Welcome to the exciting world of fly fishing for bass. You have arrived at one of the internet’s most complete sources of information for catching bass with a fly rod.
Fly fishing is the oldest surviving form of fishing using a rod. It dates back before the second century AD. Unfortunately, fly fishing has become so associated with trout that many are missing out on the other great fish that can be caught on a fly rod. Fly fishing is associated with trout because in it’s early days, trout were about all the light horse hair lines and delicate rods could handle. Modern fly fishing rods, reels, and lines can handle just about any fish that swims anywhere. Fly fishing for bass is one of the fastest growing types of fishing there is.
In the pages of this site, you will find invaluable information on gear, flies, tactics, and more. We’ll take you through the first tentative steps of learning about fly fishing in general. Then what is specific for bass, such as selecting gear, what flies to use, and what techniques to use.
Some of the contributors to the site have over 40 years experience fly fishing for multiple species. They will be sharing tips, and uncommon knowledge, gained from years of trial and error, and an intimate knowledge of bass, fly fishing, and fly tying.
Contrary to what you may have heard, learning to fly cast is considerably easier than mastering a bait casting reel. And it doesn’t require a lot of specialty equipment, or a large supply of flies. You can successfully catch bass with off the shelf fly gear, and less than a dozen fly patterns. And, no matter where you live in the continental US, chances are good that you are within one hour of some kind of bass waters.
If you have ever been curious about fly fishing for bass, you have come to the right place.
- 1 Fly Rods and Reels
- 2 Lines and Leaders
- 3 Bass Fly Tying
- 4 How Many Bass Flies Do You Really Need?
- 5 Best Bass Flies
- 6 Other Flies of Interest
- 7 Tactics
Fly Rods and Reels
Bass are one of America’s most popular freshwater game-fish. It’s not hard to figure out why. They are fairly large, pugnacious, eager to swallow just about anything that comes in range of their cavernous mouths, wily at times, and widely distributed. No matter where you are in the US, Southern Canada, Central and South America, or Mexico, chances are you are within a hour or so of good bass waters.
Until the advent of tough fiberglass and graphite rods, and high-performance fly lines, bass fishing with a fly rod was an exercise in futility. Even an average-sized bass could destroy a traditional bamboo fly rod and light silk or horsehair fly lines. But, mostly since the end of WW-II, fly gear has come a long way, and is more than up to the task of fishing for just about anything that swims, anywhere. Just avoid trying to use a bamboo rod for bass, and you’ll do just fine.
I am not going to go into the basics of fly fishing in general. There are numerous websites where a newcomer can learn the ropes (or lines, as it were…) I am just going to cover what is specific for bass fishing. I am going to assume you already know how to cast, use tapered leaders, and such.
Spare The Rod and Spoil The Bass….
If you fish for trout, you’re in luck. Unless you only fish for trout in very small streams with those fun super light 3 wt rods, your regular trout rod and reel will work just fine for average-sized bass. A 6/7 wt. rod is plenty for smallmouths, white bass, and largemouth bass up to around 5 lbs, or so. If you fish a lot in Texas, Florida, or any other place that has trophy-sized bass, you may want to move up to a 8/9 wt. rod. This size is also great for freshwater striped bass, and light inshore saltwater fishing. It’s not the size of the fish that is the determining factor, but rather the size of the flies you will be casting. Big bass flies are very wind-resistant, and you need a rod powerful enough to drive them against the wind to get any distance. Distance isn’t really all that important, but you don’t want all of your fly line piling up in front of you at the end of a cast.
The only thing that I might recommend is that you use a rod with fast action, because they provide a little more ‘snap’ to power the fly out there. Slow-action rods bend all the way along the length of the rod, and are great for absorbing the shock of strong, long-running fish like salmon, bonefish, and carp. But, they don’t have the same casting power as faster actions. Medium-actions flex for about the top 2/3rds of the rod length, and are a compromise between shock-absorbing ability, and casting power. They are great for all-around rods, and are especially good for using double-tapered lines for super-delicate presentations. But there is nothing delicate about bass fishing. In fact, sometimes the harder your fly lands, the better. Fast-action rods only flex for the first 1/3 of the rod length, and have plenty of backbone for setting a hook in a tough bass’s mouth. You don’t have to worry about shock-absorbing ability because you won’t be using any light leaders (or light anything else, for that matter…). Here is an example of what I am talking about:
As the names suggest, a fast-action rod has a much faster reaction time to anything you do, and as such, is a little less forgiving on casting mistakes. But, bass don’t don’t care if your cast isn’t perfect. Anyway that gets the fly on the water, reasonably close to where you want is fine. I sometimes slap the water with my fly line on purpose, because the noise attracts bass for quite a distance, even though that kind of sloppy cast would make any trout angler sit down on the bank and cry….. I call it the ‘Tsunami Cast’.
