Bass on a Fly - Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing

welcome to the Orbis guide to fly-fishing I'm your host Tom Rosenbauer

bass are the number-one sport fish in North America and for good reason

they're readily available aggressive and a lot of fun to catch best of all you

can catch them virtually anywhere in both rural and urban settings heck you

can even catch them in Central Park

catching bass on a fly rod is so much fun and anyone can do it in this episode

we'll discuss all the basics you need to catch bass on a fly

because this is the way to cap

this show has been brought to you by Orvis sporting traditions Ontario yours

to discover Ontario's Algoma region who are huron and superior meeting

I love catching bass they strike hard they jump and there are a lot of fun to

catch especially on a fly rod I know that many

of you already fish for bass using plastic worms

topwater lures and hard baits well fly-fishing is similar it's all about

figuring out what the bass are feeding on we use different types of flies to

imitate these food sources for bass then present them as naturally as possible

this can be anything from imitating a frog or a mouse on the surface to flies

that replicate bait fish or even crayfish underwater and some bass flies

don't look like anything in particular they just look good to eat the key is to

get the fly near a bass and make it look like something alive doesn't really take

much to get started in fly fishing for bass you need an inexpensive rod outfit

and some basic flies then you're in business bass are often aggressive and

opportunistic and will attack anything that looks alive you don't really have

to worry that much about fly selection and that's why bass fishing is a great

way to get started often this action is all on the surface which makes it that

much more exciting because everything is visual

but first let's discuss the physical differences between largemouth and

smallmouth bass and also discuss the environments they inhabit

differentiating smallmouth and largemouth is simple if the mouth only

extends to the middle of the eye it's a small mouth if the mouth extends beyond

the eye then it's a large mouth body markings are also a giveaway largemouth

are green and have a defined black lateral line

smallmouth are brown or bronze with vertical black lines and usually some

horizontal lines on their cheeks to understand the environments bass live in

at different times a year I went right to the expert my friend Dave Philip

Davis spent his life studying bass professionally as a biologist and also

chasing them with a fly rod largemouth and smallmouth bass are similar in a lot

of ways but they do have some subtle differences in the springtime as the

water warms they move into the shallows one to warm up so

become more active and they look for food items as well that are also trying

to warm up so minnows and frogs are along the banks in the springtime and

they're looking for those they also are moving in to spawn as the water

temperatures warm up they're done with spawning smallmouth tend to move into

deeper cooler water more so than largemouth although both you could get

along the shallows at dawn and at dusk the largemouth hang out in the lily pads

and the weeds and the shallows all year round in the sticks etc so they also

tend to go into different types of water large mouths like darker readier warmer

water small mouths like cooler water either flowing streams or in deeper

water off of rocky points so in the heat of the summer you need to look in deep

water for smallmouth sometime shallower water for largemouth back in the fall

then they'll get more active in the shallows and move in and feed heavily

getting ready for winter so they can be off deep points feeding on minnows

following minnows up at night into the shoreline etc and so it depends on the

time of the day the time of the season which species you're looking at but

you'll still be able to catch fish you have to consider two factors whether the

best can be caught below the surface or on the surface the answer is based on a

few simple factors what the bass are hunting for in terms of forage and of

course the impact of weather time a day and time of year if you haven't fish for

bass before these are things you'll quickly learn the key is we have two

choices of presentations to make with a fly rod either on top or below the

surface most of the time you can catch bass on subsurface flies just like with

conventional lures bass love Dee minnow shed even juvenile bass if they can bait

fish provide a lot of nutrition for a bass which is critical for their

survival there's a wide variety of conventional lures available that

imitate various baitfish based on shape collar and action bass flies are the

same they're also made to replicate the size collar and relative action of

baitfish the only difference is that the Flies are made from feathers fur and

synthetics whereas lures are usually made from

plastic would the same comparison applies for

other food sources for bass things like crayfish mice and frogs some people tie

their own flies but you don't need to do that you can buy already made flies from

your local fly shop or online catalog store you just need a good general

selection based on the kind of bass food that's in your area so let's discuss the

equipment needed for fly fishing for bass the best all-round rod for bass

fishing for largemouth and smallmouth probably an eighth weight you need an

eighth weight because you need a heavier line to drive some of those bigger flies

more air resistance flies like hair bugs and big poppers and and big big hairy

streamers now if you're only fishing for small mouths you can use a six or even a

