Catching smallmouth bass on a fly rod is one of my favorite things to do. In this guide to fly fishing for bass, we show you exactly where bass sit.
Fly fishing is more commonly associated with trout fishing, but flyfishing for bass can be great fun and incredibly rewarding. Bass are readily found in ponds, rivers, and lakes all across the US, making it easy to fit in a bass-fishing trip.
Fly fishing for these aggressive, opportunistic fish is an amazing experience – they’re the most popular sport fish in northern America for a reason! But if you’re a trout fisher through and through, you’ll need a few tips to get started, as bass fly fishing is a very different game.
You’ll need to adjust your technique, invest in some different flies for bass, and maybe even grab some new fishing gear. This helpful blog for bass fly-fishing will get you started and should see you reeling in some whopping bass on your next fly-fishing trip!
Check out our post here If you are looking for some tips on how to fly fish for beginners.
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The difference between Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass
There are two main types of bass, the smallmouth bass, and the largemouth bass. You’ll notice the difference in appearance, but they also behave differently and prefer different locations in the water, too.
Knowing a little about the variations between the smallmouth and the largemouth bass, and how they behave from season to season, will greatly increase your success rate when you are out fishing! Here’s a short description of each type of bass:
Largemouth bass are easy to spot. You can tell when you’ve snagged a largemouth if the mouth extends beyond the eye (hence the name!). Largemouth bass have a green tinge with a horizontal black line along their body.
Largemouths are often to be found in weedy areas in the shallows throughout the year. If you are aiming to catch largemouth, you’ll need to look for darker, warmer areas in the shallows, or along the waterbed. They don’t tend to head out into open areas with fast currents if they can avoid it.
If you want to know the biggest largemouth bass ever, see our World Record Largemouth Bass post here.
You’ll recognize a smallmouth bass by the vertical black stripes along its brown body. Also, on the smallmouth, the mouth only reaches as far back as the middle of the eye.
During the early spring, smallmouth can be found mainly in the shallows, where they head to eat and to spawn when the water temperature begins to rise. But once the spawning season has finished, you are much more likely to find smallmouth in the cool, deep water they prefer. Smallmouth bass thrive in cold, fast-flowing water, so keep this in mind when you are casting.
If you want to know the largest smallmouth bass ever caught, see our World Record Smallmouth Bass post here.
What Do Bass Eat?
Bass tend to be greedy but opportunistic fish. They will often go for other fish almost as big as they are!
Crayfish are a major food source for bass – they just love to eat crayfish. If you see crayfish in the location you are fishing, it’s a good idea to cast along the rocky shores where the crayfish tend to be.
Minnows and shad are also common foods for bass. If you see minnows jumping, that’s probably what the bass are snacking on in that particular lake or river.
However, bass are not fussy fish. They will eat large insect larvae, frogs, insects, and even ducklings. Basically, whatever the bass can catch, they will eat. This is good news as it means you don’t have to be too selective with the flies that you use.
Smaller bass, under 8″ or so, tend to feed mostly on insects. It’s once they get past this size that they focus on the bigger prey, and even young bass can be on the menu.
Where to look for Bass
When you’re flyfishing for bass, there are a few things to think about to identify the best spots for catching bass. Consider the type of water you are fishing: Is it a river, lake, tidal water or stream? If you are fly-fishing for bass in a lake, the best spots will change from season to season. If a river, does it have a fast current? Current breaks are good spots to find trout on fast-flowing rivers and streams. Are there any ledges or deep pools around?
Also, keep your eye out for any likely structures that might be providing cover for bass. These crafty fish like to find somewhere to hide until they can spring out and ambush their prey. A great tip to help you catch bass is to try to fish with a local: they’ll have a deeper knowledge of the structure and cover around your chosen lake or river.
Keep the season in mind too when fly-fishing for bass. In the spring during the spawning season, you’ll get more success casting in shallow, warm, sunny areas with a sandy or gravelly bed. Bass prefer these areas for laying their eggs, so even if you can’t see them, try casting around and see if you get any bites.
In the summer, remember that smallmouths are more likely to be in deeper waters, though you might still find largemouth around the weedy shallows. The bass has another feeding frenzy in the fall. During this time, just look around for tell-tale signs of where the bass or the forage is, for the best chance of catching something.
If you’re still not sure where to start, check out the video below at how this angler finds the best spots for bass – bass fishing .
Bass Fly Fishing Gear
If you were planning on taking your trout fly box out with you when you’re fly-fishing for bass, think again. It’s time to shake things up a bit and try out some new fishing flies. When it comes to bass flies, you need to think big! And I do mean bigger than that trusty no. 4 wooly bugger.
There’s a growing range of bass flies on the market now, so you don’t have to worry about tying your own flies. Although there’s definitely something to be said for tying flies yourself, so feel free to give it a go if you prefer.
