Fly-Fishing For Bass

Fly-fishing for bass is nothing new to most fly-fishing anglers. It is the conventional angler or novice fly-fisherman who finds this concept rather difficult to grasp. However, all that is often needed is some guidance through the maze of terminology, gear and tactics to succeed at catching America's favorite fish on the fly.

Bass can be found most any sizable body of fresh water, from a farm pond on up. Largemouth bass can live in just about any aquatic environment found while smallmouth bass prefer cleaner, moving water most of the time and stripers must have moving water to spawn. Stripers are the giants of the bass family, grow to up to 60 pounds and will eat anything. However, they mainly travel in large schools and mostly chase bait, which means you will have to get the fly down to them.

Fly-fishermen who pursue black bass, though, most often relish the thought of taking fish on the surface. They speak reverently of being on calm water early in the morning, working a popper, frog or other floating fly across the surface, waiting for that bass to strike their offering. Some anglers compare this action to a great white shark taking a seal off the surface of calm ocean waters. An explosion of water and sound, along with the sight of that bass attacking is nothing short of a double espresso in the morning!

That is what sets the hook for most conventional anglers to grab a fly rod and head out to try their luck. Nowadays, you will see many fishing professionals with a fly rod or two tucked away in their gear willing to take the chance on some topwater action. Many guides offer this service to their customers knowing that more bass fisherman would like to try it.


According to David Leak, a fly-fishing guide and co-founder of, he can put anybody onto some excellent bass fishing even if they have no experience at casting a fly rod.

"People get hung up on the casting part of fly-fishing instead of the presentation and how to work the fly," Leak says. Either using a full-sinking line or a floating line, he will put anglers on the fish.

Leak likes to use a full-sinking line for most of his bass fishing and claims that this gets his chosen flies down to the fish and into the strike zone. In the early morning hours when the water is calm, he switches to a floating line for some topwater action until the wind picks up or a different bite is worth investigating. Leak can be reached by calling San Diego Fly Shop at (951) 296-9999.


Most fly rod manufactures make a fly rod specifically designed for bass fishing. All fly rods are broken down by line weight and length, so it is easy to understand after you know the basics. However, to make it easy and more understandable it is suggested by most that a simple 6-weight rod that is 9 feet long and comes in two pieces is a perfect rod for the task.

The crucial part with fly-fishing is the fly line, and it also happens to be the most confusing part of fly-fishing. Sinking and floating are the most two common, and here again the makers of fly lines have gone ahead and made this choice very easy by making fly lines just for bass fishing. Most lines cost from $45.00 on up to $99.00, with some even higher. Just like conventional gear there are many different types, labels and levels of quality out there, but picking a name-brand product is worth the investment

What you want to work with is a simple 6-weight, full-floating and weight-forward line. This way the movement of the rod, the weight of the line and the coating surrounding the line makes your casting bigger flies a lot easier to manage. When using sinking lines you will notice that the line is heavier and offers a different casting feel to it. These types of lines are designed to get your fly down deep in the water and come in various sink rates and sizes. If working with a guide, they will be able to help with this choice.

Next is the reel and spare spool, because you want to have that extra spool if you want to change from a sinking line to a floating line or something else that might work better than what you're using. Most reels start at around $150.00 and go for as much as $750.00. However, you don't have to spend that much to get a good-quality product. The reel operates basically as a line holder and not a fish-fighting tool, although most reels made today do have a built-in drag system. Reels can be configured to fit either the left hand or the right hand, with most having a quickly removable spool. All of this can be discussed with your local fly-fishing provider who knows the area and what you will be going up against. You can pick up all-inclusive fly-fishing combos ready to go at most fly shops for just about $250.00. They include rod, rod case, reel, extra spool, line and line backing, leaders and most likely a few flies; everything you need to get started for fly-fishing for bass.


Bass will hit just about anything that moves on the water and looks good to eat. You can use a wide variety of topwater flies, including mice, rats, frogs, lizards, dragon flies and big, ugly-looking bugs. However, I do believe that frogs and mice are the most popular choices. So when using a floating line, try to keep that in mind. After all, you want that awesome topwater bite.

When using sinking lines most anglers use shad-, bluegill- or big trout- looking patterns. Some of these flies can be hard to work with and sound like a huge bird flying overhead when you cast, so always look around to make sure you won't hook somebody. Most anglers use these types of big flies when either trolling or casting short distances to boils on the surface, which brings us to our next area of fishing.

Chasing bait or "busting boils" on the water surface is fun and rewarding. When doing this, you don't want to spook the forage fish or the bass with your boat or other watercraft, so a stealthy approach is needed. You will see fish "busting bait" on the surface within casting range, so putting the correct imitation fly on your line is important. You don't want to be casting something the fish are not going to look at.

Since there are so many different types of flies to use when fly-fishing for bass, the angler will want to know the primary food source for the bass they are going after. Most fly-fishing anglers use a series or flies to "search" for what the bass may be feeding upon; all the way from large Wooly Buggers to small minnows. You need to find out what is happening under or on top of the water.


The leader is a piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon line attached to the end of the fly line. There are many different ways that this is done. One very common way is to use a "loop to loop" fastener, which means that both the end of the fly line and the starting end of the leader have a "loop" attached to them. Simply attach the loops together and away you go.

When fishing for bass, the type of leaders, tippets and lines are very different from trout fishing. The angler doesn't have to know tippet size or strength, single taper, double taper, sink rate on the line or any of the other more common aspects of trout fishing. Instead, the angler is using a fly line designed for bass fishing and is basically using a strong piece of monofilament as the leader that attaches to the fly. Bass are often bigger than trout and are not line shy. When you tie the leader to the fly line loop, the most effective knot to use is a Double Surgeons Knot or Blood Knot. There are many books and websites out there that help explain these and other knots that will prove useful.

The fly-fishing angler doesn't reel in the line as with spinning or baitcasting gear. Instead, the angler imparts a series of movements, twists, jerks and long or short pulls to give the fly the right action needed to cause a fish to strike. A fast, long pull on the line gives the fly a "fleeing look" as it scurries across the water, or through the strike zone with a submerged fly. Some flies are designed to sit on the bottom and move very slowly, similar to drop-shotting with a plastic worm. The angler doesn't set the hook either. Instead, the angler lets the fish do most of the work by hooking itself. The angler simply lifts the end of the rod up into the air, making the rod, line and tension do all the work. It sounds simple enough. However, as with all fishing, there is always something to learn, so practice leads towards improvement and fish.


When fishing either from shore or from a boat you always want to make sure you're in an area where the fish are. So knowing how to "read the water" is crucial to your success.

Look at how the water moves around certain objects. If you can see trees or brush sticking up out of the water, how will this affect your cast or the action of your fly? You always want to be close to structure in the water because that is where the fish are going to be hiding or hunting. So find those submerged brushpiles, those long-dead tree branches sticking up and, one of the all-time favorites to fish, lily pads. Most topwater flies have a "brush guard" built in that gives you the ability to drag your fly in a natural way over and through some tough obstacles.

Casting to shadows is another great idea as well. Mixed in with the cover of trees, brush or boulders, bass will hide in the shadows, just waiting to ambush some prey.

This is great topwater time with a frog or mouse pattern. Cast to any area and let the fly sit for a moment or two, acting as if it is stunned and fell in the water. Then start a slow twisting or jerking retrieve, making the fly look like an injured prey animal.

Successfully making the fly imitate something else and fooling the bass into striking will make you a fly-fisherman; the thrill will keep you one.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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