seven weight because the flies are a little bit smaller and it's not really

determined by the size of the fish it's more the size of fly you're fishing and

large mouths figure more air resistance flies small mouths smaller slimmer flies

in general for bass fishing you don't need an expensive reel your reel is

mainly going to be used for storing your line you don't need an expensive drag

system for bass because they seldom pull any line the best fly line to use is a

simple weight forward taper which will help turn over the large flies used for

top water bugs to learn more about proper bass equipment setups visit the

Orvis website at or viscom so now we have some of the basics of bass fishing

let's look at how to apply these basics to rivers streams and lakes it's really

easy to understand and I know you'll have a ball doing it


come on up baby yeah sometimes you have to go deep for a

bass days like this you've got to go deep

virtually every large city in North America has ponds lakes or rivers that

hold bass the first thing you should know about bass and rivers and streams

is that generally large month the smallmouth will seek out different parts

of moving water largemouth bass will usually be in the slower we tier deeper

sections of a river especially around logs roots fallen trees and weed beds

smallmouth can tolerate faster moving water and will be right in the current

or riffles they'd like to hold behind in front of boulders rocks along banks and

especially around rock ledges they can also find cover around fallen trees and

logs but they like it to be a little bit closer to moving water generally is easy

to locate bass on small creeks and rivers it'll be pretty apparent where

they're living on larger rivers which are actually almost like lakes it's a

little bit tougher and you have to seek out the structure I guess what I like

about stream fishing for bass is that they're usually easy to locate find a

riffle running into deeper water or some structure and you're bound to find small

boats small streams and most rivers are easy to fish from the bank or just by

wearing waders and walking in the water unlocker you'll probably have to use a

boat again look for structure that'll hold an attract bass and put

your fly as close to the cover as possible searching for bass on lakes

takes a little more thought in research there's a lot of big water in most big

lakes that'll be empty of bass so you have to determine where the structure is

and where their food supply might be on lake structure is key especially if it's

close to deepwater bass like deepwater because it provides security from their

predator structures that you should cast to

include docks boat houses rocky shorelines shoals fallen trees weed beds

and any other kind of structure that will provide cover to the bass you also

need to consider what the bass might be eating

your powers of observation can help a lot with this when you wade into a river

and notice lots of small crayfish along the bottom that's a pretty good

indicator that bass will be keyed into eating them so a crayfish pattern will

be best bass love crayfish it also means that you should be casting to rocky

shorelines where the crayfish are most likely to be living you can get it to

sink straight on it good you got it all right he ate that crayfish pretty well

they love minnows they love leeches they love insects big insect larvae but

crayfish are their number one prey you can never go wrong fishing a sunken

crayfish fly to a smallmouth beautiful fish don't have to handle them one way

goes smallmouth bass you know although although we'd like to catch these small

mouths on the surface the middle of a bright day fish are in pretty deep water

so we're fishing a crayfish fly and you got to be careful when you fish a

crayfish fly you want to throw it beyond where you think the fish is and then

strip it back and let it drop strip it back and let it drop and watch the tip

of your floating line because that fish took it on the drop is they usually did

and all I saw was that line dart forward and then I did a strip strike and there

was the fish slide out the hook on the other hand if you see minnows jumping

from the water pretty good indication that they're being chased by predators

like bass if you see this it's a good idea to switch to a streamer fly that

imitates a minnow and it should be roughly the same size and shape as the

minnows you saw it jumping cast right into where you saw the minnows jump you

might be in for a surprise

you don't need a wide variety of flies for smallmouth bass first and foremost

is some sort of crayfish invitation like this one here it's weighted gets down

near the bottom and you fish it with twitches or just sinking to the bottom

one of the most popular flies for smallmouth bass is a black wooly bugger

imitates hellgrammite switch they feed on in streams very heavily also could be

a crayfish imitation or some sort of bait fish or lychee invitation but small

mas love a black woolly bugger then maybe some sort of trout dry fly like

this big stone flight they will come up for insects and some big some big trout

sized flies will work for smallmouth and then a couple of surface flies a slider

like this white sneaky pete this one doesn't make quite as much commotion in

the water and then finally a popping bug one with a face that pops that make some

