Fly-fishermen know. Whether they are targeting brown trout, stream smallmouths or farm pond bluegills, fly-rodding anglers know that from mid-summer to late fall, displaced terrestrial insects provide important forage for gamefish cruising near the shore, making hopper patterns and other “terrestrial” flies outstanding options.
Spin-fishermen often overlook this fun way to fish, but in truth, what a terrestrial insect fly pattern can do, a Rebel Crickhopper can do better! Crickhoppers and Bighoppers (larger Crickhoppers) offer a natural profile and colors, just like a good fly, but it’s far easier to make quick accurate casts to current seams, eddies and pieces of cover with ultralight spinning gear than with a fly rod. In addition, a Crickhopper can be brought to life with rod tip twitches or slow reeling to effectively imitate the natural behavior of terrestrial insects that find themselves afloat.
If you’ve ever seen a cricket or grasshopper land in the water and watched what happened next, you probably understand what makes this kind of fishing so exciting. You also might remember the bug’s behavior. Typically, a grasshopper that finds itself afloat will be motionless at first, maybe just trying to gain orientation. Then, it in starts scurrying across the top – sometimes steadily, but often frantically – in the direction of dry land (or so it hopes). It will stop periodically, whether to rest or regain orientation, and then continue its surface kicking. In many streams, ponds and lakes, chances of getting back to shore are minimal.
Work a Crickhopper to match this behavior. Cast near the bank, beside cover, to a current seam or to some other inviting spot and let the bait rest or drift in the current for several seconds. If nothing attacks, barely twitch the rod tip one or two times and then start working the lure either by reeling steadily or with short sharp twitches of the rod tip. Slow reeling causes the bait to swim at the surface and push out a wake. Quick twitches make it dance more erratically.
Either way, pause the lure every now and then, and be extra ready when you start it moving again. Often fish hover beneath a bait when it stops, and the next bit of motion triggers an attack.
Be aware that if bluegills or other panfish are present, they are apt to hit a Crickhopper repeatedly, and smaller fish, especially, often won’t connect. Don’t set the hook unless the lure disappears, or you’ll yank it away from fish quite a bit. Just keep working it when you are getting smaller bites, and it won’t be long before something attacks more decisively.
A Crickhopper Popper provides an excellent alternative to the regular Crickhopper when you want sound to get fish’s attention but still want a cricket/grasshopper profile. It has the same body as a Bighopper but is equipped with a cupped popping face. Fish it with gentle rod snaps and pauses and hold on tight!
Walk the banks of a typical pond, slow-moving stream or lake cove this time of year, and you’re apt to see bluegills holding in shady spots and close to brush, stumps, weed edges or any other cover. Most won’t be very large, though. What you cannot see is that many bigger ‘gills probably are holding in similar spots and still fairly close to the bank, but a little farther out and just deep enough to stay out sight.
The good news is that those larger bluegills (plus closely related sunfish, such as shellcrackers, longears and redbreasts) are typically easy to find and catch and offer fun summer fishing. A small slip float, such as a Thill Americas Favorite Series float (1/2-inch, pencil, slip), is the main tool for delivering an irresistible live cricket or worm just off the bottom in a little deeper water. You’ll also need a float stop on your line to control depth, a split shot or two and a No. 6 or so hook.
Specific depths vary relative to overall bank pitch, water color, bottom make-up and availability of cover, but the fish will generally be near the bottom in 4 to 12 feet. Even the shallow end of that range stretches comfortable casting with a set float, but with slip float, there is no awkwardness in casting, and the bait goes exactly to the depth you set it for every time. It’s also simple to adjust depths by sliding your stopper on the line. If you aren’t getting bit, try working slightly deeper. If the float doesn’t stand up, you’re on the bottom. Set the stopper slightly shallower.
Some fish will hold around obvious cover, like tree branches, weed edges or dock corners. Others will hold near rocks or stumps you can’t see. Cast or pitch to the obvious stuff that’s just out from the bank, but also cast to open water directly out from where you see small sunfish or where you notice rocks or other cover on the bottom in the shallow margin.
Whether you’re walking the bank or fishing from a boat, fish in search mode initially. If your bobber doesn’t dance after a couple of minutes, twitch the rod a couple of times to move the bait slightly and make it dance. Wait another minute or so and then reel in and make another cast. As you fish, adjust your depth, vary distances of casts from the shore, and keep moving until you start getting bit.
When you do catch a fish or get a good bite, work that area thoroughly and take note of things like the cover, the slope and the depth. If you catch more, and they are the size you are seeking, stay put until they quit biting and then search for similar spots. Otherwise, keep searching and collecting clues as you go. With this simple approach, it shouldn’t be long before you figure out all you need to and can enjoy some fun fish-caching action.