English Dries: The Bristol Hopper
By Philip Rowley
English stillwater dry flies differ from most of their North American counterparts. Many North American dry flies tend to rest on the water rather than in it. Simple and impressionistic, English stillwater dries are designed to sit low on the surface or in many instances damp, lying within the surface film. Resembling wet flies more than dry flies, English dries such as the Carrot, Bob’s Bits and the Bristol Hopper work across a range of presentation challenges, including both emerging aquatic insects and terrestrials.
If these patterns styles the Bristol Hopper, or Hopper to many, is a personal favourite. The Bristol Hopper is not intended to imitate grasshoppers, although it could pass for a small one. Tied on standard dry fly hooks in sizes 10 through 14, English Hoppers are excellent choices when trout are targeting adult chironomids, mayflies, and caddis, along with terrestrials such as ants and beetles.
Impressionistic and gangly, Hoppers, tied in black, maroon, and cinnamon brown, are one of my favourite stillwater dries. The Bristol Hopper isn’t a typical dry fly that is just intended to be fished static. Hoppers arguably work best when retrieved in or just below the surface. At times, using a Midge Tip line, a retrieved dry fly works with spectacular results, often outperforming a traditional static approach. Once cast, the Hopper sits in the surface film until the clear intermediate tip eventually drags it under. As soon as they fly submerges, begin a slow hand twist retrieve. Be prepared for the take. This technique works well when there are many fish feeding at the surface and targeting specific fish proves challenging.
The most challenging aspect of tying a Bristol Hopper is creating the fly’s signature knotted pheasant tail fibre legs. Legs can be single or double knotted along their length and made up of either a single strand or two pheasant tail fibre strands. The knotted legs are tied in along the sides of the fly, usually in groups of three, after the wing, which is often optional, is tied in. Hopper legs can be tied in tips up or down, the choice is yours; I favour facing down.
Tying single or a pair of overhand knots in one or two pheasant tail fibres is tricky and takes practice. It is a skill that is best learned through repetition. Depending on your skill and most often patience, fibres can be knotted either on or off the stem. Learning to knot fibres on the stem, while challenging at first, keeps the legs together until needed.
Pheasant tail strands can be knotted by hand with the aid of hackle pliers or a dubbing needle to help coax the end of the fibre through the loop to complete the knot. Specific tools such as sewing machine needles, small crochet needles or even a section of a paper clip can also be used to knot fibres. YouTube is a great source for watching all of the options and determining which one works best for you.
If learning to knot pheasant tail strands isn’t for you, there is an alternative, purchasing pre-knotted pheasant tails. Pre-knotted pheasant tails for grasshopper patterns are available in North America but not for English Hopper patterns. Commonplace in the U.K., pre-knotted English Hopper legs had to be purchased through mail order or online. Pre-knotted pheasant tails for English Hoppers are now available in North America in natural, black and claret through the Canadian Llama Company (www.canadianllama.com), a B.C. based, online fly tying materials supplier.
Once the knotted legs challenge is met, the Hopper is a simple tie. Hopper bodies were originally tied out of seal’s fur. The coarse nature of seal’s fur provides buoyancy, translucence and absorbs floatant to help further keep the fly afloat. Obtaining seal’s fur can be challenging as it is not always readily available or in many countries, legal. Thankfully there are a number of excellent synthetic alternatives such as Ice Dub.
English dries such as the Hopper don’t need expensive quality dry fly hackle. Lesser grade genetics or Indian necks or capes work great and are actually preferred to help suspend the fly in the film rather than on it. The finished hackle should have a swept back, wet fly appearance.
English dry fly patterns such as the Bristol Hopper are an excellent addition to any stillwater fly box. The next time you are fortunate to face surface feeding trout try a Bristol Hopper. You should be pleasantly surprised with the results.
How to Tie a Bristol Hopper
Hook: Standard Dry Fly, #12-#16
Thread: Color to compliment body
Rib: Mirage Opal Mylar, Small
Body: Seal’s Fur or Ice Dub
Wing (Optional): Natural CDC, deer or elk hair
Legs: Knotted Pheasant Tail, color to compliment body
Hackle: Neck or Saddle, color to compliment body
Tying Note: This pattern can be tied in a variety of color schemes including black, maroon and cinnamon brown.
- Beginning two eye widths back from the hook eye, cover the hook shank with tying thread. Tie in the ribbing along near side of shank and secure it down to the hook bend.
- Form a slender dubbing noodle by twisting the body material around the thread. Begin forming the body by placing one complete wrap of dubbing behind the ribbing material. Using close touching, adjacent, turns, continue winding the dubbing noodle forward to form a neat slender body. Avoid crowding the head area of the fly. The finished body should stop two eye widths back from the hook eye.
- Using open even wraps spiral the ribbing forward over the body. Tie off and remove the excess.
- Select a minimum of two CDC plumes for the wings. Align the tips. Tie in the prepared CDC directly in front of the body so the tips extend no further back than the bend of the hook. Once tied in, remove any excess CDC forward of the initial tie in point.
- Take six knotted pheasant tail legs, using the hook shank to divide them in half. Secure three legs along each side of the fly directly in front of the CDC wing. How far the legs extend is up to the tyer. No further back than half the shank is be fine.
- Tie in the hackle in front of the wings and legs, dry fly style, the shiny side of the feather facing forward. Wind the hackle three to four times in front of the wing and legs. Leave room to form a neat head. Tie off and fold the remaining hackle back over the fly. Place a few additional wraps over the tie off area to sweep the hackle rearwards.
- Build a neat head, whip finish and apply head cement. Remove the remaining hackle by trimming or snapping the balance of the feather forward.