You don’t need a $1000.00+ Orvis rod to catch bass. My bass rods are Scientific Anglers, Eagle Claw, and Shakespeares…..all from Walmart for under $30.00 each. I have yet to lose a bass due to rod failure, in over 40 years of fishing for them. Just don’t use a beautiful heirloom-quality bamboo rod for bass (you will break every trout anglers heart if you do), because a bass will destroy it, and pick it’s lips with the splinters.
The Reel Deal….
Pretty much any reel will work for bass. Neither largemouths nor smallmouths make very long runs, so most of the time, you will be fighting them manually with your control hand and the line, rather than from the reel. However, I still recommend a reel with a disc drag, rather than pawl drags. There is always a chance you may hook into a carp, bowfin, striped bass, gar (I call them freshwater tarpon…), catfish, or other long-running fish by accident, and you really don’t want to lose $30.00+ worth of fly line, butt section, tapered leader, tippet and fly. Other than that, the reel is just to hold fly line and backing. Any reel will do for bass, even those fun little automatic fly reels that a purist trout angler wouldn’t be caught dead with. I own several…I’ll admit it. There is no need to go out and buy a $100.00-$1000.00 fly reel for bass. Most of mine are Scientific Anglers, Pfluegers, and Martins…all purchased from Walmart. Again, I haven’t lost any bass due to reel failure in over 40 years. You can go easy on your wallet, and concentrate more on having fun.
Fly lines, leaders, and such are a little more involved, so I will talk about them in the next section. For right now, if you have your rod and reel, throw in some line, a leader, and few flies, and you have everything you will ever need to catch bass on a fly rod. There are some things that are nice to have, but not necessities.
I’m often asked about waders for bass. You don’t really need them. Unlike trout, bass like warm water. And, because of the nature of bass, where you will find them is not likely to be suitable for wading. Even smallmouth bass in streams prefer to hang out in cover, along ledges, holes, channels and such…places you don’t want to be trying to wade. The only time I would recommend waders is if you plan to chase bass from a belly-boat (more about that later…), in winter. Otherwise, wet-wading is perfectly fine, where it is possible to do so. Just be sure to wear a good pair of wading shoes or booties. You should never wade in water with your bare feet. Broken bottles, old fish hooks and lures, and other hazards are all on the bottom waiting for an unwary person to step on them.
You may be doing a lot of moving around, looking for bass, so tackle boxes can be a bit unhandy. A fishing vest with lots of pockets is a great thing to have, where all of your necessary gear is right there where you can get to it when you need it, and you are free to walk where you will. They can be found for as little as $25.00 sometimes, and are well worth the money. Military-Surplus Grenade Vests are almost ideal for bass fishing. They have pockets everywhere….. I am also fond of cargo pants, with leg pockets. You can carry a lot of gear like this. Small day-pack backpacks are also nice to have, to carry a few sandwiches and a thermos of coffee, a first aid kit, and other gear you may not have to have ready access to, but may want to have it with you just the same.
A good pair of fishing pliers will help you get your flies back from the hard lip of a bass, relatively undamaged. Bass can be hard on flies. Also, you will want to have a few large fly boxed to hold large bass flies. I have made some from Altoids boxes, that hold 4 or 5 Woolley Buggers, or several poppers, or a couple of really big bass files, each, and they fit comfortably in my vest pockets. You can easily carry 4 or 5 of these, for a total of more than a dozen flies,….more than enough for a day of fishing. Any of the commercial fly boxes will work fine, as well.
