The Top 3 Fly Rods For Smallmouth Bass




Smallmouth are not the same as largemouth bass.  Bronzebacks take different flies, presented differently, in different waters.  If you want to productively catch more and bigger Bronzebacks, you will do better with different gear than for largemouth.  The best fly rods for smallmouth bass might surprise you.

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Overview

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The author holding a smallmouth caught on the Willamette River, OR

How Are Fly Rods For Smallmouth Bass Different?

For starters, let’s just put it this way.  Smallmouth bass are not the same as largemouth bass, nor any other species including trout and panfish.

Sounds basic, right?  Then why does virtually every review you read out there offer an opinion on “The Best Fly Rods For Bass?” covering both large- and small-mouth?  We have news for you, there’s a lot more to it.

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Not to mention, anglers that are really into smallmouth (as in, head out for smallmouth in the spring instead of trout, or in addition to trout) will tell you there’s absolutely nothing like catching big smallies.  Some guides even specialize in smallmouth.

Think about it for a moment.  Smallmouth are substantially different than largemouth, not only because are they an entirely different species, but also:

  • Grow the biggest in moderate to swift moving rivers, and deeper lakes  (largemouth prefer different habitat)
  • Fight with longer runs, head deeper and are less prone to jump (have you ever caught a nice smallie, thinking you had a trout on, or visa versa?)
  • More often require deeper fishing gear such as sinking lines, especially to catch the lunkers where they hang out off rocky points and drop-offs
  • Thrive better in colder waters, farther into the northern USA and Canada (take a look at population distribution maps, especially the native habitat which is more weighted towards the southern USA for largemouth)
  • Need more oxygen rich water, like trout, and can’t tolerate oxygen-poor, warmer water as well
  • May eat similar food, but bigger fish in particular are caught with different flies – fished differently
  • Flies may still be large and hard to cast, especially large streamers, but aren’t usually as bulky or fluffy like for largemouths
  • Retrieval methods are different, predominantly underwater, vs. largemouth are often caught on surface flies.

As a result, the best fly rods for smallmouth bass, especially larger bronzebacks, are designed to:

  • Load deeply into the butt- and mid-sections, to launch heavy streamers and play larger fish, but also have medium/lighter action in the tip to enable fly action and feeling,
  • Carry a similar or lighter line weight compared to fishing for trout (vs. heavier line weights for largemouth to carry the bulk and fluff),
  • Be longer, for casting distance, handling deeper casts, even sinking lines when needed, and tiring out the fish on open water (in contrast to shorter, stiffer rods used for hoarsing largemouth out of snags)

Why Get A Quality Smallmouth Fly Rod?

We’ll be the first to say, if you already have a quality rod for targeting large trout, and/or big water trout, then you may already have the gear you need.  There’s more to this, but we’d never say that for largemouth bass (read our separate article on largemouth fly rods to find out why).

If on the other hand you have a lower quality trout rod, or a lighter weight rod and want to target larger smallies, then we’d suggest you consider a better rod.  We like to think of it as getting snow-tires or off-road-tires, to replace your all weather tires.  They just perform better.

Once native only to the central- and upper-midwest of the USA, smallmouth bass are now all over the USA and well into Canada including Northern Ontario.  Smallmouth are strong fighters, and are smart so catching a hefty one can be downright satisfying, knowing you have outsmarted them.

A nice smallie caught in a Northern Ontario lake.

Our Top 3 Recommendations…And Why

When we boil it all down, we like rods that:

  • Have a well-engineered balance between power and finesse,
  • Are long enough to handle a lot of line, large streamers in moderately deep water, and tire large fish out,
  • Are light enough to to cast all day, and
  • Are reasonable in cost for the level of performance designed and built into the rod.


Name Image Summary Check Price And Order
G Loomis IMX PRO 9 foot, 6 wt, 4 pc – Best Overall A niche fly rod with exactly the characteristics we are looking for in smallmouth fishing, designed with feedback from pros, packed into a rod anyone can use.


