The Best Flies for Bass: Options Small- and Largemouth Can’t Resist!

Written by: Pete Danylewycz
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While trout are far more often the target of fly anglers, chasing small- and largemouth bass is a heart-pounding adventure not to be missed!

On the upper James River, I lofted tiny poppers to smallies all morning, and they savaged chartreuse, black, and white offerings until they were left legless and wingless. And largemouth have swallowed streamers with more fury than the whale that swallowed Jonah.

Though bass will often hit a fly you've intended for trout, there are some patterns that are simply magic on bass. We’ve written about fly fishing for bass before, and if you’d appreciate a deeper die on the subject, check out this article:

Fly Fishing for Bass: Everything You Need to Know!

Want to know more?

Keep reading!

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Poppers

If you’re surprised that I started here, you’ve probably never worked a popper in a gin-clear river or around stumps on a bass pond.

Poppers are among the deadliest bass “flies” I’ve ever fished.

fly poppers for bass

Designed to mimic a fat bug, the idea is to cast your popper into a likely spot and then let it sit until the ripples die out. Chances are, that’s enough to summon a bass, but if they hesitate, you can start to pop or twitch your popper, skating it across the surface in a series of tiny, pulsing hops.

In my experience, that’s something that small- and largemouth bass find simply irresistible, and if I had only one fly option for these freshwater species, hands down it would be a popper.

Widely available, a good popper should sport feathered wings and long legs, as well as an attractive paint job and a flat or slightly concave head.

One of my favorites is the Bett's Bass Bug Popper Kit. You get six bib poppers that are perfect for aggressive smallies and hungry largemouth, and they’re enticing paint jobs really do the trick. But don’t forget Orvis’s Bass Popper, which is available in #6 and 1/0 hook sizes.

fly poppers for bass

This chartreuse popper has caught more bass than any other lure or fly I own. Nw legless and almost wingless, it still manages to trick bass into a hit.

I like to keep several sizes with me on the water, choosing big poppers for aggressive bass and sizing down when they’re a bit more skittish. Just keep in mind that monster fish will hit tiny poppers, and be prepared for an incredible fight on a 3, 4, or 5 wt rod!

Streamers

Streamers like the Clouser mimic tiny bait fish, the primary diet of small- and largemouth bass. Once the bait fish have hatched and grown from fry, sculpin, shad, and minnows of all kinds will be the most abundant pretty item in rivers and lakes, and mimicking them is a solid plan for attracting the attention of hungry bass.

Originally designed as a deep-water smallmouth fly pattern, the weighted eyes cause the Clouser to sink rapidly in a head-down orientation that allows the streamer’s delicate appendages to really strut their stuff.

White River Fly Shop Clouser

Closures are among the most versatile fly patterns ever created, explaining their enduring popularity in both salt- and freshwater. And as legions of fans can attest, I doubt there’s a piscivorous species that doesn’t like them.

Bass hit these flies on the descent, and it’s important to keep your fly line pretty tight to ensure a good hookset.

I’ve had good luck with the White River Fly Shop Clouser, currently available in sizes #2, #6, and 2/0. For bass, I’d stick with the #2 and #6, varying between them to see which the fish are more enticed by.

Orvis’s Freshwater Clouser

Orvis’s Freshwater Clouser is also not to be missed, and its #6 and #8 sizes are just perfect or fat smallies. The color patterns Orvis offers, and the long, trailing skirt trick keen-eyed smallmouth bass even in the clearest pools.

Schultzy’s S3

Oris also sells a sculpin pattern fly, Schultzy’s S3, armed with a big #2 hook. Murderous when worked near the bottom for smallmouth, this fly is a must-have for cool, clear water.

In that vein, I really like Umpqua Feather Merchants’ Diving Bug. I guess you’d call this fly a sculpin, and unlike the heavily-weighted Clousers, this little guy is a slow sinker that’s designed to run more or less weedlessly. If you look carefully, you’ll notice a transparent weed guard that protects the hook from fouling.

When pulled across submerged logs or brush piles, or ripped through the tops of lie weed beds, it’s nothing short of amazing.

Umpqua Feather Merchants’ Diving Bug

Mouse patterns

This may sound eccentric, but keep in mind that both species of bass are voracious predators that will attack and engulf anything in the water. And a swimming mouse is a treat they won’t ignore!

Flies Direct’s Mouse

Patterns like Flies Direct’s Mouse are best worked around heavy cover like stumps, lily pads, and other aquatic grasses. Short pulses or twitches are typically enough to ring the dinner bell, and bass of both species will ambush a mouse fly without hesitation.

If you can run one of these little guys down a bank or near the edge of thick vegetation - note the transparent weed guard - big bass are pretty much determined to nail it.

The best season for mouse patterns is summer, especially on cooler mornings, evenings, and at night.

Crawfish patterns

In the early spring, pre-spawn, large- and smallmouth bass will preferentially feed on crawfish. After a long winter of inactivity, the females are looking for highly nutritious prey items to prepare to breed, and crawfish are at the top of the list.

Fly patterns like Chocklett's Changer Craw can be nothing short of unbeatable in these conditions. 

Chocklett's Changer Craw

The Changer wears flattened lead eyes on its tail, keeping it pinned to the bottom. At the front, you’ll find foam-floated “claws” that wriggle like mad. And the #2 hook is upturned to prevent snags.

I work crawfish patterns around rocks, stumps, logs, pilings, and humps, selecting locations that are immediately adjacent to deeper water. Live weed beds in spawning shallows can also be productive, but largemouth will typically be in transitional depths this early.

Wooly Buggers

While officially classified as a streamer pattern, the Wooly Bugger deserves a category of its own.

Sporting a weighted head, a long body bristling with hairs, and a trailing skirt, the wooly bugger is to fly angling what the dressed in-line spinner is to conventional tackle.

In a word, deadly.

Wooly Buggers

Umpqua Feather Merchants’ Bead Head Crystal Bugger Fly, available in sizes #6, #8, #10, and #12, sinks quickly in that perfect head-down orientation. It also tends to glide forward as it falls, wriggling for all its worth.

Large- and smallmouth bass will hit a wooly bugger on the fall, and despite their relatively small size, big bass can’t get enough of them.

Gurgler

When the water is warm but not hot, especially in late spring, early fall, or on a clear summer night, bass will key-in on topwater. Hunting for insects that stray onto the water, large water bugs, and other enticing meal options, bass of both species will move shallow and hunt the surface.

For fly anglers, that’s a perfect opportunity to cast a gurgler.

Solitude Flies

Essentially a streamer attached to a colored foam float, a gurgler is fished much like a popper, using short, punctuated burst of pops followed by a pause. It can also be stripped to run for a few seconds before stopping again.

Bass simply hammer gurglers, and Solitude Flies’ is one of my favorites. I’m partial to the olive/yellow combination, and don’t let the 3/0 hook size scare you off! Whale gurglers are fantastic or reds, blues, and strippers in the salt, that big 30 hook is no problem for large- and smallmouth bass.

Final Thoughts

Fly fishing for small- and largemouth bass offers plenty of excitement, and fighting a three-pound bass on a 4 wt rod is an experience you’ll never forget!

Many fly patterns will attract the attention of bass, but the options we’ve suggested today are among the best out there.

If this article helped you pick a bass fly, we’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.
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