Did you know that you can catch bass within driving range of your house? For most Americans this is true. You can find bass almost everywhere. They can be found on golf courses and in urban settings, there is even some in Central park. And of course, in lakes and rivers across the country.
The availableness paired with them being a fearsome predator makes them a popular sportfish enjoyed by many. If you’re someone who wants to try bass fishing of even an experienced bass angler, catching them on a fly rod gives the whole sport another dimension.
Finding the bass
One of the things that make bass such a good sportfish which is exciting to catch is that they are a very opportunist fish that often hunts near the surface and strike with a lot of power.
To be able to find the bass you must first understand how they behave and this changes depending on the time of the day, the environment and the season. But don't despair, we will cover the general behaviour for the different seasons.
In the spring, both smallmouth bass and largemouth bass comes near the shallows as the water warms up faster. During the spring, they spend their time spawning and eating other fish enjoying the warm water.
During the summer when the water gets warmer, the smallmouth bass tends to move into deeper water to chill down and you will want to fish deeper waters if you want to target them. The largemouths, on the other hand, like to stay in the shallows and take cover in between weeds and under covers such as docks, boathouses or fallen trees. If the spot has turbid dark water and sufficient cover, there’s a good chance it holds a largemouth. When the fall comes and the water temperature drops the smallmouth will return to the shallows to prepare for the winter.
If you are fishing in moving water you will find the largemouth in the more calm waters while the smallmouths keep in the current and rifles. In small streams, it’s usually pretty easy to find a few places that're good spots for bass, especially if you are familiar with the habits we mentioned. If you are on a larger stream, just the sheer amount of water makes it more difficult.
The key here is two words that bass fisherman use; Structure and Cover. Structure is often used in regards to the underwater terrain such as boulders, rocks and rock ledges while cover refers to things like submerged logs and trees which helps the fish hide from predators. It’s important to focus on both of these for both species but smallmouths will usually prefer cover close to faster-moving water.
What does the bass eat
Just as when you are fishing with lures we want to figure out what the bass is feeding on. Then we can choose a suiting fly pattern and present it to the fish as naturally looking as possible. The bass diet consists of a lot of things from frogs and mice swimming at the surface to subsurface things such as baitfish, leeches or crayfish. There are even some patterns that don't really imitate anything, or they imitate everything and looks generally good to eat.
The key is to get the fly in the sight of the bass and make it look alive. The power of observation is a great tool when it comes to determining the current food source. If you, for example, notice small crayfish along the bottom while wading it’s a good sign. Bass loves crayfish. Another common food source is minnows as they are rich in protein and an important part of the basses nutrition intake. A good indicator that the bass is feeding on minnows is you see them actually jump out of the water fleeing from the ferocious predator.
Choosing a fly pattern
When you’ve figured out what the bass is feeding on, or, at least, have an educated guess it’s time to chose a pattern. And the is a flurry to patterns to choose from. This makes it easy to start doubting your patterns and spend more time changing flies than fishing. It’s usually more efficient to change spots and fishing techniques before changing the fly and in the words of my fly fishing teacher, “The most important part of the pattern is that you believe in it.”. What that said is nice to bring a general assembly of patterns that contains, at least, one choice from each of the categories of food.
It’s always fun to tie your own flies, but if you are a beginner it’s usually best to visit your local tackle shop and bunk up on some flies and get some valuable advice.
As we mentioned before, bass loves crayfish. So it’s always good to keep a crayfish pattern handy. Crayfish is most likely to live along rocky shorelines so this is where you will want to place your casts. And you don’t want to cast at the place you think the bass is standing but beyond it and the strip the line back and let it drop. Strip and let it drop.
A good choice of crayfish pattern is the Tabou Daddy. It’s a lightweight pattern that’s easy to cast and uses chick-a-bou feathers. It was created by Steve Schweitzer and is a proven pattern for catching a lot of different species including bass.
