Gary LaFontaine, the eminent fly-fisherman, author and University of Montana graduate who died in 2002, wrote in his 1990 book, The Dry Fly: New Angles, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) annual grasshopper forecast map "might as well be a treasure map for fly fishermen interested in incredible grasshopper days."
This summer might bring the most incredible grasshopper days in 25 years.
The USDA's 2010 Rangeland Grasshopper Hazard map shows that about a third of Montana, including rangeland surrounding Missoula, can expect greater than 15 grasshoppers per square yard—predicted to be the biggest grasshopper infestation in Montana and other western states since the mid-1980s.
The grasshoppers' economic impact on Montana ranchers could be "huge," says Helena's Gary Adams of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health inspection Service, due to the potential loss of livestock forage. But anglers figure to benefit.
"It is of course going to help the fishermen," says George Kesel, owner of Kesel's Four Rivers Fly Shop in Missoula. "Any time there's a large influx of any food form it's going to help the fishermen. Grasshopper fishing is an extremely exciting type of fishing. And so there's going to be a lot of people looking forward to this."
Count Missoulian Billy Pfeiffer among them. The 33-year-old avid fly-fisherman who holds a degree in aquatic wildlife biology and calls Gary LaFontaine his idol says it could be an epic year for terrestrial fishing—as long as water temperatures don't climb too high.
"There are definitely specific spots I go to grasshopper fish," Pfeiffer says, "because I know that there's a field that kicks tons of bugs in. There are a few spots in the upper Clark Fork that are just perfect. You walk down the bank on a day when there are a lot of 'hoppers out and you'll actually be scaring them and they'll be jumping into the water."
Kesel says he'll keep an eye on the 'hopper hatch, expected in early June. If their numbers jump as high as expected, "I will have a lot of grasshopper flies in my shop," he says.
He adds: "It will certainly be a 'hoppertunity for good fishing."