It is unknown who actually conceived the idea of
a bulbous head made from clipped deer hair,
although the American Don Gapen certainly gave
the technique currency with the introduction of
the Muddler Minnow in 1937. Writing in 1940, William
Bayard Sturgis said that the idea of hair bodies
could have been brought to Chicago around 1912 by
Emerson Hough, who stated that he had first seen
flies tied that way on a fishing trip to the far
north of Canada.
It would seem that in Australia, deer hair as a fly
dressing material, was not used until the late 1950's.
In 1959 two well-known fly-fishermen and fishing
authors, Joe Brooks from America and David Scholes
from Australia river-fished together in Tasmania,
the island state south of mainland Australia. Joe
fished a Muddler Minnow (Don Gapen) and David probably
fished local patterns, perhaps a Matuka or a Wigram's
Robin (Dick Wigram). Scholes was not terribly impressed
with the Muddler Minnow in the beginning, this was
because it didn't resemble any Australian minnows. It
wasn't until 1964, when he fished backwaters on the
Meander River with Jim Boswell, another visiting
American angler, that David's eyes were opened to
the true value of the Muddler Minnow. Jim took four
trout with the Muddler when David couldn't land any.
A year or two before Joe Brooks introduced the Muddler
Minnow itself, the Missoulian Spook (Dan Bailey), had
already made its Australian debut. Essentially the
Missoulian Spook is a cross between Don Gapen's Muddler
Minnow, made using white deer hair and the Bumble Puppy
(Theodore Gordon), a chenille-bodied streamer. Bailey
called it the White Muddler Minnow and it was renamed
the Mizzoulian Spook by Vince Hamlin, the author of the
"Alley Oop" comic strip. Both spellings have been used
In Australia back in those days, information about
new flies and dressing materials mostly came from
books, visiting overseas anglers and word-of-mouth.
In his 1961 book, Fly Fishing in Australia
David Scholes informed Australian anglers of the
A few Australian fly tiers began making the Muddler
Minnow and a tackle shop imported some Muddlers from
the USA. Interestingly, those first imported Muddlers
were accidentally tied on extremely light hooks and
anglers couldn't sink them. Perhaps some of those
flies may have been used as grasshopper imitations.
In the summer of 1962, Dušan 'Dan' Todorivic and Wolf
Duwe were on a fly-fishing trip on the Murrumbidgee
River around the delightful fly-fishing waters of the
Snowy Mountain region near Adaminaby and Bolaro in New
South Wales. Fly-fishers were scarce in those days and
grasshopper fishing, to those who didn't fly-fish, was
practiced by flicking a live grasshopper upstream using
a general-purpose fishing rod. The problem was that
they couldn't cast the hopper far and very often, the
casting action would flick the hopper off the hook.
Anglers began using longer rods, some even used fly-rods
so they could cast longer distances. Of those who used
fly-rods, many later went on to become true fly-fishers.
Fishing a live hopper with a fly-rod still didn't solve
the problem of the hopper flicking off the hook and a
good supply of live hoppers was always required. Instead
of madly running around trying to catch live hoppers,
some anglers would spread a fluffy woolen blanket on
the ground and herd hoppers onto it. The raspy legs of
the grasshoppers would become entangled in the fluffy
wool fibres. Another method was to simply herd hoppers
onto the water where they could easily be collected
from the surface.
I digress. Back to our true fly-fishermen, 'Dan'
Todorivic and Wolf Duwe, fishing the Murrumbidgee River
in 1962. The large grasshoppers common to that area,
Kosciuscola cognatus and Kosciuscola
usitatus, were abundant, but using the
standard hackled hopper patterns of that era (sizes
10 and 12), they were only having moderate success.
After a few days, fed up by their inadequate catch
rate, Dan began experimenting at the fly vise.
Dan ingeniously created a new grasshopper pattern.
He had used yellow chenille for the body, golden
pheasant tippets for an underwing, with a very
narrow section of mottled turkey wing on each side
of the pheasant tippets. To imitate the red grasshopper
legs he utilized dyed-red hackles with the fibres
trimmed close to the hackle stems. Dan had some
deer hair in his tying kit; perhaps he had been
using it to make Muddlers. He knew that deer hair
floated so, instead of a normal hackled fly, Dan
tied a Muddler head on his new grasshopper, which
they called Dan's Hopper.
As a hopper pattern with a spun deer hair head, the
Letort Hopper is just a bit older, having been
designed by the Pennsylvania fly fisher Ed Shenk
sometime in the period 1958-60.
Letort Hopper tied by Ed Shenk, photographed by Hans Weilenmann
Anyway, the trout loved Dan's new pattern; its
success rate compared to that of the hackled hopper
was extraordinary. The new fly, sat low on the water,
much more like a natural hopper. The fly's success
was attributed to this low profile. It wouldn't have
taken them long to find out that if they landed the
fly on the water with a bit of a thud like a real
grasshopper, it would still float and if they
crash-landed the fly it would often attract trout
Dušan 'Dan' Todorvic was a semi-professional fly tier
and, with his fly-dressing partner, Tom Edwards, began
making the fly commercially.