noise in the water smallmouth or aggressive feeders and they will come up

for a for a popper that's worked fairly aggressively across the surface

because largemouth bass there's such voracious predators they'll eat almost

anything and they got a big mouth so they can inhale some pretty large flies

the Flies are gonna use probably a little bit bigger than they use for

smallmouth some of the popular ones are some sort of streamer this one happens

to imitate us a sunfish and sunfish are not only prime largemouth bass food but

they're also nest predators on largemouth bass so they'll they'll grab

a sunfish when it gets near this is a twisty tail with lead ice doesn't

imitate anything really it's a lure just like a bass lure

traditional cork popper is one of the most fun ways to catch a largemouth

particularly mornings and evenings when they're when they're near the surface

and in shallow water they need a lot of frogs this happens to be a deer hair

frog great fly for largemouth fun to fish and then finally who could go

largemouth fishing without a mouse imitation they lots of mice and small

rodents so now we understand more about rivers streams and lakes and where bass

will live in them we've also discussed using our powers of observation to

detect what the bass may be eating now in the next segment we'll discuss cast

and retrieves to tie it all together


in fly fishing the line propels the fly in spin fishing casting the lure propels

the line to the target it's important to understand you don't need to make long

cast to catch a bass on a fly simple casts of 20 to 30 feet will be fine

now let's visit my friend Pete cuts are from the Orbis fly fishing schools for

some tips on casting big bass bugs in the wind hi I'm Pete coots are from the

Orbis fly fishing schools today we're going to talk about tips on how to cast

in windy conditions when can be a little bit intimidating for some folks trying

to cast that fly in the in those windy conditions can be a little bit difficult

however there are some things we can do to help deal with that wind a wind

coming at you a wind coming at your non casting shoulder wind coming at your

casting shoulder or behind you there are different casts we can do for each one

of these situations let's start off with a wind coming directly at you a wind

coming straight at you is not the worst wind to deal with there's a couple

things we can do the first is make a low angle cast and get below the wind if we

can send that fly out underneath the wind we can deliver that fly to our

target watch shore birds when they're flying around at the beach they almost

fly between the waves there's a lot less wind down low another option is to make

a high angle back cast and drive that fly down through the wind down to the

water you don't get the best presentation when you're making that

cast but it can help deal with those windy conditions when you're dealing

with a wind coming at your non casting shoulder I'm right-handed so if that

wind was blowing out my left shoulder what I might have to do is compensate

for that wind a little bit I can send that fly a little bit more to the left

of that target hopefully that wind will blow it on track or just like with that

wind coming at me I can cast below the wind making that low angle cast and

getting that fly out to target if I have a win blowing at my back that wind can

be a little more difficult than you think you want to make a low angle back

cast and get that line underneath the wind make sure that line gets out nice

and straight then we can make that higher angle forward cast the cast

almost looks a little bit like an oval we're going to make a low back cast

bring the rod tip up than a high forward cast to deliver that fly out to our

the worst one you can deal with is a wind blowing at your casting shoulder

when you're dealing with that wind that can in some cases blow that fly right

into you hooking yourself I've hooked myself in the neck in the ear in the

back even in the rear end it's not very comfortable

so there's a couple techniques one technique is actually taking that raw

tip and angling it over your left hand shoulder make a high angle cast and get

that line off your shoulder above you one friend used to describe it as

combing your hair comb your hair that's going to keep that fly off of that left

shoulder another technique is to switch hands practice casting with your

non-dominant hand I practice all the time and it really does help in those

windy conditions but perhaps the easiest technique to deal with those windy

conditions at your casting shoulder is to simply turn your back to the wind and

make a back cast delivering that fly to the fish that's going to keep that fly

well away from you keep you nice and safe and help you catch more fish to

lure more casting techniques visit the Orvis Learning Center for more

information and videos okay so now we've learned some casting techniques for bass

let's discuss retrieves that help animate your flies so that they imitate

food items that bass prey on

now all these flies worked very well but you have to do your part you have to

animate the fly so it looks to the bass like something it wants to eat animating

and retrieving a bass fly is the fun part of fly fishing for bass because

you're making it look natural with your own emotions the best way to give action

to a bass fly is to keep your rod tip low and give it all the action by

stripping the line at various speeds there's a real tendency when your bass

fishing to twitch the rod tip to give the fly action and that creates problems

it throws slack into your line you're gonna miss strikes and you're not going

to be prepared for the next cast so if you can it's hard to do but if you can

try to give that fly action you what by stripping the line and keeping the rod

tip low to the water you'll really get the same action and you'll always be in

control of your fly when you're fishing with a sinking line you want to try all

different kinds of retrieves you can't see the fish you don't know other

reacting to the fly so sometimes you want to do long slow strips just barely

crawling that fly along and really long strips so that the fly goes steady other

times you might want to give it sharp little wraps or you might want to really

rip the line back in and everything in between so you you've got experiment

it's usually best to change your retrieve before you change flies


just like catching bass with conventional tackle when using a fly rod

for bass you have to understand these fish how they live how they eat how they

survive what they do during the day and what they do throughout the year but

this is part of the fun of fly fishing learning how they operate within their

ecosystems I encourage you to read everything you can about bass and watch

videos to learn more about how to catch them catching bass on a fly rod is just

a blast they're available to almost anyone within just a few minutes drive

of home I hope you'll try it out with a fly rod I know you'll enjoy

not hard to figure out why bass are America's favorite game fish and they're

great on a fly rod you don't have to cast very far you don't need a lot of

fancy flies you don't need a lot of fancy equipment everything I've got here

for catching bass cost around two hundred dollars a complete fly rod

outfit for catching bass and we're having a ball today you too can enjoy

bass fishing on a fly rod and it's easy to get started the best thing about bass

is that they're readily available to almost everyone throughout North America

to learn more about this episode and bass fishing on a fly go to the Orvis

Learning Center at or viscom slash learn to fly fish thanks for watching and

we'll see you on the water this show has been brought to you by

Orbis sporting traditions Ontario yours to discover

Ontario's Algoma region right Huron and spear me