A few other things nice to have is a tape measure, because some bass waters have slot limits, and minimum sizes. You should always have some kind of knife with you for emergencies. Extra leaders and tippet material is good to have. A good pair of UV-rated Polarized sunglasses is a good addition to your gear, because you will be spending a lot of time looking at the water, and reflected sunlight can damage your eyes.
Lines and Leaders
Lines and leaders are the main areas where bass and trout fishing diverge. Trout fishing requires delicate presentations, a close-to-perfect fly-drift, and very long, light leaders, so as not to spook the fish. Bass, on the other hand, are not particularly spooky. In fact, they are just the opposite, and often swim a good distance to investigate noises. They pay little attention to the line, and couldn’t care less whether the fly is drifting right, or swimming upside-down.
Distance is not usually an issue when you are targeting bass. The normal amount of backing on your reel will be fine. Most of your casts will be 30′ or less, so there is no need to fool with shooting tapers. Likewise, bass are indifferent as to how the fly lands in the water, so double-tapered lines are not needed. Level fly line can work, but it is abominable to cast, so I would by-pass it as well. The best lines for bass are weight-forward lines. For really big flies, you can even go with some of the extra-large forward section “Bass Bug” tapers. These are excellent for driving large flies towards heavy cover.
The next question is, “Do I need Floating, Sink-Tip or Sinking Line?” It depends on where and when you plan to fish. For most situations in Spring, Summer and Fall, Floating, or Sink-Tip is fine. Floating line allows your fly to drop to the length of the leader, and maybe a bit more. If you need the fly deeper, you can use a longer leader. Also, a floating line can become a Sink-Tip just by adding a removable split shot or two to the line (but don’t squeeze them on so tight that you cut in to your fly line).. In Spring and Summer, the majority of bass food will be within 10′ of the surface. When the weather starts to cool in Fall and Winter, bass go deeper, so if you want to fly fish for them at these times, you will need a Sink-Tip, which is good down to around 15′, or a full Sinking Line, good to 20′ or more. Sinking line sinks at an even rate, which is listed on the box. Some sink fast, others sink slow, and others are in-between. This allows you to ‘count-down’ your drop to the fishes depth. In other words. if bass are chowing-down on schools of shad at 20′, and your line sinks at 1′ per second, you just cast, and count 1000-1, 1000-2, etc…, all the way to 20, then start your retrieve.
Your leader design needs to be strong, rather than delicate. There are lots of so-called Bass tapered leaders on the market, but in my opinion, most are way too long, and too light. You can use longer leaders if you want, but the longer the leader, the more gunk your going to pick up with it as it slides through slime, algae, weeds, lily pads, mud, and other organic detritus. Bass (and most other warmwater species) aren’t crazy about clean water, like trout are. Most commercial leaders are 7′-9′, which is too unwieldy for tight situations around trees, from a kayak, or belly boat. 5′-6′ is plenty long enough. Also, most commercial leaders for bass have 4X tippets, which I consider too light for most bass in cover. You may need to physically pull a bass out of it’s hiding place before it can wrap your line around something, and a 4X is just not up to the task.
I consider 10 lb. Trilene as the absolute minimum for a bass tippet. I use Trilene XL for my leaders because it’s been my experience that Trilene is the strongest line for it’s diameter on the market, it is much less likely to take a permanent ‘curl’, and lays out better on the water than other brands. But that is just my opinion. You can use whatever monofilament you like. You can even use the high-performance, abrasion resistant Kevlar lines if you want. Since the leader seldom ever goes through the rod guides, there is little danger of the line cutting your guides, as in a standard spinning, or spin-cast rod. To use these lines with normal spinning rods, the rods need to have special ceramic guides.
If you want to make your own leaders (highly recommended), here is my recipe for a close-to-perfect bass leader for most situations:
Use 3′ of 20 lb. Mono to make a leader butt section for a permanent leader connection to your fly rod. You can make a loop in the end of the butt section using a Perfection Loop knot, or you can buy pre-made looped butt sections for around $4.00-$5.00, however, these are going to collect a lot of debris from the water while bass fishing. I prefer to make mine a bit more evolved, and relatively ‘knot-less’. Mine have the added advantage of being able to be reeled through the guides, so you can fish with as long a leader as you want, and still get to the end of the leader if you need to. You need a good-sized Ball Point sewing machine needle for this (the hole is at the point of the needle, which makes this a lot easier…):
I usually clamp the needle’s butt section tightly in my fly tying vise, but you can also use pliers to hold it. Carefully thread the fly line over the needle.
