By Nick Simonson
As I waded through the recently cut wheat fields and grassy stretches around them on the way to check my trail camera this weekend, I watched the grasshoppers flee before my boots in waves like those made by the wakeboarders back at the cabin. As they did, I recalled just how fun those summers of more than two decades ago along that same lakeshore were, thanks to some of my first – and certainly most consistent – topwater success. I can’t remember now if my dad had purchased a Rebel Crickhopper for me, or if I simply borrowed it from his collection of dusty and tangled lures in his two-sided gold tacklebox. Either way, it found its place at the end of my line, and on those youthful mornings where I’d wake up well after the sun from a night around the bonfire at the cabin, it would often comprise my first groggy cast onto the warming surface of the water.
With the slightest rod twitch, the lure would pump from side to side, just like a real kicking grasshopper that had gotten blown into the lake from the shoreline grasses. A couple of twitches and then a pause, and a repeat of the cadence would bring a school of bluegills out in formation from nearby boat lifts and shallow weeds to follow the bait in its slow-motion struggle back to the dock. The first courageous panfish would break from the ranks and rise to slash at the tiny treble hook dangling at the butt of the lure which matched the actual insect in both form and coloring. From there, it was an easy hour of entertainment, figuring out what pattern would set the sunnies off, and by the end of it my hands were pricked from dozens of dorsal fins and the day’s more serious fishing exploits could begin.
Occasionally, during a speedy retrieve across or just under the surface, a bass would bolt out from under the adjacent docks and slam the tiny grasshopper imitator. Those moments were all my ultralight panfish rod and its four-pound test could handle, even if the largemouth was only a pound or so. With those takes, however, I began to wonder what else I could catch on the specifically designed surface lure, and I began to amass them in all the shades the manufacturer offered. Soon I was after summer smallies along the rock shore above a dam in the middle of my hometown, snapping my buggy whip rod back with each explosive strike. I’d even switch out my tube from time to time and pump the lure through schools of evening white bass for non-stop action. I’ve caught trout when things timed right and even a random pike on the tiny lure which remains in my panfish box to this day. From that point, however, the Crickhopper took me down a different path, and the surface success with it is likely one of the reasons why I got into fly fishing.
Following those formative summers, I began my foray into the long rod and started tying my own hopper fly patterns shortly after learning the cast in anticipation for more lazy summer days on the lake, and cool mornings on streams I’d not yet dreamed of. The first were rudimentary recipes, tied with elk hair, dubbing and turkey quill wings. As my skills advanced, there were better hopper imitators of foam, tied pheasant legs and spun deer hair which I delicately shaped with an Exacto knife. Even just a bunch of yellow and green stimulator flies, originally designed to imitate large stoneflies out west, seemed effective at giving off a grasshopper vibe on the water. A couple of seasons passed and I had a box filled with bigger grasshopper flies that filled each summer with consistent action, like those early ones which came with the help of the Crickhopper.
Following my trek into the field and a walk back to the truck which again produced a wake of the wayward grasshoppers in between the rows of stubble, I found my box of small offerings and pulled out a pair of Crickhoppers for inspection. One was well worn with a larger replacement treble on the back – perhaps it was even the model from my dad’s tacklebox that made it to mine – and the other was in near pristine shape. Looking them over, I penciled in some time on an upcoming afternoon to relive those good ol’ days on the surface, and smiled at where the lure has taken me, and the fun it would likely still bring, imitating this year’s bumper crop of bumbling hoppers on a nearby bluegill pond…in our outdoors.
Nick Simonson is the editor and lead writer for Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: Old Hopper, New Hopper. The author recalls fun days of surface fishing with one of the first lures he used to trigger panfish, and which ultimately led him to explore other avenues of angling. Simonson Photo.