Fly Fishing for Bass – Your Handy Guide

Feb 1, 2022 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Out of countless game fish in the US, none is more loved than the mighty Bass. For passionate fishermen, they check all the boxes – they’re easy to find, loads of fun to catch, and are fearless fighters. And while there are many different techniques you can try out, we’re here to talk about the appeal of fly fishing for Bass.

A close-up of a Smallmouth Bass with a fly in its mouth

Fly fishing novices might ask, “Can you even catch Bass while fly fishing?” The short answer is yes, absolutely! Catching America’s favorite fish using this technique is actually not complicated and can be very productive. For all the information on how, when, and where to get your Bass, keep reading.

What is the key to catching Bass on a fly?

You don’t have to be an expert, the approach can be as simple as you like, and the gear is inexpensive. Here are some of our tips.

A middle-aged fisherman in a hat and sunglasses holding a Largemouth Bass on a boat
  • The early bird gets the Bass. While Bass feed throughout the day, they’re most active when visibility is low. The most productive time of day is early morning and evening. During the hottest days of summer, Bass come out to feed under the cover of darkness, so night fishing can be very good.
  • Fly fishing on rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams. Fly fishing for Bass is highly adaptable. Have a fishing boat? Go after deep-water Bass. Prefer fishing from land? No problem, head to a nearby pond, lake, or stream and try your luck. You can even do it from a kayak if you want. The most important thing is to locate where the fish are and find the best way to approach them.
  • Prepare for hard hits and a harder fight. When in attack mode, Bass aren’t subtle. They will come down on your fly hard, with aerial displays. Make sure that some of your line is slack so that you’re prepared for Bass jumps and headshakes. They’ll try to give you the slip, so it’s crucial to set the hook. Also, reeling in Bass takes time because these fellas don’t give in easily. So prepare yourself for a lengthy fight, it’ll be worth it.
  • Look for ideal weather conditions. Cloudy days work best for your Bass fly fishing endeavors, and if there’s a slight breeze to disturb the water, even better. If you’re out on a lake or a pond, completely windless conditions can work like a charm, because Bass can see your surface fly and attack it with abandon.
  • Presentation is everything. Arguably one of the most important aspects of fly fishing is presenting your offering so that it looks like real food to Bass. It’s best to keep your fly moving through the water, in the line of sight of the fish.
  • Casting. The length of your cast depends on the species you’re fishing for. For Largemouth and Smallmouth, shorter casts of up to 30 feet will get their attention. Striped Bass are a different story – to get to them, you’ll need to cast farther away, anywhere from 60–100 feet.
  • Retrieving. “Animating” the fly is what makes Bass fly fishing so fun. This means you should move your fly in a way that emulates the movements of bait fish or other tasty offering. Make sure the tip of your rod is lowered, then strip the line at different intervals, moving your fly in various patterns until you find what works.

Which Bass species can you catch on the fly?

You can land pretty much any Bass on the fly, including Peacock, White, and Hybrid, but Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Striped Bass are favorite catches. “The Big Three” are all opportunistic feeders, they’re not picky eaters, and they’ll fight you with everything they’ve got. You can cast a line in a remote river or go to the nearest urban pond, and you’re just as likely to find some Bass waiting for you.

Largemouth Bass

A smiling young angler holding a Largemouth Bass

If there’s only one thing we can say about Largies, it’s that they’re voracious feeders and they’ve got the mouth to prove it. With their deep green color and distinctive black line right across the body, they’re not hard to recognize. Add to that their huge mouth that allows them to inhale just about anything, and you’ve got one of the most popular Bass in the fly fishing circles.

You’ll find Largies both in shallows and in the deeper sections of streams, ponds, lakes, and rivers. They prefer warm murky waters and congregate around weed beds, rocks, and any kind of underwater structure.

Smallmouth Bass

Two smiling fishermen in caps holding two big Smallmouth Bass

If you love Bronzebacks, but you’ve never tried getting one on the fly, you’re missing out. Their dark red color and vertical black lines set them apart from other relatives. Fly fishing for Smallmouth Bass is just as exciting as when going after Largies, but the environment they prefer is a bit different.

Smallies love colder, moving water and you can sometimes find them in the same places as Trout. This doesn’t mean you can’t find Largemouth and Smallmouth living close to each other. They’ve got similar movement patterns throughout the year, the only difference is that Smallies hunt in the moving currents, riffles, and around deep holes and rock ledges. You can also find them in still waters, especially around roots and fallen trees, where food abounds.

Striped Bass

A smiling fisherman holding a big Striped Bass, with autumn landscape in the background

If you’re up for facing the ultimate heavy-weight champion, then go after Striped Bass. While other Bass stay in the 10 pound ballpark, average Stripers weigh anywhere from 10–40 pounds. You can find them in freshwater and saltwater alike, they’re aggressive and fight hard – all this makes them a fantastic catch on the fly.