Work the needle into the core of the fly line, for about ½ to ¾ of the way down the needle length (be careful not to split the fly line), then run the point outside the line until the hole is exposed.
Now, thread the mono through the needle hole.
Holding one end of the mono pull the fly line off the needle, threading the loose end of the mono through the needle as you go.
Pull the loose end through until you have around 2” left on the end you are holding. Take a piece of sandpaper and rough-up the last 2” of the mono (so the fly line has something to grab on to).
Mix up a little 5 minute epoxy (or, if you are quick, you can use Super Glue…).
Coat the end of the mono with the epoxy (Super Glue), then pull it through until the end just disappears into the fly line.
Allow the epoxy to dry for at least 15 mutes before moving the line or leader butt. If you used Super Glue, wait 2 minutes.
Now you have a leader-to-line connection that will never come loose, has no knot to collect debris, and will freely slide through the rod guides. It creates no extra drag whatsoever, and it is plenty stiff enough to turn-over large flies.
To make a leader, you really don’t need anything much longer than 5 or 6 feet, unless you just want to. Use a Blood Knot (which is basically just two interlocking Clinch Knots) to attach each leader section to the other. Here is my best recipe:
2′ of 15 lb. test Trilene (or whatever you like…)
2′ of 12 lb.
2′ of 10 lb.
Coat all of the knots with Sally Hanson’s Hard As Nails (or similar product). This will make the knots smooth, and less likely to collect debris from the water.
This leader will catch bass of all sizes from now until the cows come home, even 20+ lb Florida, or Peacock Bass. Your flies will land perfectly every time. You can adjust the formula for longer leader lengths by adding short intermediate sections of mono, and stepping it down by increments, such as 15 lb.,12, 10, 8, etc…, and by increasing the length of each section to 3 or even 4′ each. I wouldn’t go any lighter than 10 lbs. on the tippet, but you can certainly go heavier, say to 12 lbs. You can also start with 25 lb. test if you think you may need a heavier leader, and step it down by 3′s, 4′s, 5s, etc…, such as 25, 20, 18, 14, 12, in 2′ sections, or just stop at 14, or 18 for shorter, stronger leaders.
Some people like to put a Perfection Loop, or braided loop in the end of their butt section for quick loop-to-loop leader attachments, but I would discourage this for bass fishing. The loop will pick up all kinds of moss, algae, and other debris, and create a lot more air-resistance when you cast…something you really don’t need with bass flies. You’ll spend half of your time on the water just cleaning gunk off of your line, and lose 5′-10′ feet of casting distance. Instead, attach the leader to the butt section with a Blood Knot, and coat the knot well with Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails.
As far as types of fly lines, at least for bass fishing, I haven’t noticed that one particular brand is any better than another, for the same type and weight. The bass don’t care whether I am using $100.00 Scientific Angler Sharkskin GPX tapered line, or $20.00 Cabela’s Weight-Forward line. I usually buy what is the least expensive. Like I said, go easy on your money, and instead just concentrate on having fun.
Bass Fly Tying
If you don’t tie your own flies, you should consider it. It is an extremely satisfying hobby all on it’s own, and it makes catching those fish that much sweeter, knowing you did it with a lure of your own creation. Fly Tying is a lot of fun. It may not save you any money, but you won’t be restricted to just whatever patterns the local fly shop has. You don’t have to mortgage your house to get started. Basic equipment and materials can be had for under $50.00…even less if you don’t mind used stuff (Amazon has great deals on fly tying tools, equipment and materials….). You can always upgrade after you get the hang of it. You might want to give it some serious thought, and maybe talk to a few tiers….
How Many Bass Flies Do You Really Need?
