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Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass


If you have never caught a smallmouth bass (smallies) on a fly rod, you are simply missing out on a great time. I am from up north where there isn’t much for smallies, so a few friends and I went on a road trip south in search of these extreme fighters. We typically head out in search of different types of trout, as they run rapid where I am from. Everything from bull trout, brown trout, rainbow, cutthroat and brookies. However, we had all heard that smallmouth bass put up a hell of a fight, so that was enough to get us in the truck heading south.

Before venturing out on our fly fishing trip, we needed to buy larger flies and equipment. Bass required heavier rods and reels than trout. You can use your standard 6 weight rod, but I would advise against it.

In the United States, bass fly fishing is quite popular as they have warmer waters, where bass like to hang out. Smallies are different than that of the largemouth bass, as they tend to like cooler waters and bigmouth bass are often in warm bodies of water, like ponds and lakes. After my first bass fishing trip, I was hooked! We have been on 11 bass fly fishing trips to date.


Bass are Mean Machines

The reason fishing for bass is so much fun is because of how much they like to fight once you have one hooked. Bass will strike hard and fight even harder. They will often get airborne, so make sure you hold onto your fly rod! When bass and other species of fish go into the air, they will often shake off your fly. It may seem counterproductive, but you actually will want to give your line a little slack if they go airborne.

If you are used to fishing for trout like I was, then you might have to change up how you set your hook. Bass have thicker skin than trout, so a standard half ass set probably won’t work on a bass. Don’t be afraid to set the hook a little harder.


Take 5 Minutes to Investigate the Naturals

I literally just spoke to a fly fishing angler yesterday about matching the hatch and he told me he never does it. He also said he usually doesn’t catch too many fish. Way to many anglers are in a hurry when they get down to the water. The itch to catch fish sets in, so they tie on their favorite hooks or the classics like a pheasant tail nymph or Adam’s dry fly. The problem is that the classics might not be what is in the water that day. Fish feed on what is abundant to them in the water. If you throw in a fly pattern that doesn’t match anything around it, then your chances of getting a strike drop drastically.

When you get to the water, go venture out a few feet or meters and look closely at what is floating by you. Also, look into the water to see what insects might be floating around. Whatever you see, you will want to get your fly cases out, and match your fly to the natural insect that you see.

Having a solid arsenal of flies on you will increase your chances of catching bass compared to just having a few classics and hoping for the best. My old man that has been fly fishing for 50 years likes to carry 10 cases on him and another 20 cases in a backpack that he will leave on shore. I don’t carry as much as him, but I do have a wide variety of flies.

Matching the hatch is often one of the most important aspects of fly fishing that exists. It’s too bad that it is one of the most overlooked aspects though.

Zinger Fishing has a great blog on matching the hatch.


Rods, Reels, Fly Sizes, and Leaders for Smallmouth Bass Fly Fishing

As mentioned above, if you are use to trout fishing, you will have to change up your approach when fly fishing for bass. By change up, I mean go big or go home!

  • Rods – 7 or 8 weight rods are ideal. You can get away with your 5 or 6, but casting the larger flies will be more difficult, as well as bringing in the fish.
  • Reels – Like the fly rod, 7 or 8 is ideal. You always want to make sure that your fly reel matches the weight of your fly rod. Typically, you will want to use a reel with a large arbor and a nice disc drag system. Disc drags are best when targeting larger species of fish.
  • Fly Sizes – If you are normally targeting trout, then you will use size 8 to 20 flies, but when it comes to bass, you will need larger flies. Hook sizes 2 to 10 are normally ideal, unless you are fishing smaller rivers and streams for smallies, then your standard trout hooks will probably be just fine.
  • Leaders and Fly Line – Quality line and the right pound test for what fish you are going after is a must. Using larger flies normally requires a thicker fly line and leaders to get the fly to the desired area. If you are using streamers, then 0-1x is good. If you are using nymphs or dries, any leader or tippet under 5x would be ideal. You don’t want your leader or tippet too big, as this will screw up your fly presentation to the fish.


Ideal Flies to Use when Targeting Smallmouth Bass

Like any other fish out there, different species seem to like specific types of fly patterns more than others. First off, you will want to try matching the hatch. If this isn’t working, you can try flashy patterns or fly patterns with rubbery legs that provide action in the water.

Bass like to strike larger insects and bugs, which is why poppers are a go to when fly fishing for bass. If you have a popper that imitates a mouse, frog, or large grasshopper, tie it on! Smallies also like to strike wet flies, so make sure you are well stocked up on woolly buggers, leaches, and other wet flies of that natures. I would try and stick to larger wet flies, over the smaller ones.


The dry fly mouse works like a charm when fishing for bass, they can be found at the Zinger Fishing store.


Additionally, the green foam hoppers are almost guaranteed to provoke a strike from a smallie. They too can be found at the Zinger Fishing store.



When to Fish for Bass

Bass are like every other species of fish, as in there is a perfect time of the day and year to fish for them. You can obviously catch bass at noon on a cold day in January, but your odds will be drastically lower than first thing in the morning or at dusk in the spring or summer months. Bass like to feed when the sun isn’t shinning down at the water, as there are large birds that prey on them. I would say the best time of the day is from 4:30am to 10:30am and from 5:30pm to 10:30pm, depending on where you are located in the country. Bass begin to spawn in the spring months, so they will be on a feeding frenzy. What better time to get out on the water and target these intense strikers?


Where do Bass Hang Out

Smallmouth bass are normally found in cooler waters than that of the largemouth bass. They can be found in streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. Normally, the smallies will be found in the deeper waters where it is cooler than near the surface. So, if you are fishing lakes or ponds, you may have to place your hooks quite deep. Also, try in the lily pads as they might be hiding in the shade.

If you are fishing streams or rivers, the smallies will be in all the normal places that fish like to hang out in. Under logs or tilted trees, near large rocks, in the seams of the river, or deep-water pockets.


Overall, Smallmouth Bass Fishing is a Riot

Fly fishing for smallies is nothing short of a great experience. If you live in a warmer climate where smallies are, you should be out there everyday catching these fun fish. If you live more north like I do, then I would suggest calling a few friends and planning a specific fishing trip down south to catch these fish. You won’t regret it, as they are very fun to catch. Many anglers are big into trout fishing due to the extreme challenge that can come with trout as they scare quite easily. However, bass fishing is just as good as trout fishing, if not even better.


If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.