Look for Stripers in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and near coastlines, wherever there’s plenty of their favorite food, shad. Similar to Largies and Bronzebacks, Striped Bass love hanging out around sunken structures, boulders, weeds, docks, drop-offs, and rocky banks. You can also find them on the flats, where they come in search of gizzard and threadfin shad. It’s important to place the fly so that your prey can see it, and using the countdown method works best.

When to Go Fly Fishing for Bass

Bass are active most of the year, save the coldest days of winter. They prefer warm water and mild temperatures, so during the winter they move to the deep waters and become apathetic. Summer and spring are the most productive Bass fishing seasons.

A man in sunglasses, standing on a boat, holding a big Largemouth Bass

Spring is an amazing time to pursue Bass on a fly. Go out in late March and April, and you’ll find Bass in the shallows, where they can get warm and gorge themselves in their pre-spawn frenzy. Using streamers like Clouser minnows, wooly buggers, and deceivers is especially productive this time of year.

As the water heats up, Bass move away from the shore to spawn. In the deep water, you’ll find them around well-protected structures, deep holes, ledges, and drop-offs. The bite is still on, but the catch and release of spawning fish is always recommended.

During the summer, right after spawning, Bass aren’t too interested in food, but they bounce back quickly. Most fish keep to deeper cooler waters, though Largemouth also like to hang out in the shallows around weed beds. Smallies prefer cool moving water. 

Summer is the best time to use floating lines and surface flies to entice Bass. Depending on where you’re fishing, using poppers is your best bet. Dragonflies can work well, as well as gurglers deer-hair poppers, even frog imitations. Don’t forget to bring your weed guard to prevent your line and fly from snagging around underwater plants.

Brisk fall temperatures chase Bass back to the shallows, where they’ll spend some time feeding before winter. They follow the bait fish and move in groups, so you can get multiple hook-ups fairly quickly. 

Keep in mind that Bass are warier and easier to spook in the fall. Keeping things quiet and blending in with your surroundings becomes very important. In September and October, don’t shy away from using cork poppers, as well as mouse and frog patterns.

Fly Tackle for Bass

You don’t have to break the bank to buy the necessary Bass fly fishing gear. You might even have all the equipment already if you’ve been fly fishing for a while. Here’s what you’ll need to get started.

A close-up of an angler's hand holding a fly fishing rod with some slack, line, river in the background

Rods: The best rods for your Bass fishing expeditions are 9’ 6–8 wt medium action rods. They can handle strong strikes and jumps and allow you good casts for various flies. You can go for 6 wt rods if you’re using smaller patterns for Smallmouth, but for explosive Largemouth strikes, you’ll need a stronger rod.

Reels: It’s paramount to match your reel to your rod weight. You’ll want smaller reels (up to 7 wt) if you’re fishing for Smallies, and 8 wt reels if you’re after Largemouth. Choose an adjustable drag system, because it will allow you to stay flexible when fishing different watersheds and Bass species.

Line: Choosing your line depends on the type of flies you use and location. When you’re fishing shallow, calm waters like lakes and ponds, opt-in for a weight-forward floating line. If you’re fishing spots with a lot of underwater structure, a line with a short front taper is the way to go. For deep-water Bass fly fishing in lakes and rivers, a sinking fly line is your best option.

Leader: Fly fishing leaders can be quite long, but when it comes to catching Bass, usually a 6–7’ leader is the best solution for most circumstances. This leader length can endure Largemouth’s tenacity and Smallmouth’s acrobatics.

What kind of flies do Bass like?

Depending on where they are, you can fly fish for Bass on the water’s surface and under it. This will determine the type of your line, as well as the flies you use. The most important thing is not just to choose your fly but to present it naturally. Here are some of the most productive fly patterns for Bass fly fishing.

Poppers

A fly fishing popper on a table

Of all fly patterns, fly fishing for Bass with poppers is most popular. Everybody loves them because they’re productive and easy to use. Poppers make a lot of noise as they hit the water and have moving parts that get Bass’ attention. They’re excellent for night Bass fishing.

Deer hair poppers, frog imitations, insects, larvae, and bait fish imitations all work, and there are plenty of brands to choose from. The key is to cast your fly close to the fish and keep it moving to provoke the Bass to strike.

Streamers

A fly streamer on a line, with the fisherman in the background holding his rod

If you plan on fishing for Bass in deep waters, then you’ll need sub-surface flies, and that’s where streamers come in. The key is to pick a suitable color depending on where you’re fishing (anything from white to chartreuse and black is fair game). These fly patterns emulate the movement of Bass’ favorite food, including bait fish, crayfish, and leeches. 

Minnow streamers are the go-to fly for many anglers. Wooly buggers are just as good, along with variations of crayfish and leech patterns. You can also find flies with rabbit fur that are very productive because of the way they move in the water.

Divers

A fly fishing diver pattern on a table

Diver fly patterns can be used to fish both the surface and deep waters. If you move them slowly, they’ll stay at the surface, taunting your Bass to come closer. These are perfect to use in calm waters. Strip your line faster, and the fly will dive right into the fish’s line of sight.

Divers are made from natural materials like deer hair, as well as foam. They usually take the form of small animals like frogs. They can also successfully replicate the movement of sunfish and similar bait fish, which Bass can’t resist.