You don’t really need a large selection of flies to be successful at fly fishing for bass. You can actually catch them pretty much anywhere, anytime, with just 3 patterns. Of course, you’d want some different color combinations, and sizes, but the 3 patterns are the same. And these work for all species of bass (as well as for almost all other fish species). These 3 patterns are the secret weapons of fly fishing, and are the go-to patterns for every experienced fly angler when they are having trouble. They work on bass, panfish, trout, and even saltwater species, depending on the colors and sizes you tie them in. This is the dirty little secret of flyfishing: It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Here are the three trump-card fly patterns. Just click on the link under the recipe for video tying instructions.
Best Bass Flies
Bass Woolly Bugger
In 1967, a Pennsylvania fly fisherman, and fly tier decided to experiment with variations on an old, very successful English fly pattern called the Wooly Worm, itself a variation of a much older pattern called the English Palmer Fly, dating to the early days of fly fishing with Izaak Walton (1594-1683 AD). His intention was to come up with a passable imitation of a helgramite (Dobson Fly larvae), that the local trout were so fond of. His creation almost revolutionized fly fishing, and has been so successful that it has been suggested that it be banned altogether from certain watersheds. This pattern is so successful that a dyed-in-the-wool purist fly angler will consider it cheating if you use one. If you could only have one fly to fish with from now on, this would be the one you want, no contest.
I have modified the pattern a little more to make it more bass-specific, basically more crawfish-y. All I really did was modify the tail into two claws, put a clouser weight at the rear, and add a weedguard. It’s as weedless as it gets, and catches bass like nothing else. You can modify the colors and sizes to suit your needs.
Thread: 6/0 Unithread
Hook: 2x Wide-Gap sz 4 to 2/0
Weight: 22. Air Rifle Pellet
Antennae: Brown Bucktail
Claws: Puglisi Fibers-Orange
Eyes: Mono Eyes, sz lrg
Body: Orange Acrylic yarn, worsted weight
Hackle: Metallic Brown Eyelash yarn
Rib: Gold Uniwire-small
Weedguard: 25 lb test Stren monofilament
Another fly that changed the face of fly fishing forever is the Clouser Minnow, and all of it’s derivatives. This fly catches anything that eats minnows, in fresh, or salt water. It is the second most productive pattern, very closely behind the Woolly Bugger.
In the early 1980s, Russell Blessing, a Smallmouth Guide and Fly Tier on the Susquehanna River, near Middleton, Pa., decided to try and craft a fly specifically for smallmouth bass. He used an inline weight, and experimented with different positions on the hook for the center of gravity. He found that if you moved the weight forward, towards the eye, the fly worked much like a jig. If you moved it back towards the middle, the fly glided. No matter what you did, the fly never stopped moving. The Waspi fly company got wind of his experiments and sent him some experimental ‘barbell’ weights that resembled eyes. That was all the fly needed to make history, and Umpqua Feather Merchants began to tie his flies commercially. The rest is history. Today, Clousers come in any color combination you can imagine, any size, and have taken over 83 species of fish, in both fresh and saltwater. It is a super-easy and fast pattern to tie. You can vary the materials, colors and sizes any way you want. After the Wooly Bugger, this is the next pattern you need. Don’t leave home without it.
Thread: 6/0 Unithread
Hook: Mustad 34007 saltwater hook, or equivalent sz 8 to 1/0
Weight: Barbell Eyes, large Bead Chain, or Airgun Pellet
Belly: White Bucktail with a few strands of Gold Krystal Flash
Back: Olive Bucktail
No bass fisherman’s arsenal could be complete without something to represent the ultra-successful plastic worm. This fly fishing version is just as successful as Creme’s original plastic worm. It undulates very enticingly and swims seductively through the water. The Clouser-style weight makes it ride hook-up, so it very snag-resistant, and the addition of a weedguard makes it almost as weedless as it’s plastic spin fishing ancestors. The really cool thing about this fly is it only uses 2 materials. That’s right, just 2 materials. Anyone can tie this fly. SO, without further ado, here is the Bunny Leech.
Thread: 3/0 Unithread, or Kevlar thread.
Hook: 2 or 2 x wide-gap sz. 4 to 1/0
Weight: Clouser barbell eyes
Tail and Body: Purple Zonker Strip 2-1/2x the hook shank length.
We’ll be adding more fly patterns from time-to-time, so check back often….
