The Inside Secrets of Fly Fishing For Bass

It’s just before sunrise, on a small suburban lake recommended by a friend, and the water is still and like glass. Deciding to try fly fishing for bass has brought me to the water’s edge. Beside a stickup just beyond the weed line is a yellow bass bug, placed there with a short cast of my fly rod.  After a short wait, the hardest part, the surface of the lake explodes, as a five – pound largemouth bass blasts upward, with my popper stuck in the corner of his mouth. A quick strip – set lodges the hook in the bass’s lip, and the fight is on, making every cast ever made worthwhile.  This is the heart – racing moment that makes fly fishing for bass at sunrise into memories hard to forget.

So, how does a fly angler fish for bass?  It’s not really difficult, once you grasp the nuances:

  • Bass tend to be opportunistic, so flash and noise are good
  • Bass live in waters just about everywhere
  • It takes a strong hook set to catch bass
  • You can be successful blind fishing for bass
  • Presentation is not as important as finding the bass to target, reading the water is key
  • Bass survive well in warm water, so availability is widespread
  • Tippet size is not important fishing for bass with a fly rod
  • Best fly fishing reel and rod combo

Bass live in all of the obvious ‘fishy’ places: around rocks, submerged trees, near stickups, lily pads, weeds, and grass lines, on flats, near deep water drop – offs, where bait fish congregate, and around just about any type of structure in a lake or stream. They can also be found hanging out under tree limbs hanging out over the water, seeking shade on a hot day.  Early and late in the day bass tend to be found in shallows, and in the middle of the day in deeper water.

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Don’t lose any sleep over the type of rod you use for bass fly fishing,  just make sure it has enough backbone to handle a strong fish – a five to eight weight, nine foot fly rod works very well for most bass.  If there’s no wind or heavy weed cover, a five or six weight will do, but for flinging larger, bulky, feathery flies in wind, go heavier, up to an eight weight. Use a fly line that will fit the rod, and a weight – forward line will cast large flies best.

When it comes to leaders, bass really don’t care what size leader you use, they don’t get spooked by line size.  The angler’s concern is more about the ability to turn over the fly and bring in the fish than anything else.

Leader types:

  • Tapered – there are leaders made especially for bass, and salt water or striper leaders work as well, think of them as redfish. You’ll want a 7 – 9’, 0X to 3X leader, in the 10 – 15 lb. range.
  • Monofilament – many fly fishermen simply use straight mono of 10 – 15 lb. test for fly fishing, varying the length from 6’ to 9’, depending on the wind and fly size.
  • Knotted – some build their own tapered leaders, typically with 4’ of 10 – 12 lb. mono with 3 – 4’ of 5 – 8 lb. mono attached. Again, these leaders can vary in construction with the use and wind.
  • Remember, you need power, not pretty for bass

A common question is, “what flies work best for bass?”  there are bass bugs, frogs, poppers and the like, but many typical trout flies work very well.  Go – to flies include:

  • Large poppers, in yellow, green, and black
  • Deer – hair bass bugs
  • Frog imitations
  • Woolly buggers, 6 – 10
  • Large dry flies (type doesn’t matter) and simulators
  • Hoppers and beetles
  • Big and buggy, lots of articulating feathers, etc.
  • Very small plastics will work, and clousers imitate baitfish well
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Bass presentation has its types:

  • Stillness – cast to a likely spot, such as next to a stickup or tree in the water, and wait…
  • Twitch/pause – cast, let sit for 3 – 5 seconds, twitch the fly and inch or so, then stop. Repeat.
  • Strip and pause – cast well past the likely holding spot, let the fly sit or settle to depth, then strip 6 – 18” a few times. Pause, repeat, making the stripping pattern irregular to make the bass think the bait is in trouble.
  • Rapid retrieve – cast past the target spot, then strip hard, irregular and fast

Special techniques:

  1. Jigging the fly – using floating fly line with an 8 – 10’ monofilament leader, allow the fly to sink to just off the bottom, then jig it up and down slowly, with 5 – 10 second pauses in between.
  2. Floating/diving retrieve – use a sink line or sink tip, with a 6 – 8’ leader. Tie on a surface or diving fly.  Allow the sink tip/line to sink, then use slow, long strips to cause action in the fly, just under or near the surface.
  3. Bottom dragging – use a long sink tip or a sinking line, a 2 – 4’ leader, and tie on a floating fly. Let the line sink to the bottom, and the fly will suspend in the feeding zone as you slowly strip it in.

Troubleshooting: if you snag the fly, pull slowly, not hard.   Sometimes wiggling the line will loosen the hook.  Using weed guards on flies made with monofilament will help a lot in weeds and grasses.

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Bass Fly Fishing Tips:

  • When retrieving subsurface flies, watch for side movement or slacking of line, then set the hook. Bass sometimes don’t slam the bait.
  • Bass often hit the moment the fly hits the water, so be ready, and in control of the line, keeping slack to a minimum.
  • When stripping line, keep the rod tip low, and strip – set the hook. Fly rods don’t have the power to set the hook by raising the rod.  Basses’ mouths are tough.
  • Fish top – water flies very slowly
  • Noise works with bass – sometimes they’ll key in on the ‘plop’ of a fly on the water.
  • When fishing a popper – type fly, let the circles go away before imparting action to the fly
  • Fish weed lines and lily pads, but be accurate to keep from hanging up
  • Animation of flies is important, a dead drift is not. Bass like action.
  • Use the line, not the rod to impart power.

Why not give fly – fishing for bass a shot?  The next time you have a hankering for the feel of a bass at the end of the line, leave the traditional rod and reel in the garage, and take the fly rod – you won’t be sorry.

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