A Beginners Guide to Bass on the Fly

Catching Bass on a fly rod

One of the more underrated types of fly fishing is chasing bass with a fly rod. Not only are they North America’s most prevalent game fish, but they can be incredibly fun as well as challenging to fish for. 

Most of us started out bass fishing in local lakes or farm ponds. Throwing worms or crickets on Eagle claw hooks and hauling in the occasional largemouth. But once you feel the thrill of a smallmouth on a fly rod, it’s hard to go back to a regular rod.

Below, we’re going to go over in detail how you can start bass fishing with a fly rod. We’re going to cover different techniques and strategies that you’ll be able to use any time you’re out fishing. On top of that we’re going to talk about different products you can pick up to help out your game. 

Check it out!

Why Try Bass Fishing on a Fly Rod

My favorite pastime in my home state of Virginia is packing up my best fly rod for bass and heading out on the river to go fly fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth. Both put up a great fight and can be caught in several different ways, on topwater as well as subsurface.

Luckily, both fish will eat similar flies, so if you live in an area that has both species, you’ll be just fine bringing one fly box with you to either the lake or the river.

Smallmouth is renowned as being ‘pound for pound’ one of the best fighting fish. If you don’t have the proper tippet on then an average sized river, a smallie could easily put you on the reel and take you for a ride around the river.

I personally had a 22” smallmouth drag me and my kayak down the New River in Virginia, only for me to get him close to the kayak before breaking me off and swimming away. 

Now, as great as smallmouth are, you shouldn’t think any less of largemouth. While they may not put up as sustained of a fight as smallmouth, they can have some truly incredible runs that can leave your drag zipping and your heart racing. You may end up wondering if you have a bass or a redfish on the other end.

So, below we’re going to go over some flies and techniques that will help you get out and catch some more bass with your fly rod. Check them out and see which ones are going to work best for you!

Best Flies for Bass Fishing

You can have several different flies for bass fishing. Both smallmouth and largemouth will take the same flies, but if you want to target one or the other you should bring at least the flies listed below. 

Largemouth bass are more often than not the apex predator of the body of water they’re living in. So, remember that the next time you’re out on the river or the lake. You’re not throwing nymphs to a finicky trout. You’re going after a very aggressive fish. So, your fly needs to reflect that.

Poppers

All fly anglers love throwing topwater flies. One of the best parts about this sport is watching a trout come to the surface and delicately slurp your caddis or terrestrial pattern.

With largemouth, the word delicate should rarely be in your vocabulary. More often than not you want that popper to splat down hard on the water and create some nice ripples. Allow the fly to sit until the ripples dissipate and then you can start popping your fly back to you. 

Alternate between slow and quick pops on your fly to test what the fish are taking.

Clousers/Baitfish imitations

Bass love chasing after different types of baby panfish, shad, and even smaller bass. So, if you’re fishing during pre-spawn or in the fall when the fish are most active, then a baitfish imitation will be great.

Try to match the color and size to the local forage in the body of water you’re fishing. White with chartreuse is a great catch-all and can be used successfully in most bodies of water. Be prepared for a hard hit when stripping this back to the boat.

Crawfish Imitation

In shallow lakes and rivers, you can easily use a crawfish imitation on floating line. Allow it to sink and then give it the occasional pop back to either your spot-on land or from your boat. 

A crawfish might be the best crossover fly for both largemouth and smallmouth. Both fish love eating these little creatures and they are a must have in your fly box. 

Largemouth on a Fly

Techniques for Bass Fishing

Using any of the above flies you can also utilize a couple of different techniques while bass fly fishing. Below, I’m going to show you some of my favorite techniques that I like to use depending on the season. Check them out and see which one works the best in your local area!

Pre-Spawn

Bass are very active during the time of the year right before they spawn. This varies in different parts of the country but for bass it’s usually when the water temperature starts to creep out of the 40-degree mark and begins to consistently hang around the 50’s.