Other Flies of Interest
While you don’t have to have more flies than these, you will most likely like to expand your patterns anyway. We all do it. And besides, they are fun to tie, and fish with………
Deer-Hair Bass Bug
Purple Bass Worm
In order to be successful at catching bass with a fly rod, you need to know about bass in general. This is even more important with a fly rod than it is with a spinning, or spin-casting rod. Fly fishing requires more finesse, and concentration than regular fishing, your flies have little action on their own, so you have to supply it. This means you have to have an idea about what makes bass strike.
The species we are talking about here are not even true bass, but species of the freshwater sunfish family (Centrarchidae), which also includes crappie, bluegils, and pumpkinseeds. True bass include the white bass, striped bass and yellow bass, all completely different fish in the family of Moronidae. There are two main species of black bass in the US; the largemouth (Micropterus salmoides), and the smallmouth (Micropterus dolomieu) . There is one subspecies of largemouth, known as the florida largemouth (Micropterus salmoides floridanus). The only other representative in this line-up is the spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus ). For this article, we will be concentrating on the largemouth and smallmouth species.
Largemouth bass can be distinguished from smallmouth bass by looking at the rear of their mouths. If the edge of the mouth extends past the middle of the eyeball, it is a largemouth. If it is even with it, then it is a smallmouth. Their ranges and habitats overlap, so it is not uncommon to find both species in the same waters. Largemouths tend to be a bit deeper bodied, and usually have a horizontal dark line running along the lateral line. Smallmouths are a bit more streamlined, and are more spotted, rather than lined, however colors of both species can vary, depending on the waters they live in. For both species, females are larger than males, and any fish over 2-1/2 lbs is almost always a female.
Largemouth bass prefer slow waters, mostly in lakes, although they can and do survive in some rivers. They prefer the water to be stained, rather than clear, and very clear water can cause them to spook easily. Largemouth bass are ambush predators, meaning that instead of actively looking for and chasing down their food, they find a suitable hiding spot to wait for food to pass near, then pounce on it and swallow it whole. You will seldom find them in open water. They will almost always be near some sort of structure, such as old creek beds, channel drop-offs, rip raps, weed beds, sunken timber, etc. They typically won’t move more than 10 feet or so to grab food.
When the water temperature gets above 45°F, largemouth bass males begin to move in to shallower waters and stage for the spring spawn. They will begin feeding aggressively after their winter lethargy, stoking up for the rigors of mating. OD Green and White Clouser Minnows, and Puglisi minnows will work great at this time of year, as will most streamer patterns. Also, shad patterns will produce well. Look for timber just offshore from good nesting sites, rock piles, or a channel ledge. They are looking for good flat places near structure with sandy or gravely bottoms. They do not nest in mud.
When the temperature gets over 55°F, males will begin making nests, which will appear as lighter, or darker circles on the bottom, in 2′-5′ of water, depending on the bottom composition. Females will move in to the 10′-15′ staging areas the males just vacated, and wait for the temperature to get just right. As the temperature approaches 65°F, the females will move in and select the males they want, and lay eggs in the nests. At this time, the adults will attack anything, and I mean anything, that moves within 5′-10′ of their nest. Any fly you want to throw at them will work now.
After spawning, the females move back to deeper water, along lines of structure, to recover. They will be moody, and stubborn about striking flies now. The males stay to guard the nest until the fry hatch. They will still attack anything near, very aggressively. After the eggs hatch, the males move off, back to the mid-depths, where they too, will recover.
After spawning and throughout the summer, bass will be holding in structure 15′-20′ or deeper during the day. You will need sinking, or sink-tip lines to reach them. Again, most bass patterns will work. Bass aren’t real picky, once you find them. One of the best patterns for this situation is the purple Bunny Leech. It is the fly rod version of a plastic purple worm. Crawfish patterns are also excellent. Just toss it around cover, and work it in short twitches..the slower the better. In the mornings and evenings, and even at night, bass will cruise the shallows near drop-offs in search of baitfish to chomp. Floating flies such as the Crease Fly, in OD green and white, work well, as do large bass poppers. At night, dark colors work the best. Use light colors in the morning.
