Gearing Up: Fly Fishing for Bass
Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Bass are ideal fly rod fish.
They are found in countless bodies of water, are strong, often aggressive, and typically don't require super-technical setups or presentations. Many folks (like myself) can target them just minutes from home, but for some reason I just don't see huge numbers of people fly fishing for bass.
While chasing bass on the fly is extremely fun and rewarding, if you're coming over from the world of conventional bass fishing, don't expect to always have quite the same success. If the bass are in deep water, buried up in thick cover, or in other hard-to-reach spots, fishing a fly effectively for them may be tough or impossible. Areas that offer shallower, open water or sparse cover and structure are the easier zones to catch bass on flies.
With that bit of negativity out of the way, as someone who is also a long-time conventional bass addict, I love targeting them with flies. The "grab" is a huge part of that. When you're stripping the fly and the line suddenly stops tight as a big bass latches on to the streamer......well, I don't have to tell you that's pretty awesome!
Another thing I love about fly fishing for bass is the simplicity. Now, of course you can make it as complicated as you want and certain bodies of water may be more demanding in terms of techniques and gear, but I keep it super basic on my home waters. For most folks, I think the same will hold true.
Let's run through some of my thoughts and preferences when gearing up....be sure to scroll to the very end for links to a few products that work well for bass fly fishing!
Rods: I prefer the versatility and feel of a good ole' 9 footer. There are some shorter fly rods out there geared towards things like bass, but I've never felt an outright need to add one to my arsenal. For rod action, it's hard to beat a fast action for a blend of power and easy castability, but extra-fast actions are great for experienced casters as these excel at throwing big flies and heavier lines.
I've used everything from 3–9 weights to fish for bass. Out of all those, my personal favorite sizes are 5 and 7 weight rods, but of course this will vary. Rod selection depends on the size of the fish, the size of the fly, and what kind of cover/structure you're fishing around. Little 12 inch pond bass in open water are a blast on a 3 weight with small streamers, but if you're fishing around grass beds with larger flies and have a shot at tying into a bigger bass, grab an 8 or 9. If you had to grab just one rod for your average bass fishing adventures, a 7 or 8 would be a smart pick.
Often times, it's simply the size of the fly and the type of cover/structure you're fishing around that warrants a heavier rod—not necessarily the fish size. If you're fishing some relatively thick cover in a lake that rarely produces anything over 3 pounds, you'll still want that heavy rod so you can move a fish away from danger RIGHT NOW!
Reels: For bass fishing, the reel is the least of my worries. Don't get me wrong—bass can and do pull drag—but these aren't bonefish. Likewise, the typical bass leader is stout enough where you don't have to worry about a silky drag like you would when dry fly trout fishing. Unless I'm testing a reel, most bass I catch are otherwise simply hand-stripped and the reel isn't even utilized. I don't recommend going out and just buying a complete piece of garbage, but don't feel like you need to blow $600 either. Pick out a quality reel with a disc or even a click-pawl drag and have fun with it!
Lines: Here in Florida, I use a floating line most of the time. Since bass fishing often requires larger flies and no need for a ton of finesse (or any at all), a floating line that's a little more aggressive in terms of taper and weight is a good choice. By this, I mean one that's built with a shorter head and is a half or full-size heavier than AFFTA standards. This helps to cast and turnover these bigger patterns more easily. If you don't have a line like this or don't want to buy one, an option here is to up-line your rod which can also have about the same effect.
There are specialized bass-specific lines on the market, but I can't remember ever using one. I'm sure they are great, but I've just never felt it was necessary. The specialized fly lines I do use quite a bit for bass are those built for the tropics. These lines are built firmer and stiffer so they resist getting sticky and gummy in extreme heat. Regardless of where you are, if you bass fish when it's REALLY hot out, these lines can really save the day. I've found a need for them not just here in Florida, but also when out in Arizona and California in the summer.
Let's not ignore sinking lines, too. Depending on location and time of year, sink tips and full-sinking lines of various sink rates can definitely be needed. Even in water that's relatively shallow, being able to get the fly down faster and keep it down during the retrieve can pay big dividends. Bass aren't always super-aggressive and smashing poppers, especially during the middle of the day under bright sun. Getting down even just an extra couple feet often makes a difference.
Leaders: My leader setup is super simple for bass. On a floating line, I generally favor one that's about 7 to 7 1/2 feet long, but in very clear water a 9 footer could be used for added stealth. On sinking lines, my leaders can range from 4 to 9 feet, with the shorter leaders generally used on the faster sinking lines or in dirtier water, and longer ones getting the nod on slower or intermediate-sink lines or in clearer water. Don't forget about knotless pre-made leaders, too. Since they have no knots, they will stay much cleaner when fishing around gunk.
Bass typically aren't super line shy, but in very clear water I'll use fluorocarbon at least on the tippet just for that added confidence boost. A typical leader on my floating line would include just three pieces of line that taper down in thickness (butt, midsection, tippet) with a common setup for local fishing being a 20–30 pound butt of about 4 feet (hard mono works good), a 15–20 pound midsection of 2 feet, and 1–2 feet of 8–14 pound tippet. Obviously, lengths and poundages will vary depending on conditions—don't be afraid to have your leader taper down to 20 or 25 pound tippet if fishing around really gnarly stuff. When using that heavy of a tippet, I often skip the midsection and just tie that heavy tippet piece right to the butt.
Longer leaders on sinking lines follow about the same thinking, but on very short leaders you can even just use a single piece of line directly to the fly line. The shorter the leader, the easier a fly turns over which gives the option for a simpler leader. Still, even in this case I like to at least have a short, heavy butt section attached for tying the tippet to.
Flies: I break flies into three categories: deep, mid, and surface. To be prepared for any and all conditions on different bodies of water, you'll want flies from all three categories. In the deep category, these flies are weighted and can imitate things like crayfish, worms, or simply just baitfish. The Clouser Minnow is a super-common example of a fly that can get very deep quickly. For mid flies, I categorize these as lightly-weighted or unweighted which makes them generally sink slowly. Think baitfish imitators here, with familiar flies in this category being Lefty's Deceiver or EP-style baitfish flies. They work well on a slower-sinking line for fishing medium depths or on a floating line for covering shallower water and fishing over things like submerged weed beds. Finally, surface flies obviously float and can imitate prey like frogs, mice, or struggling baitfish. The classic Dahlberg diver is just one of many phenomenal surface flies.
I like sticking with basic patterns in both natural tones as well as some solid, more visible colors like all white (for night fishing and/or dirty water) and all black (dirty water). Patterns that imitate shad, panfish, frogs, and crayfish are mainstays. If you fish a lot of heavily-stained and dirty water, you may also consider trying patterns with rattles built-in....it can't hurt!
Select Bass-Friendly Products I've Personally Used and Reviewed....
Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Infinity (great all-around line)
RIO Bonefish Quickshooter (tropical line)
RIO InTouch Big Nasty (sinking and floating available)