, heard about it, saw it on TV, or it was a variation of something loosely based another tactic. Nothing was the result of raw happenstance, or brainstorming or by illuminating accident, until it happened.

Anyone who has fished a Sierra stream in summer has tromped through a brushy meadow to get to the water and sent a grasshopper or three scurrying away with each step.


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THIS CONVICT CREEK brown trout was the biggest (most were in the 8- to 10-inch range) caught by WON Editor Mike Stevens during a wacky bite on “dead drifted” floating Rapalas.

While I know trout eat hoppers and hopper bites are as fun as it gets on a fly rod, on this particular day, I was armed with spinning gear and floating Rapalas and paid little attention to the fleeing insects other than the thought that bringing my 4-weight would have been wise. I was looking for brown trout on a meadow stretch of Convict Creek that reminded me of a scaled-down version of the Owens River. Slow, grass-lined, with plenty of curves, deep holes, connecting riffles and so many tempting undercut banks, it would take you all day to efficiently target 50 yards worth.


My first target was the opposite grassy bank featuring deep water and an undercut just below a horseshoe bend in which the shallowest water of the feature was found at the apex of the turn. I lobbed the two-inch Rapala — the classic floating model in brown trout pattern — and it landed within inches of the bank. As I went to flip the bail, I saw a splash that didn’t match the slow gurgling that was going on all around it within a second of the bait hitting the water. It’s a creek, splashes happen, I didn’t think anything of it.


I was half paying attention when it happened on the next cast, and really watching on the third when I realized, “this thing is getting bit right when it hits the water.”


I didn’t really have time to think about why, I was just having a great time watching it happen almost every cast. And it wasn’t just those landing on the bank. I started casting them to that shallower section, mid-creek at the top of the horseshoe, and it not only continued to get hit, but a couple times it got sent a foot out of the water. All I’m doing is casting and allowing it to land with some slack, or, dare I say, creating a drag-free drift like I would if I were flyfishing.


While the Rapala keeps getting hit, it took a while before I could hook one in the form of a 10-inch brown trout, and that’s how it would play out until the bite stopped. A lot of misses between connections, but the whiffs were as entertaining as any topwater miss in the fishing universe.


While wondering how on earth a lure with two dangling treble hooks could be getting that much contact without hooking up, I had that “ah-ha!” moment that led me to my theory of what was going on that day, and when I saw it again on that creek and others like McGee and the Owens River.


It goes back to those grass­hoppers scattering out of the grass as I rumbled through. There is no doubt their presence — nothing strange throughout the summertime in the Eastern Sierra — had those creek trout “looking up” and waiting for one to make a wrong turn into the drink. And what was I sending their way? An elongated, 2-inch, tan, brown and black floating thing that was a perfect profile match of one of those local hoppers.


What occurred to me sometime later was, even the two treble hooks played a role in matching this hatch. Six hooks, six legs. Are light bulbs turning on yet?


Has it happened since? Multiple times. Can I count on it even if all factors line up? Not a chance, but I can say this much — when I’m throwing a floating Rapala in a creek, I’m definitely paying attention the second it hits the water.


I can sense the fly-fishing purists out there (and the long-rod amateur in me to an extent) scoffing at this claim that a red-hot hopper bite can be taken advantage of by dead drifting a floating Rapala, but that’s precisely what I will continue to claim went down until I’m overwhelmingly convinced otherwise.


Hopefully, you caught my drift.


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