When fall arrives, and the water starts to cool down, bass will move back into the shallows and mid-depths and start to stoke up for winter. All baitfish patterns will work well at this time, but it is better if you can, “Match-The-Hatch”. This is what trout fisherman do when a certain species of Mayfly is hatching. They pick a pattern that most closely resembles the size and color, because trout will ignore everything else in order to capitalize on this hatch. For bass, try to match your pattern to the local baitfish as much as possible. Double streamer rigs will produce a lot of fish in the fall.
When the lake turns over in winter, bass head back to the depths and sulk for the duration. They will hold near structure, and will not move or eat much. You need to scale the size of your flies way down, and work them very slow. The fly will have to be within 1′ of a bass, or they won’t even consider it. When the water begins to warm again in early spring, the cycle starts all over.
Smallmouth bass prefer rivers and streams with moving water, similar to trout. In fact, it is not uncommon to find smallmouths and trout in the same stream. The SM bass will be near cover, while the trout will be in the current, behind rocks and other breaks. SM bass also like cleaner water. Other than that, their yearly habits are very similar. SM bass will spawn at slightly cooler temperatures than LG Bass, and they cannot tolerate the high water temperatures that LG bass can.
A few other differences are worth noting. SM Bass are crazy about crawfish. It is their favorite food. So any Clouser or Woolly Bugger patterns in brown and orange, or OD green will almost always work once you find the fish. Also, SM Bass are more prone to eat large insects than LG Bass. Once a bucketmouth gets over 15 inches long, they become almost exclusively big meat predators, inhaling everything from bullfrogs, large fish, snakes, lizards, and even baby ducks, to mammals like mice and rats. But no bugs….. SM bass are fond of large nymphs like damselflies and dragonflies, and helgramites, as well as the adults themselves. It is not uncommon to see a SM Bass jump clear out of the water to grab a passing dragonfly or damselfly flying over. So large nymphs will work well most of the time. SM bass are more active in the winter than LG bass, and as a rule, are more accessible to a fly rod, than their larger cousins of the lakes.
The best way to fish for SM bass, as a rule, is to cast upstream and let the fly drift down to the bass, mending the line as you go, and being careful not to ‘line’ the fish (letting the line hit the fish and spooking it). As far as mending, it’s not as critical as with trout because SM Bass are not that spooky or suspicious. As long as the fly is not drifting upside-down, they will hit it, and even upside-down is not always a deal-breaker. In lakes that have SM and Spotted bass, just fish for them as you would LG Bass. Spotted Bass (Calico Bass, Strawberry Bass, Kentucky Bass….) are very similar to SM Bass, and the same tactics and flies will work for them.
Always work up wind, and upstream, so any noise you make will not be as readily discernible by the fish. Especially when wading, you will undoubtably churn up bottom silt and debris as you make your way through the water, and this will be carried downstream, alerting any fish there of your presence, so work up stream and up wind, always.
Never shave, use soap, or aftershave on the morning you plan to go fishing. These put odors into the water that fish can smell for hundreds of yards. They won’t find them nearly as attractive as your spouse does….
Before you get into your kayak or waders, do yourself a favor and make a good visit to the bathroom facilities. You never know how bad you have to go until after you get into a set of neoprene waders, or snapped into a tight kayak.
If trees are close, and vegetation is thick, don’t be afraid to roll cast. Bass aren’t that spooky, and the extra noise is just as likely to attract them as to scare them.
Don’t ignore structures like bridges, boat docks/piers, Marinas, parked boats, undercut banks, and banks that drop-off. These often have holes and pockets in and around them them that bass love to hide in. They also like the shadows. You can nail some real hawgs around these places.
Fish any areas you find that are in heavy shadows during the day. Bass love to hang out in the cooler water of shaded areas.
Never ignore lily pads or cattails. These are Bass Heaven, because they are a complete ecosystem all on their own, attracting frogs, snakes, salamanders, other smaller panfish, minnows, baby ducks, and even mammals like mice, rats, muskrats, etc…all of which bass will happily engulf anytime they can grab them.
Anytime you find large schools of baitfish, bass will not be far off. You can locate the baitfish by watching seagulls and other aquatic waterfowl. When you see them circling and diving, they are attacking baitfish.