Have you ever quietly stalked a pristine stream, found a perfect spot with grass along the shoreline and knew a fish or two would be there. You make a few false casts lay a fly right on the edge of the grass a few pops is followed by an explosion! Only this strike is not from a brown trout swallowing a dry fly instead is from a largemouth bass. In this article, I hope to shed light on a style of fishing that is not common in the sport of bass fishing, but when added to the arsenal can be nearly as effective at catching both size and numbers of bass. I will cover some basics of fly fishing gear, flies and locations to catch bass on a fly rod.
The fly fishing gear for bass is not nearly as detailed as is for trout fishing but choosing the right gear is still a must to tackle bass. Fly rods are just as confusing as our bass rods from length, action and line weight. I will try to help explain these as best I can and keeping it simple. The length of fly rods vary from 6 feet to over 9 feet with most common rod length in is the 7’ 6”-8’ this allowing the angler to both make long casts if needed but still able to drop the fly under a tree branch. The rods come in 2, 3 or 4 pieces. I have all three and notice no difference in the three other the travel ease.
The action on most fly rods range from moderate to fast. The action will be decided on the type of flies one plans to use. Fast action rods are not very flexible with the exception being the tip. This allows for farther casts, fighting bigger fish and making quick casts. The biggest disadvantage is they are difficult to learn because of how fast the line moves and your first few trips accuracy will not be on point.
Moderate action means there is more give in the top half of the rod than the bottom half that will remain stiff. These are the most common fly rods and can be used in a wide range of locations. These rods can offer the distance of a fast action rod, yet still allow more intricate work in smaller creeks or ponds. The line comes of the rod at a much slower rate than fast action rods thus make learning easier. Once a rod action is selected the next choice in fly rod weight.
The rod weight is basically what size of fly line is best suited for that rod. In bass terms you likely would not put 2lb test on a bait cast reel meant for 14lb test. Fly rods are similar to bass rods in matching the fly line to the rod weight, this will allow the rod and line to work together and make a successful trip. The rod weight is for the type of fish you will be going after. Fly line weight 1-4 is best suited for small fish (trout, panfish) 5-6 is most common this can handle bigger trout and most bass and 7-8 for large trout and bass. I typically use 4-5 weight rods but have used 7 weight rods when fishing at Choke Canyon, TX.
Fly line can be confusing and expensive, but I will try to help explain it a bit. The fly line weight should match the reel and rod. Most lines have a taper in the line which will be noticed when spooling up the line. Level taper means there is really no taper in the line it’s even throughout the entire length this is the cheapest fly line but can be noisy on the water. Weight forward taper is the most common seen the line is thicker in coming off the reel and becomes thinner on the reel. This line allows for a farther casts and better control. The last thing about line to think about is sinking or floating line.
The density of the line will tell you if the line in floating or sinking and depending how/where you want to fish will help decide which line to get. Floating line is the easiest to learn, it does just as the name states floats. Floating line works great with top water flies and some weighted flies. Sinking flies work best with heavier flies and fishing deep waters. I almost always go with floating line.
The art of tricking a bass on a fly is much simpler than trout where matching the daily lifecycle and hatches can be a nightmare and heartbreaking. Flies for bass are simple, I use 3-4 basic flies. Poppers are my personal favorite; these are simple pieces of painted cork, feathers and plastic stands. Best colors are white and yellow, and I prefer the smaller sizes. To use them is rather simple; cast to a spot, make it move or “pop” a bit and wait for the fish that’s it! Woolly buggers are great for both bass and trout and here I prefer one with a bead head to allow it to sink and give off a shine. These you just cast, let it sink a bit and strip in some line and let it die similar to a fluke. Clouser minnows are popular because they mimic an injured baitfish, and are retrieved similar to a fluke. Lastly, bead-head nymphs have their place in a stream/river system or when there are large amounts of aquatic bugs. These are simple to use casts let it sink and make small movement with the line to entice the fish.
Lastly where to fly fish for bass? There are three types of places I love to fly fish for bass. They are small streams, small ponds and large lake with a lot of vegetation. Small streams are the easiest to fish as we all know bass relate to structure or current. Cast a popper to any tree base, lay-down, lily pad/grass edge or break in current and hold on. Using small nymphs, in creeks that have current, can be deadly for smallmouth and largemouth bass. Small ponds are another great place for begginers to fly fish. Smaller waters allow for quick trips and have lower expectations of phenominal fishing, so they are a great place to try something new. When fishing small ponds, I tend to look for any type of grass or moss to casts a popper at. Small ponds are also a great place to try woolly buggers with a basic fluke retrieve. They mimic the small baitfish pond bass eat. Finally, large lakes, there are certainly limitations to fly fishing these lakes, but there are three areas where flies can be effective. Fish shorelines in the same areas you fish any other top water bait, a popper fly will work well. On docks or other shallow structure, a popper, woolly bugger, or clouser minnow will work. Finally, my favorite place the edge of weeds or moss is deadly with a popper type fly.
I will end this article with two of my fondest memories catching bass on a fly rod. The first took place on the Piney River on Fort Wood, MO. At the ripe age of 16, I tied some of my own bead-head nymphs and rode my bike to the river with fly rod and flies in hand. Crossed the river to my favorite spots and hard a rocky bottom, slight current and weeds along the shoreline. This are always held smallmouth bass. I make a few casts into the weeds and feel a solid strike, set the hook and fight on! My first smallmouth on a fly rod and I was stoked, to say the least. My other story is not a fish I caught but what I saw happen. I was at Choke Canyon, TX bank fishing and caught a few bass on top-waters along the edge of thick moss. I walked down the swimming area armed with my rod, braided line as my tippet (big bass) and a small white popper. As I walked, I found a small opening in the moss maybe the size of basketball and made a casts right in the middle of it. I made a few small twitches with the fly. Then, what looked like small ripple near my fly (bluegill?) appeared right before the water just exploded with a giant bass. In the excitement, I failed to set the hook. That was one of most explosive strikes I have even seen. While I will admit I do not fly fish as often as I would like too, if you want to try something new, give fly fishing for bass a shot.