Updated October 5, 2020
Best Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass Flies
Find yourself thinking about spring and summer bass fishing season? Instead of climbing the walls, how about tying a few flies to stock up your warm-water fly box. While most flies are designed with trout, steelhead or salmon in mind, these 7 patterns (plus a bonus!) cross over well or are designed specifically for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Tie ‘em, or buy ‘em, either way these are certain to nail ‘em!
For tyers, check out the videos we’ve selected on “how to.” For buyers, we’ve honed in on some of the better bulk discount deals to keep the cost per fly down, as individual flies can get pricey at times for these specialty flies. Choice is yours!
One of the essential flies for catching large trout, the Wooly Bugger also is excellent for bass fly fishing. It probably emulates a leech when black or crawdad when brown – nobody really knows except the fish – but who cares what it looks like if it works, right?
The pulsating caribou drives bass crazy, when fished as like a wet fly on a drift or streamer on the retrieve. Not only that, these bass flies are incredibly easy to make. On a size 2 or 4 hook, straighten and tie a small bunch of maribou for the tail. Use chenille for the body, sometimes with a hint of tinsel (which can also be woven into the tail) for a little extra flash which helps in low light situations. Finally wrap hackle around the body (slightly angled toward the tail), tie off the head and you’re done – that easy! Made in many different colors, and often weighted with lead wire or metal eyeballs, you can tie a batch of buggers pretty quickly and save quite a bit of money. Or if you prefer to buy, see options at the bottom of this article.
The Yak’s rich tradition is named for the indigenous Yakama people (spelling adopted by the tribe in 1993). Lewis and Clark might have met them catching prolific salmon in nets and wooden traps – had they come just a little upstream from their camp at the Columbia river confluence in October 1805.
While we’re on the topic of leeches, this bass fly is even easier to tie than its cousin the Bugger. Not only that, the Rabbit Hair Leech was specifically designed for bass – both smallmouth and largemouth bass. Move over rubber and plastic!
Fly tiers like this one too because it’s very easy to tie, because it is made of little more than a single, or slit length of dyed rabbit fur. For the tried and true colors, stick close to black, purple, olive, or brown died fur, which have proven consistently productive over time (same as the Wooley Bugger family). That said, don’t hesitate to try your own colors and designs if you know what fish in your favorite pond like.
While fly tying these, simply trim off a piece of colored fur the length of a medium to large leech, and wrap securely the length of the shank of your size 2-4 streamer hook. To avoid suppressing the hair too much you can choose to tie it off just near the head and curve. Making it as neat as the picture may or may not improve your catch rate – don’t sweat making this one perfect. Optional: slit the “tail” portion into two strands, which will add a little extra flutter motion. Fish this one slow and deep with a jerky motion like a leech would swim.
Just in case you want to take your bass fly fishing and tying up another notch, try your hand at tying a fully realistic crayfish. This pattern is weighted to fish the bottom of lake, river, and streambeds. While there are many different patterns, consider using black-tipped pheasant neck hackle for the tail, brown chenille (ribbed with thread or wire to look like the articulated shell) and hackle for the body, two black bead eyes, dark pheasant or quail chest feathers to mimic the claws, and strands of dark / dyed fox or deer tail hair for the antennae. Just a word to the wise, having made this mistake myself, make sure the tail is tied on the front of the hook, not back like you are used to, so when fished it moves backwards just like the real thing. Also, tying with the hook facing up will keep you out of snags so you can fish it on the bottom, again just like the real thing.
A popular classic for bass and panfish, bet you thought we’d list this one first. Actually, far more bass are caught underwater than on the surface. However, when they are active and hitting the surface there’s nothing like a large popper to trigger a smashing hit from the depths below.
Poppers are also often made from cork or foam, but the deer hair variety offers more of a hairy body look and natural feel (like what insect or amphibian we’re really not sure!). Once you get the hang of twirling and trimming deer hair, you’ll be pleased at how many patterns and color combinations become possible. Add in tail feathers, rubber legs, and optional eyes (makes it look better to us, not really visible to the fish). Wa-la you’ve just made yourself a fun-to-make bass busting surface fly. Be sure to tie this one in larger sizes with size 2-4 hooks or even larger, otherwise smaller panfish will occupy your line right when you’re trying to catch the lunker bass.
While deer hair is hollow and floats relatively well, consider treating the popper with floatant if you think you’ll use it enough to waterlog it. And, once they dry out a bit they bounce back to normal.
Who knows what bass think the popper looks like, maybe a frog, maybe not – it certainly works. If it’s a bona-fide, lifelike frog pattern you’d like to try, look no further than the diving frog.
Here’s a bass fishing tip not many bass fly fisherman actually use – diving surface flies. What you say?!? Yes it’s true – while the popper makes commotion by staying on the surface, the original version attributed to Dahlberg actually dives, then moves around under the surface (even near the bottom) Then, it resurfaces, all via flicking or stripping your fly line. This fly is good at creating a stir, attracting attention to itself.
Tying a Dahlberg diver – or the many varieties that now exist – is a reasonable endeavor but still more complicated than the other flies we’ve shared here, so finding an online tutorial isn’t a bad idea if you decide to take this one on yourself. Given how effective it is, you’ll be glad you did.
Let’s face it bass love minnows, it’s their #1 food. So it makes sense to have a minnow imitation dedicated to bass. Actually, this pattern was developed in 1987 specifically for smallmouth bass fishing by Bob Clouser. Since then, it’s become a key pattern for many different types of fresh and salt-water fish, including largemouth bass. The Clouser was made even more famous by none other than author Lefty Kreh, who has caught at least 90 different species using the Clouser.
The original Clouser is a white-and-chartreuse pattern, which gives it a realistic lighter color of a small baitfish with reddish gills. You get the basic pattern from the picture, but try other colors and don’t hesitate to look up an online step by step tutorial. Or purchase here.
Hoppers are often used in late summer for trout fly more traditionally used to catch trout, the Hopper is ideal for rivers and streams in the summertime when the grasshoppers are out in droves. It’s one of the dry flies that should be in your pocket when heading out to fly fish for bass. You won’t use it as much as some of the other flies on this list, but for a brief moment in the summer, it can be a real winner. The foam design, like the one pictured, is exceptional and you’ll love how long it floats without ever getting waterlogged!
This killer is a great crossover for giant rainbow, northern pike, muskie, and largemouth bass. Who knows how a mouse would get in the water – but they do. Whether it looks like a little muskrat, or something that fell from a tree, even a duck with a tail doesn’t matter – bass SMASH these, to the point of completely leaving the water with an arial acrobatic flip.
Again our job is to guide you to the right flies, and you’ll find plenty of online tutorials on how to tie these. If you’d like to purchase instead, find several options below. Happy fly tying and bass fly fishing!