Largemouth bass are some of the most aggressive freshwater fish in the world. They attack flies ferociously and put up a phenomenal fight. They’ll eat in all levels of the water column throughout the day. Choosing the proper flies to target largemouth bass is necessary to give yourself the best chance to land them.
Throughout the article, we’ll offer our thoughts on the best, surface flies, streamers, and sliders as well as some information on the best smallmouth bass flies.
Best Bass Flies: Surface Poppers and Bugs
Largemouth bass are extra ferocious when they feed on the surface. They spend most of their time feeding below surface near the bottom of the water column, so when they choose to commit to something on top of the water, they make sure they are successful. So, when you are stripping your fly across the top, be prepared for a massive blowup.
Poppers are a fly fishing staple. These flies are known to land a variety of fish, but largemouth bass are especially attracted to them. Poppers have a hard styrofoam/plastic head that’s perfect for moving a large amount of water. Below the head, they have rubber legs that also float and move in the water. Poppers are a great frog representation.
When you strip a popper, the initial tug will cause the fly to make a “popping” sound. This noise is also useful in attracting fish. These flies work great in areas with heavy vegetation close to shore.
Hair Bass Bug
Hair Bass Bugs are a different type of popper. Fly anglers love these flies because they consistently float high on the water column and they have weed guards. Strip these across the surface near some lily pads or weed lines. That popping noise and heavy movement of water are just enough to get the largemouth to strike. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the fly sinking after a few casts.
The Sneaky Pete
The Sneaky Pete fly one of the perfect topwater flies for catching bass. It has a popper design with a large head, rabbit fur, and rubber legs. However, the head is turned upside down. When stripped, this fly will do below the surface and pop back up to the top. Anglers love to take their time with the Sneaky Pete. It’s not as abrasive as the traditional popper, so you can vary your stripping pattern and let it sit on the surface for a bit longer than you traditionally would.
These flies generally come in sizes 4-8, so it’s not as large. Even smaller bass will swipe at this because it’s more of a manageable size. The fly fishing community has a lot of admiration for Sneaky Pete.
The Bubblicious is one of the more modern fly fishing flies. The foam head has a large collar that allows the fly to dip below the surface anytime it’s stripped and pops back up as soon as you stop. The bubbles come from the holes in the collar. So, when bass see this fly, it looks like a frog swimming across the surface and creating bubbles as they breathe.
Master Splinter is a bit of a chameleon. Trout anglers claim it as a perfect mousing pattern, but bass anglers also see it as the ideal size bug. It’s a long skinny foam pattern with deer hair below it. While it sits on the surface when it’s not being stripped, it’ll drop a bit and swim low on the surface as you strip across the lake, pond, or river.
The skinniness, of this fly is appealing to largemouth bass. Even though they can easily swallow most food, Master Splinter looks like an easy meal with some substance. Make sure you use these in the mornings and evenings when the bass are more eager to take a look at the surface. They become more bold in the low light and are more eager to take some risks.
The Dancing Frog is a perfect pattern for almost every warm water species. It has a head and body made of buoyant deer hair and a tail of long rubber legs. As you strip, you’ll notice the rubber tail weaving back and forth in the water. Anglers like to stay patient when using this fly because of the constant movement happening. One long strip, long pause, one long strip, long pause, repeat. Those rubber legs will never stop moving and bass absolutely love to crush this pattern.
Be sure to fish this with a 6-weight or 7-weight fly rod. You’ll find that pike will even take a swipe at it, so you want to be prepared to handle some large fish. This is nearly a perfect fly pattern.
The Chubby Chernobyl is another classic and versatile pattern. It’s a great representation of a grasshopper. Trout anglers are especially partial to these come late summer when the terrestrial hatches occur. However, they can work just as well for bass. Cast these along the banks, below overhanging trees and “fishy” looking areas close to shore. As soon as these flies hit the water, you can expect a strike. Bass know when terrestrials hatch, so they’re expecting to see grasshoppers and other large insects hit the water.
These flies are known to sink in the water column after a few casts, so make sure you have some floatant along to keep them high on the surface. When you make your cast, let the fly sit for a bit. If you don’t get a strike, strip towards yourself with an irregular stripping motion. Terrestrials aren’t clean swimmers, so feel free to vary your motion.
Mini Mouse Fly
Mouse patterns are always great flies to use when fishing for bass. The Mini Mouse is a large foam pattern that looks just like a mouse from below. If possible, find areas with cattails or overhanging vegetation. Mice will fall off the overhanging vegetation and make a decent splash. Bass will immediately strike if these are dropped in the right place.
Best Bass Flies: Streamers
Streamers are another type of fly that bass love. These large, buggy-looking patterns represent a variety of things ranging from minnows to leeches to crayfish.
The Clouser Minnow is one of the original minnow fly patterns. This fly looks exactly like a fleeing minnow as it strips and falls into the water column. If you can, throw this on the edge of a weed line and strip along it. As you strip, bass will move out of the weed line and take the fly. Be ready for an aggressive strike.