Fish are looking to add some weight to themselves since they’ve just survived the winter and are actively looking for food. Throwing a moving fly that imitates a baitfish is a great way to locate bass. 

Then, once you’ve found them you can slow it down and throw creature flies, or my favorite, crawfish flies.

Spawn

During the spawn, fish are on their beds protecting their eggs. I’m not a fan of disturbing them this time of the year so I’m usually throwing flies to Brook Trout in the mountains instead. However, if you need your fishing fix at this time, I understand. 

You can catch them by locating the beds and casting a crawfish fly at them. Dragging them across or near their beds will instigate a strike. Once caught, release the bass as close to its bed as possible.

Keep in mind that not all fish are spawning at the same time. Which means you can target pre-spawn fish without disturbing fish on their beds. 

Post Spawn

During this time the female bass have left the nest and now the male bass are left remaining to protect their fry. The females can be caught but they’re usually in deep water, or tucked back in some secluded undercut of a river. Making them difficult to find and catch.

The females aren’t gone for long though. Typically, they’ll start to make their way back out after a week or two. If you want to target males at this time, use the technique mentioned above. 

Otherwise, you’ll most likely need some sort of sinking line to find females.

A crawfish thrown near a drop off will work great for targeting those females who have gone into seclusion.

Smallmouth on Fly

Best Times For Bass on The Fly

When fly fishing for bass, just like when casting your favorite spin cast rod, different seasons will bring different types of fishing and different levels of excitement. Here are some key things to know about specific seasons when fishing bass on the fly.

Summer

Morning, evening and night will be some of the most productive times for bass. This is because of the cooler water temperature and the low levels of light, making conditions ideal to catch bass on topwater.

Look for weed lines, structures, drop-offs, or grass. Work your popper around these pieces of structure. A shallow running baitfish imitation can work well too.

If you plan on fishing in the middle of the day then be prepared to go subsurface. Crawfish and deep running baitfish imitations will work best. Pick out boulders, drop offs, sunken trees or eddies in rivers for fish. 

For largemouth you’ll want to throw to drop-offs, and anywhere that might have shade where fish could be hiding out in cooler water.

Fall

Fish are very active during the fall. They’re looking to fatten up for the winter time and will be actively chasing baitfish. Look to throw a lot of streamer patterns and topwater flies. If the bite is slow you could always slow crawl a crawfish as well.

Winter

Winter is different all over the country. In the northern states where water will freeze over you won’t be doing much fly fishing for bass. In the southern half of the country it can be possible to go out and catch bass on a fly rod.

Typically, you’ll be throwing flies with full sinking line and crawling the bottom with a wooly bugger, crawfish or anything else you can think of. Winter is slow, but fish can be caught that time of the year.

Best Destinations For Bass

Southern California and the southeast are known as hotbeds for big time largemouth fly fishing. These fish are eating and growing year-round. Allowing them to grow to incredible sizes. Lake Guntersville in Alabama, Lake Osceola in Florida, Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas, and Clear lake in California. 

Smallmouth is probably best known as a northern fish. However, don’t count out the South. There are some strong smallmouth fisheries in the southern half of the country. Check out the New River in Virginia, The Black River in Arizona, Lake Erie in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Lake Champlain in New York, and Lake Ontario.

Conclusion

It’s always surprised me how bass fishing with a fly rod hasn’t really caught on. They can put up a great fight and a smallmouth donned in its vertical tiger stripes is just as pretty as most trout.

So, hopefully the article above inspired you to go back to your favorite  bass water and try  to fish it with a fly rod. They can be great fun and if you ever need a changeup from trout then bass is the way to go!

Dallas Hudgens Author’s Bio

Dallas spends most of his time chasing bass in the mountain streams of his home state of Virginia and paddling around farm ponds throwing wooly buggers to bream and trout. When not fishing, he’s writing about it over at IntoFlyFishing.com where he shares his favorite fly gear, fly fishing techniques and fly fishing destinations.






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