Best Locations for Bass Fly Fishing

We already know that Bass is the nation’s most beloved fish and there are countless excellent fisheries you could explore. We’ll mention just a few of the very best ones, but it’s up to you to explore the local potential of your area.

The view from the ground of the Sam Rayburn Reservoir
  • Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas: According to Bassmaster rankings, the reservoir is one of the best spots in the US to catch Bass. Largemouth are the stars of the show and catching them on the fly is something special.
  • Lake St. Clair, Michigan: If you prefer fly fishing for Smallies, then you should give Lake St. Clair a chance. This beautiful watershed also happens to be one of the best Bass fisheries on the planet, so what’s not to like?
  • The Everglades, Florida: Largies reign supreme in the Everglades canals and both local and visiting fly anglers know it. Pretty much wherever you go in the Everglades, you’ve got a solid chance hooking into a Bass.
  • Clear Lake, California: Another Largemouth central, Clear Lake is a fly fisher’s treasure trove. Because of the mild climate, you can successfully fly fish for Bass year-round. Even if Bass are away in your area, Clear Lake is always open.
  • Lake Texoma, Texas–Oklahoma: Known for being the home of many Bass species, Lake Texoma has a lot to offer to a passionate angler. Smallmouth, Largemouth, Striped, and Spotted Bass are only a few of the species you could hook into here.

Fly Fishing for Bass – Try It and Be Hooked for Good

A fly fisherman wading in a mountain river

For people who haven’t tried it yet, fly fishing might sound a bit intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Fly fishing for Bass requires only affordable equipment, your time, patience, and a bit of practice. Feeling that bombastic Bass strike on the fly is an absolutely unique experience, and one worth having, so why not give it a go?

Have you ever been fly fishing for Bass? What are your experiences? Do you have a favorite fly pattern that you use? Let’s talk in the comments.

Comments (2)
  • Kevin Miller

    Sep 10, 2022

    Not only will I’ll be first to post 7 months later but my post is as long as an article – ha. I fly fish for just about everything from trout in freshwater to sharks in saltwater. I’ve fished for bass in small farm ponds to big rivers and lakes. I also fish rivers and oceans for Stripers. Every mid september we go to Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region of NY. I am the only fly fisherman among 5-7 spin fisherman. For those that don’t know Keuka, or most of the other Finger Lakes, they are very deep. Keuka is about 180 feet deep and from the banks it typically drops off very quickly. There are some grassy flats at the ends of the lake and along some of the shoreline, especially where the residential docks are. Keuka is not a typical or ideal fly fishing lake but I was determined to see how well I could do compared to spin fisherman. We fished from boats which allowed us to fish in water up to 50ft deep on 1 side of the boat or cast from the other side to around docks/grass flats that went as shallow as 2 feet or so.

    The first couple of years I didn’t do so well. I caught fish but they were small bass or perch or rockbass on a small clouser, perch minnow or olive bugger. I soon learned I needed to use a bigger fly to consistently catch bigger bass. This is the opposite of fall fishing for stripers since the bait in the ocean is pretty small. Over the next couple of years my go to setup is an 8wt rod with a sinking line for most of the day. At sunrise or sunset I always try poppers and my success with poppers is directly tied to seeing fish surface. Back to the sinking line…I fish this with a deer hair shad floating diver 2/0 hook. This allows me to do several things:
    1) I can cast through the wind.
    2) I can cast farther due to the line weight (learn to double haul for real distance).
    3) I can control the depth of my fly in the water by how long I wait to start, stripping and the speed with which I strip.
    4) I only need 2 types of fly lines – floating and sinking. My boat holds 4 fly rods so I setup 2 with floating lines and different poppers and 2 with sinking lines and 2 different large flies (1 I mentioned already and the other is usually a perch feather game changer).

    Depending on how you strip retrieve the floating deer hair fly the fly will start to ascend on the pause and dive on the strip. And when I let it sink it has somewhat of a neutral buoyancy making it look like a fish that is hovering .

    I’m still learning but how to be more effective at this lake but this overall strategy won me the biggest bag on our 1st day last year in our friendly fishing competition. However, that was the only day I’ve won. Alas, fly fishing just isn’t as efficient or diverse as a spin fisherman to fish these lakes. And it’s really tiring casting a sinking line on an 8 weight all day, especially compared to flicking your wrist on a spin rod. I’m lucky if I get 1 cast for every 2 to 4 casts they get and that’s if I stay in 20feet or less. They can jig vertically along dock pilings or over deeper water. But I’m passionate about fly fishing so I have no desire to spin fish just to catch more fish.

    Hopefully this gives some ideas to those that want to fly fish a lake. I would rather fly fish other bodies or water compared to a lake but now I have fun on this trip every year as I fish this method along with trying some new things (and work on my casting for Montauk stripers and albies)!

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      Rhys

      Sep 11, 2022

      Hi Kevin,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. It’s always great to hear from fellow anglers and I’m sure many readers will find your insights very useful!

      Tight lines,

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