The dumbbell eyes allow it to quickly fall, so you don’t have to wait long for it to get in the strike zone.
The Meat Whistle is one of the patterns anglers start with when they first learn to tie flies. It’s a fairly simple pattern with a jig hook and weight near the eye. The rise and fall of this pattern in the water look just like a hair jig that so many spin anglers love to use. The rabbit hair, marabou, and rubber lugs are the ideal combination.
Quick strips are the best retrieval option with the Meat Whistle.
Few patterns have made as much of an impact on the bass fishing world as the Game Changer. This minnow representation is almost identical to a swim bait. As a result, you’re going to want to fish it more in open water near some structure. If you see a school of baitfish, throw the Game Changer amongst them, and odds are you’ll get a strike.
The segmented body creates a perfect amount of movement to tempt the bass.
Gully Ultra Craw
Crayfish patterns are underrated bass patterns. If bass aren’t eating on the surface or middle of the water column, try a crayfish pattern and get deep. The Ultra Craw drops quickly and is great to bounce along the bottom. Fish this in the spring as the spawn gets going. Bedding bass won’t let this stay by them for long.
The Woolly Bugger is as productive of a fly as you’ll find. This pattern can look like a minnow, leech as well as a crayfish. If you’re not sure what the bass want, cast this near some vegetation or near their bed and see what happens. It’ll give you a good idea of what they want to eat and the type of presentation they are craving. Cast this near vegetation or heavy structure and vary your retrieval. It can take time, but you’ll eventually find what they want.
As soon as the Bunny Leech gets wet, it drops quickly toward the bottom. The beadhead assists in the drop. Anglers like to fish this fly in open water areas close to some heavy vegetation. It can represent a minnow that’s trying to get back to cover or a leech that’s moving throughout the water. If you know leeches are present, use this pattern.
The Muddler Minnow is a Sculpin representation. It’s a similar pattern to the Woolly Bugger that it works as a searching fly. The deer hair and flashy colors allow it to sit more in the middle of the water column.
Best Sliders and Divers for Bass Fishing
Sliding and diving patterns are great options if you’re hoping to fish some subsurface flies that are able to create a decent amount of action. You never know when that little extra movement is going to help.
Dahlberg Diving Bug
The Dahlburg Diving Bug starts on the surface and each time you strip, it drops quickly and then floats to the top. As it dives, it moves side-to-side and creates a decent amount of action underwater. This is the best of both worlds!
Al’s Diver is another lesser-known diving pattern that works quite well. As you strip, it drops below the surface and moves up and down as you pull. When you stop stripping, the deer hair head pulls it back to the surface. Bass will hit it as it returns to the surface.
The Murdich Slider is a flashy fly. It’s a great imitation of baitfish that are at the surface and drop down toward the bottom of the water column. Many anglers choose to fish this fly on a sink-tip line to help it drop in the water. As you strip, the hackle will flash and attract attention from nearby bass.
Murray’s Shenandoah Slider
This fly has a pointed nose and a skinny body. This works especially well when you’re fishing weedlines and beds in the evenings. Take your time with this fly! Strip it slowly, and it’ll look like a small panfish moving along. These are hardbodied flies, so they’re very durable.
Whitlock’s Waking Sunfish
Whitlock’s Waking Sunfish is a colorful and obnoxious-looking pattern that bass absolutely love. It has a deer hair head, so it returns to the surface after it’s stripped, but as soon as you pull, it’ll drop just below the surface and imitate a small sunfish. It’s a lethal pattern.
Best Smallmouth Bass Flies
While smallmouth and largemouth both like cover, smallmouth bass spend more of their time hunting around the structure instead of within it. They like the open and clear water.
Hansen’s Meat Ticket
Hansen’s Meat Ticket is a beautiful streamer pattern that has an aggressive swimming action. This larger fly looks like a small baitfish and it has glass beads that help it drop into the water column even faster. Fish this away from trees or weed lines in the open water and you’ll land fish.
The Gurgler was created to be a saltwater fly, but it quickly turned into a premier smallmouth fly. It looks like a small baitfish that’s swimming near the surface and smallmouth bass absolutely love it. Fish it near some weeds or schools of baitfish and see what happens.
The 3M Minnow is another flashy pattern that was specifically created for smallmouth bass. There is plenty of bright hackle that makes this grey/blue fly stand out. Stay patient with this fly. The beadhead will cause it to drop quickly after you strip and the bass will most often hit it then. Use the flash to your advantage in clear and open water. Smallmouths aren’t afraid to travel for their meals.
Umpqua Swimming Baitfish
In terms of flashy and bright surface patterns, Umpqua swimming baitfish takes the cake. The deer hair head allows this fly to sit high on the surface and the feather legs with bright hackle excite the smallmouth bass. Weed lines and areas of timber seem to be the best place to fish the Umpqua Swimming Baitfish.