In summer throughout southern Australia, grasshoppers
become very abundant, some years much more so than
others. Dan's Hopper was so good that it soon became
a popular fly. Some who fished live hoppers even took
to using the new artificial hopper. It was almost as
good as the real thing, with the advantages of not
having to catch live hoppers and, the bait wouldn't
flick off the hook.
Also, grasshopper fishing is very forgiving and those
learning to fly-fish could more easily achieve success.
Compared with normal fly-fishing, where the presentation
is usually delicate, with grasshopper fishing you can
mess up the cast to some degree and land the fly
heavily but still catch fish.
In August 1972, Tom Edwards wrote in the Victorian Fly
Fishers Association newsletter: "The Birth of the Nobby
Hopper." In the article, Tom clarifies how the name change
from Dan's Hopper to Nobby Hopper came about. Tom explains
that Fred Stewart, the famed Australian fly-fisherman,
commented whilst talking to Bob Rolls, "This fly is more
of a Nobby Hopper than a Dan's Hopper." From that time
on the name Nobby Hopper stuck.
In Tasmania, David Scholes and Noel Jetson wanted
something smaller because Tasmania doesn't have the
hordes of large grasshoppers which occur in New South
Wales and parts of Victoria. Mind you, the Nobby Hopper
is still a useful fly in Tasmania. Noel simplified the
tying and produced a smaller version which was
immediately christened Noel's Nobby Hopper by David
Noel's Nobby Hopper
Dan's Hopper, or the now called Nobby Hopper, made it's
way to South Africa. As in Tasmania, the pattern was
too big to represent local hoppers. A resourceful South
African fly dresser made the fly smaller, but there was
one important change to the legs. He put a knot in the
legs making that dog-leg or grasshopper-leg shape, now
commonly associated with many hopper patterns. It was
found that this method of tying the legs had two important
attributes. First, the legs acted like outriggers, making
the fly more stable on the surface. Second, from an
anglers and a fish's point of view, it was much more
realistic. The two red legs poking into the surface
at the rear end of a hopper seems to be a powerful
trigger used on many of today's successful hopper
The South African version, with its knotted legs, made
its way back to Australia. It was discovered in a
Melbourne tackle shop by Andrew Braithwaite. Andrew
re-introduced it to David Scholes as the South African
version of the Nobby Hopper.
From fishing with Joe Brooks and writing about his
first encounter with the bulbous headed Muddler,
developments had come full circle, and, as fate
would have it, much like a boomerang coming back,
a great little grasshopper fly had returned to
Grasshoppers mate in late summer and autumn, after
which the females deposit their eggs in soil. The
eggs remain dormant throughout the winter and hatch
in late spring as worm-like larvae which, soon become
small grasshoppers without wings. It takes about seven
weeks and five moults or growth stages for the
grasshoppers to reach adulthood.
Gradually, as the height of summer looms, less aquatic
food is available in lowland rivers and trout start
relying more and more on terrestrial foods,
The hotter the day, the hotter the hopper fishing becomes.
However, a slight wind is advantageous. An old trick,
when hoppers are plentiful, is to alarm grasshoppers,
causing them to hop or take flight. Using the wind
coming from an appropriate angle behind you as you
fish your way up a river, you can panic and herd
live hoppers onto the water. This maneuver is even
better when two anglers work together; one fishes
whilst the other herds hoppers onto the water. When
alarmed by herding, hoppers that can't fly, flee
haphazardly in all directions away from the herder.
In the rush to escape they often miscalculate their
trajectory, placing them on a collision course with
the water, particularly if blown by wind. The number
of wingless hoppers accidentally ending up on the
water vastly outnumber winged hoppers.
If trout can remember, then one of their favorite
memories must be grasshoppers. Once hoppers are
herded onto the water they are a great temptation
which, even the most stubborn trout seem unable
to resist. Usually, if not spooked, they will rise
to live hoppers with gusto. Rising trout are telling
you exactly where to cast your imitation, in most
cases a bit upstream of the rise. If the trout won't
rise, as you progress up a stream or river, you can
induce a trout by making casts to likely looking spots.
Be it either learnt of instinctual, trout seem to know
about hoppers and the splat one makes hitting the water.
They clearly love eating them, so just keep casting,
sooner or later one won't be able to help itself. Expect
a sudden violent take.
On the wider sections of a river, flying hoppers will
often turn back when they find themselves flying over
water. This appears to be because they can only fly a
short distance. Those that attempt to make it to the
other side will constantly lose altitude. As they do
so, some inevitably crash onto the surface well out
into the stream or near the far shore. The large
yellow-winged locusts are the best fliers—they can
easily fly across the widest river. Nevertheless,
some still end up on the water, especially in the
morning when temperatures are not high enough for
maximum activity of cold-blooded insects.
