Fly Fishing for Bass: The Ultimate Guide

April 13, 2020

Fly Fishing for Bass: The Ultimate Guide

You love fishing for bass. The early morning mist the wisps over the calm swamp waters. Or maybe the sound of a loon calling to its mate across Canadian lake water. You cast your lure towards an underwater log, and within seconds you feel a powerful strike. Bass on! Bass fishing really is something special But have you ever tried fly fishing for bass? 

Fly fishing is the newest trend in getting the biggest bang for your buck while bass fishing. Fly fishing is known for its super light tackle, which makes fighting small but energetic fish an absolute riot. Many fly fishers know that size is only half the picture; talk to any bonefish fly fisherman out there and they’ll tell you the fight of their life was with an 8 lb or less fish. 

Combine this with feisty small and largemouth bass, and you have a recipe for exciting fishing. But what kind of tackle should you use for fly fishing for bass? What time of year is best, and where should you present your fly to the bass? We cover all that and more in this article!

When to Fly Fish for Bass

In general, you can fly fish for bass year-round. The spring and fall months, however, tend to be the most prolific for bass. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, these months the water is colder and the bass are more active. In the winter bass are hibernating, and in the summer they’re trying to avoid the heat of the long days. Second, many lakes and ponds are stocked during these months – which helps your odds of catching bass too.

As far as the time of day goes, you want to fish early in the morning and at sunset. This is when the water is the coolest and the bass are most likely to feed. As the day progresses, the water warms up and the sun angle becomes too hard on the bass. They’ll become skittish as they can see more detail above water (like hungry anglers).

As it gets later in the day, move to deeper water where the bass will feel more comfortable.

Where to Fly Fish for Bass

Much like other freshwater fish, bass love to hang out next to underwater structure (such as rocks, logs, grass). This is where their main source of food lives (small fish) and provides them shelter from other predators. 

With some lures (like a Texas Rig), the added structure is not an issue. A Texas Rig is designed to bump up against grass and rocks without catching. But for fly fishing, you have to be extra careful with your line and lure. Not only is your lure prone to snagging with an exposed hook, but your line is also at risk of tangling or catching on nearby grass or trees. This is what makes fly fishing for bass a little more tricky than other methods.

We recommend looking for bass around underwater structure, but also ensuring you have a clear lane to whip your fly line overhead and behind you. Be on the lookout of inlets that have a spot of clear water perfect for presenting your fly to nearby lurking bass. 

Rod and Reel Needed

Most medium to heavy fly fishing setups will work well for bass. For your rod, a five to eight weight rod around nine feet in length will work great. You can go smaller (to a five to six weight), but depending on the wind conditions and grass cover a larger size rod will be more manageable. Pair an adequate reel with the size rod you end up using.

As far as leaders go, bass care more about your ability to present the lure and the action you put on it matters more than anything. So many types and sizes of leaders will work fine. For monofilament leaders, use 10 to 15 lb test line in the 6’ to 9’ range. For tapered, use a 7’ to 9’ 0X to 3X leader that’s in the 10 to 15 lb range.

If conditions are especially rough, you can also use a shorter leader with a deep-sinking line. This gives you much more control in windy situations while also working well with bigger flies. A 2’ to 4’ leader with a density compensated line can work wonders in heavy conditions. This technique also works well if the surface of the water is choppy.

If you plan on casting into weeds, implementing a weed guard can remove a lot of your snagging headaches and keep your lure functional for longer periods of time.

Best Types of Flies

Next comes the type of fly you want to present to the bass. Remember, bass are predators that love eating many types of small critters. Model your flies after what you think they’d like to eat. Some options include:

  • Imitation frogs.
  • Imitation mice.
  • Clouser minnow.
  • Other large poppers.
  • Bugs made out of deer hair.
  • Large wooly buggers.
  • Large dry flies.
  • Imitation baitfish.
  • Beetles and grasshoppers.

When tying your chosen fly to your leader, be sure to use a non-slip or heavier set knot. You want to have control over your bulky fly and also be able to apply pressure if caught up on grass/rocks.

Now for presentation, there’s also a lot of options. See some popular ones are below.

  1. Cast and wait. Whip your fly onto a patch of clear water near where you think a bass is hiding and be patient.
  2. Cast and strip. Cast your fly in front or behind where the bass are hiding. Let the fly settle then strip your line in 6” to 12” increments. Pause every few seconds. You can also vary the cadence you strip your line to imitate a wounded animal.
  3. Cast and twitch. Cast your fly near where the bass are hiding and let it sit for several seconds, Then pull your line an inch and wait again. Repeat this motion to see if you get any bites.
  4. Retrieve quickly. Cast your fly significantly past where the bass are hiding. Let the fly settle for a second or two, then rapidly retrieve the fly. Vary the speed and action of your retrieval to see what the bass like.
  5. Bottom retrieval. Same as above, but let your fly sink to the bottom before stripping your line. Just be careful around underwater structures.

General Tips on Fly Fishing for Bass

Here’s some general tips on fly fishing for bass that will help you catch more bass:

  • Bass are aggressive fish; sometimes they’ll strike fly the second it hits the water. In these cases, strip your slack line as soon as possible and set the hook by pressing your index finger against the line and the rod.
  • When fishing with surface flies, sometimes bass will take the fly without slamming the bait. If your line goes slack or does something weird, strip your line quickly to set the hook.
  • When stripping your line, don’t rely on the rod to set the hook. You’ll need to apply pressure to the line and let the bass hook itself.
  • Bass tend to like action. Don’t be afraid to strip aggressively and sporadically!

Final Thoughts

Fly fishing for bass is one of the most exciting ways to fish for the freshwater game fish. Watching a surface fly get slammed by a hungry largemouth bass is something you have to see to believe. After reading this article, you now know how you can experience the thrill of fly fishing for bass yourself.

Happy Hunting!

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