Nebraska is in the middle of the Great Plains. The first European settlers in our state discovered that the Great Plains are full of grasshoppers. We have grasshoppers every summer, some summers are worse than others, but I do not ever recall a summer when we did not have any grasshoppers.
If you are a trout angler, you know how important grasshoppers can be as a late summer and fall prey item for stream trout. I will always tell you that one of the most important things for any angler to understand is what the fish are eating. I believe that finding enough food to eat and grow is the primary “concern” that determines the day-to-day behavior of fish most of the time (spawn period and spawning behavior is the exception). As anglers it is doubly important to understand the predator/prey relationships because to be successful we not only have to find the fish, we also have to get them to bite. Fly anglers are very conscious of “matching the hatch” and on many streams the “hatch” in late summer and fall is grasshoppers.
Now you may be reading this thinking, “Blah, blah, blah, grasshoppers for trout, whatever”, and if you are not planning to fish for trout in the next few weeks I might understand that attitude. But, if that is your attitude, you are making a HUGE mistake. Remember we live in a land that is full of grasshoppers and those ‘hoppers are also important food items for many species of fish, not just trout, during the late summer and early fall. For example, I have fished Nebraska rivers for channel cats in the late summer and found that grasshoppers were by far the best bait to catch those fish. No, the cats were not slurping ‘hopper patterns off of the surface, although that would not have surprised me, but if you curled 3 or 4 hoppers on a hook, put a weight on the line and then dropped that ‘hopper-baited hook into some likely looking spots you often immediately had a channel cat on the end of the line.
Fish in Nebraska farm ponds are also very likely to utilize grasshoppers as a food source. It is not at all unusual to find bluegills “kissing” grasshoppers from the surface and those farm pond largemouth bass will also be ‘hopper eaters. Once again channel catfish in ponds will bite on a hook full of grasshoppers. Farm pond fish are most likely to be feeding on grasshoppers on days when the wind blows hard enough to deposit some grasshoppers in the water.
Break out the fly rod to present artificial ‘hopper patterns to stream trout or farm pond bluegills and bass. There are more ‘hopper patterns than I could blog about in a dozen posts; an internet search will come up with dozens of patterns you can purchase or use as a recipe to tie your own.
If you have not succumbed to the fly rod addiction, you can catch fish on the hoppers themselves. My fly-fishing buddies will cringe at the thought, but you can have a darned lot of fun by catching live ‘hoppers alongside a trout stream, putting a long shank, light wire hook through the collar of those live ‘hoppers and then dropping them into the stream to drift down to an over-hanging bank or some other piece of cover that will be holding trout. If the ‘hopper becomes water-logged before it is eaten by a trout, keep drifting it. Stream trout also eat grasshoppers that have died and started sinking. As a matter of fact, Nebraska’s hook & line state record brown trout was caught from the Snake River below Merritt Reservoir in late July 1973 on a grasshopper fished in that very manner. That brown trout weighed 20 pounds 1 ounce, a record that likely will NEVER be broken, and proves that it ain’t just small fish that eat grasshoppers.
On standing waters you also can cast the ‘hopper patterns on a fly rod or fish the real thing. A casting bubble or small float (i.e. bobber) may be needed to cast and fish live ‘hoppers on the surface. Or you can add some weight to your line and fish some water-logged ‘hoppers on the bottom.
Catching grasshoppers for bait can be half the fun. They are easiest to catch in early morning when they are a little cool and there is some dew to keep them down. If possible catch them early and then keep them cool until you are ready to use them. If you are like me, I usually do not think of collecting the grasshoppers ahead of time and end up wandering through the grass later in the day. You have to be quick to chase them down then; try to focus on one grasshopper and keep after it until it finally sits long enough for you to catch ‘em. If you are really serious about catching grasshoppers, take your dip-net. You can either pin some ‘hoppers underneath the net or stroll through ‘hopper habitat sweeping the dip-net back and forth catching them in the mesh as they jump and fly. I have no magic ideas for ‘hopper containers; I usually end up using a plastic pop bottle or some other plastic container or a zip-lock bag. However, I did some surfing on the web and found what may be the “mother-of-all” ‘hopper containers, http://lllreptile.com/store/catalog/reptile-supplies/kritter-keepers-and-cricket-containers/-/rep-cal-cricket-shaker/ .