When a good offshore breeze is blowing, hoppers may
be herded onto a lake or pond using the same technique
as for rivers. This manner of fishing is generally
best over deep water near the shore.
Once on water, hoppers are virtually helpless. Those
that end up on the water early in the day before their
metabolism warms up are less likely to attempt to swim;
nevertheless, if fishing an artificial hopper, a slight
twitch of the rod tip, every now and then, is enough
to suggest movement and trout are more prone to be
attracted to a struggling kicking hopper.
The common Australian wingless grasshopper Phaulacridium
vittatum found throughout southern Australia and New Zealand
Trout feeding well out are generally taking winged
hoppers; those feeding closer to the shore are usually
taking the smaller wingless hoppers. Although they may
be reluctant to feed in shallow, clear water, such
opportunistic feeders often zoom up from the depths
to engulf a hopper.
Be warned, usually at this time of year and throughout
summer, the rivers can become so clear that the trout
become extremely cautious and flighty, especially on
bright, still days. Trout perceive they can easily be
seen by predators in sunny weather, therefore they
will look for cover—overhanging brushes above the water,
undercut banks, drowned trees, riffles, deep runs, or
pools. It is essential to keep as far back from the
water as possible, keep your profile off the skyline
and your shadow off the water, stalk slowly and
endeavoring not to be seen. If herding hoppers onto
the water, it is a balancing act between stealth and
herding, depending on wind strength. Most trout,
including larger specimens, will reveal their
feeding station when a steady stream of live hoppers
is temptingly drifting overhead.
As the wind and the summer sun dry the fields, grasses
take on a bleached straw-and-brown coloration. At the
same time, in harmony with the plants, grasshoppers
also change their camouflage pattern. As the fields
dry, food becomes scarce and grasshoppers seek out
the green plants along the riverside. The rocky areas
between where the grass margin stops and the actual
water begins, holds little attraction for grasshoppers,
simply because there isn't much food or concealment
from predators. Shrewdly, the best places to cast a
small artificial hopper are beside or just downstream
of a steep grassy bank over deep water or where grass
or tussocks are present very close to the river edge.
Look for shaded areas where trout feel safe and wingless
hoppers are likely to blunder or be blown onto the water.
On flat sections of rivers, grasshoppers generally don't
sink. However, on fast-water stretches they are soon
swirled beneath the surface and in these areas trout
will often take an artificial grasshopper sub-surface.
Materials List: Nobby Hopper (Dušan 'Dan' Todorivic)
Hook: # 10 – 12 down-eyed, dry fly hook.
The hook used in the photo is a Mustad 94840.
Thread: Clear or black Gudebrod G.
Body: Yellow chenille.
Underwing: Golden pheasant tippets and
mottled turkey wing.
Legs: Dyed-red, stiff hackle stems with
fibres trimmed close to stem.
Head & Collar: Natural deer body hair.
Tying the Nobby Hopper
1. Place hook in vise and start thread about a
quarter of the shank length behind the eye. Wrap
thread down shank to bend.
2. Tie in yellow chenille and then wrap thread
forward to the starting point, a quarter shank
length behind the eye. Now wrap chenille body.
3. Prepare the legs by trimming the fibres of
two dyed-red cock hackles close to the stems. The
tip of the stem is tied in at the shoulder—one on
each side. The thicker part of the stem is cut so
it protrudes about a quarter of the shank length
past the bend.
4. Tie in a bunch of golden pheasant tippets,
shiny side down. They should be about the length
that, if they were pushed down, they would reach
the bend. On either side of the pheasant tippets,
tie a thin strip of mottled turkey wing a little
longer than the pheasant tippet—about the length
that, if pushed down, they would almost reach the
end of the legs.
5. Cut a suitable bunch of deer hair—typically the
diameter of a pencil—and remove all underfur with
your fingers, a comb, or a dubbing needle. Stack
the deer hair but, before wrapping, be sure to set
the length of the deer hair collar at about half
the length of the golden pheasant tippets. Once
the length is set, wrap in your first deer-hair
bundle. Make three or four wraps, and pull the
thread tight as you let the hair spin around the
shank. Now wrap the thread forward to the front
of the bundle. Push the hair bundle back on the
hook shank against the chenille as tight as you
can in preparation for the next hair bundle.
6. Tie in two or even three more deer-hair bundles,
once again the diameter of a pencil, but this time
have the tips facing forward, towards the hook eye.
Later, this will make the trimming much easier. The
number of hair bundles you can tie in is determined
by the size of the hook. Once you have your hair
attached, bring the thread forward and tie off.
Varnish the thread and base of front hairs and
let dry thoroughly before trimming.
7. Leaving a three hundred-sixty-degree collar,
carefully trim the hair to form the bulbous head.
~ Alan and Richard
Special Thanks to:
Gary Soucie for assistance with the provenance of
the Missoulian Spook and the Letort Hopper.
Hans Weilenmann for permission to use the photograph
of the Letort Hopper.