Bass eat other fish, including juvenile bass. There’s a lot of bait fish and minnow patterns in different colors and sizes. Keep in mind that as the largemouth bass has a bigger mouth it often goes for bigger flies than smallmouth.
Almost every body of water contains leeches or, at least, some worm-like creature. This makes them a prime target for trout, bass and a lot of other fish. Leeches are confident swimmers but are not especially fast and move in a snake-like way. Leech patterns are really good during the spring and other times when the water is cold. Fish them slowly and close to the bottom.
This is where the Woolly Bugger comes into play. It’s one of the most popular patterns in the world and for a good reason, it’s awesome. It looks like a lot of things and especially like a leech. It comes in a wide variety of colors and sizes and whatever fish species you are targeting you’ll want to have at least a few buggers in your box. With its marabou tail, it moves well in the water and the weighted head gives it a nice jiggly motion.
If you have fly fished for trout you will familiar with imitating insects and the same principles will work on bass to if they are in the right mood. When you are fishing with insect imitation there is are two main concepts, at the surface and subsurface. This is commonly known as dry and wet flies.
Dry fly fishing is the preferred technique for many people. It can be incredibly fun as you get to keep your eyes on the fly the whole time and actually see the fish strike. The key here is to imitate an injured or dead insect on the water and then you wait for the fish. The downside to this is that most of the time the fish are feeding under the surface.
Subsurface flies cover the patterns we already mentioned as these are creatures that actually lives in the water. There are also quite some aquatic insects we can imitate. There is also a lot of insects that lay eggs in the water. When these eggs hatch the insect is a pupae stage. These pupae are commonly referred to as nymphs, and fish loves nymphs. Nymphs are often pretty simple but heavy flies you fish close to or at the bottom. I think that nymphs are the category of flies that has the most patterns and fishing with them are super popular. If you are want to know more about nymph fishing for bass, Dave & Emily Whitlock has written an extensive guide on nymphing for bass.
Frogs & Mice
Dead insects are not only the only attractive surface food for bass. Largemouths will go for even bigger prey such as frogs and mice. They even harass baby ducks! So if you want to stir things up it can be nice to fish a mouse pattern along the shorelines to trigger a strike.
Catching the fish
Fly fishing is very versatile and there is a lot of different techniques. We already mentioned fishing with dry flies and the most common method is the dead drift. Basically simulating a dead insect on the water. The key here is to place the fly in a way that the streams pull the fly to the location the fish is waiting for it. This is also a common method for nymphs with the difference that the nymph is wobbling down along the bottom instead of the surface.
When it comes to bait fish imitations and other aquatic creatures where you want to simulate movement the dead drift might not be the best choice. You should instead experiment with retrieving the line at different speeds while keeping the rod tip near the surface. One common practice is to let the line sink for a while then retrieve the line in long slow strips with small pauses between them. As you might have guessed it can be hard to find the perfect technique and it is. They key here is to experiment. Trying a lot of different methods is often more effective than changing fly patterns.
A common misperception about fishing bass on the fly is that it’s hard to get started and that you need a lot of complicated and expensive gear. While fly fishermen often like spending a huge amount of money on their gear is completely possible to get a decent rig relatively cheap.
The best all round rod for small and largemouth bass is an 8 weight rod as you need a heavier line to be able to cast bigger and more air resistant flies. If you are only fishing for smallmouth you can get away with a 6 or 7 weight rod as the flies are a bit smaller.
Another good thing about bass fishing is that you don’t need an expensive reel. Your reel is mainly there to store your line and you don’t need an advanced drag system. The best fly line to use is a simple weight forward (WT) taper that will help turn over the large flies used for top water bugs.
Looking for fly fishing equipment can sometimes feel like moving through a jungle but we would recommend that you look at Orvis Encounter 8-weight 9' Fly Rod Outfit which we think is a good starter kit and it includes a rod, reel and line.
Hopefully, this has sparked an interest in fishing for bass. Maybe you are already filling up with coffee and packing your gear. If you found this guide helpful we appreciate if you share it with your friends next time you are bugging them to come fishing with you.