For bass fly fishing, I recommend you take a mixture of streamers, poppers, floating bugs, and jigging flies, both weighted and unweighted. You can also use some of these on winter bass fly fishing. That way, you’ll be able to fish on the surface and deeper down. Deer-hair bass bugs, beetles, and frog imitations are all good choices, too.
The point here is to grab the attention of the bass by making your fly come alive. Floating bugs are ideal for weedy areas in the shallows, near lily pads, logs, or other structures. Streamers work best in deeper waters and faster currents, and poppers are great in the early morning or as the sun starts to go down.
It might sound unconventional, or even slightly controversial, but for fly fishing bass, some anglers recommend giving soft plastics and even creature lures a go. When it comes to fishing bass, flies and lures don’t have to resemble particular larvae, insects, or fish. If it looks alive, bass is often happy to take a bite and see, and soft plastics seem to work pretty well.
Bass Fly Fishing Tips
Whether you are fly fishing bass for the first time, or you just want to up your game, read on to find out the best tips for flyfishing for these beautiful fish. Bass are an exciting fish to catch on the fly, given their aggressive nature and the way they put up a fierce fight. Follow these top tips for bass fly-fishing, and you could be landing yourself some good-sized bass on your next flyfishing trip!
Take a look at these great fly fishing tips to take your fishing for bass to the next level:
Take Care When Casting
For bass fishing, it’s all about getting the fly close and then grabbing their attention. Especially when the fish are lurking amongst weeds, it can be quite a task to get your fly close enough without getting it caught up in the vegetation. But if you do, you should be rewarded with a catch!
Let your fly linger
Many experienced anglers report the best success in hooking a bass when their attention wavers for a moment. You don’t need to keep your fly moving all the time. Let it drop and rest a while longer on the surface. Let the fish notice it. You might be surprised how often a bass will bite, and then you can set the hook.
Pack your sturdiest gear for bass fly fishing
You might want to choose one of the best fly rod for bass and reel that can stand up to even the strongest bass. These fish are known to put up a fierce fight, so you want gear that has your back here, to allow you to haul that fish in. For fly rods, think anything from 5wt to 9wt.
Keep light pressure on your rod at all times
It can be tricky to notice just when a fish bites, especially when you sink fishing flies below the surface. I recommend that you always keep light pressure on your rod, so you can feel and see the difference in your rod and fly line.
Check out our full breakdown here for the Best Fly Line for Bass.
Size up your flies!
Bass are greedy and if they can get their mouths around it, they will eat it. Take this opportunity to try out some bigger streamers and flies – you might be rewarded with a trophy-size specimen.
Give a sinking line a go
If the bass are sticking to the riverbed, why not try to drop a sink top or a sinking line and get that crayfish fly down to where the fish are? If you are not catching anything, it’s a great idea to try some new tactics when you are bass fishing.
Alternate your fly between movement and stillness
You want to catch the attention of the fish and replicate an insect or baitfish in trouble. Alternate between moments of stillness, and then strip in an irregular pattern. This is bound to get the bass watching your fly, ready to ambush it.
Slow your pace: Get to know one spot inside out
When you are trying to catch bass, you need to read the area and really get to know it well. If you slow down and fish in one spot, you’ll begin to discover the secrets of the fish: their favorite spots, what they’re eating, and when you’ll catch the most fish. Structure and cover is key for bass – bass fishing. You’ll catch a lot more fish if you don’t spread yourself too thin over a larger area.
Fish Early or Fish Late
Like most fish, bass are most active at dawn and at dusk. It can be harder to locate the fish when the light is low, but you’ll have a higher chance of success. This strategy is especially important on the hottest days when the fish will descend sluggishly to the bottom of the lake or river and won’t venture to the surface. If you are having no luck flyfishing for bass, why not come back in the cooler hours when the fish will eventually perk up and be looking for tasty things to eat? Getting the timing right could mean the difference between a disappointing fishing trip and an impressive catch!
So there you have our detailed blog on how to fly fish for bass! Fishing on the fly for bass is a fun way to catch these whopping fish, but it’s definitely a different game from trout fishing.
You need to know where to look for them, have good, solid gear to pull them in and make sure you’re using the right flies. If you’re excited to give fly fishing for bass a try, you need to:
- Look up your nearest bass fishing location
- Stock up on some great flies for bass – think big, and think eye-catching!
- Grab your 6wt or 7wt rod with a sturdy reel to pull in that healthy-sized bass,
- and keep your eye out for any structures or likely spots where the bass will be lurking
Go on, get out there and have a go for yourself! As always, leave me any comments or questions below. I’ll do my best to get back to you as soon as I can. Have you tried fishing for bass before? Or are you tempted to give it a try now? Let me know!