Redington CRUX – Best Value Redington again proves they can pack in features beyond the price, making the CRUX our pick for the hard-to-earn Best Value award.

Echo Bad Ass Glass – Best Glass For anglers who love the feel of fiberglass, the Bad Ass Glass carries enough punch to tangle with the biggest of the Bronzebacks.

Runners-Up

These rods were very difficult to rule out of the Top 3 above, because of their quality features and specifications also tailored for smallmouth bass.  If you put a high emphasis on the following criteria, then some additional rods worth considering in your decision making include the following five rods:

  • Easiest to cast, tailored for smallmouthSage Payload 9′ 6 wt
  • Highest quality & best warranty – Orvis Helios 3F 906-4 (not the Helios 3D)
  • Best under windy conditions & high flow water – G Loomis Asquith 690-4

You probably noticed by now that we universally recommend a 9 foot, 6-weight rod for smallmouth, for both the Top 3 and Runners-Up.  That’s what we’ve found to be the best balance between power, distance, and finesse.  It’s a rod that will work well for the smallmouth-conditions outlined above.  That said, if you want something on the lighter side, by all means go to a 4-5 weight, or if conditions demand, there’s no reason you can’t go up to a 7 or even 8 weight.  Any higher though and you’re into rods that are too stiff and are just plain overkill.

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RELATED ARTICLE: Best Fly Rods For Salmon

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Detailed Reviews of Best Fly Rods For Smallmouth

Each of our reviews is designed to provide all the information you will need, so you can be confident in your choice of the best fishing sunglasses.  Many of these brands come with multiple lens color options, and some in both men’s and women’s models, so be sure to look at the details when ordering.

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G Loomis IMX Pro – Best Overall For Smallmouth

The bottom line first – a niche fly rod with exactly the characteristics we are looking for in smallmouth fishing, designed with feedback from pros, packed into a rod anyone can use.  Check out our at-a-glance summary of specifications:

The G Loomis IMX PRO is made for niche anglers, used for specific methods of fly fishing.  This rod has enough features built in for professionals, at a less-than-pro price for its quality and efficiency.  G Loomis has carefully incorporated advice from fly fishing professionals, with all the specifications we are looking for in a rod to be used specifically for smallmouth bass.

We don’t say this lightly – the combination of light weight and ultra-modern performance design makes the IMX PRO, in our view, a good fit for any fly angler with moderate to high level of experience, not just the pros.  Beyond it’s direct applicability to smallmouth bass, this rod is also well suited for targeting large trout, and big water trout that require long and/or deep casts and throwing large flies.

Advantages

  • Well suited for larger fish that are caught by covering larger water surfaces
  • Modern composite materials (lower % graphite) that increases its durability and power, while at the same time reducing weight
  • Professional design and construction, great look, use of high quality components
  • Light enough to use during a long day fishing
  • Lifetime warranty

Considerations

  • A bit pricey for many anglers, though not high-end or outrageous
  • Versatility is overstated by the manufacturer and most retailers, in our opinion
  • Targeted at professionals (but no reason you and I can’t use it), but not idea for entry level anglers (too stiff)

Design and Construction

The IMX PRO has an ultra-sleek and modern design. As mentioned earlier, its ultra-modern composite materials uses a lower percentage of graphite, which makes it both lighter and more durable. The resulting design is striking, and stands out in a really positive way.

Action

This rod is an overall fast action rod, which is needed for the conditions in which anglers target big smallmouth bass and other trophies.  This makes it really good fit for professional angling, and the mixture of fast action and high quality is a great rod.  That said, it retains enough feel to properly present streamers and large nymphs, and to wear down large fish without being overly stiff.

Versatility

The rod is reasonably versatile, though we don’t recommend it for entry level anglers.  We also disagree with the characterization that some give it as fine for smaller fish.  Of course you can catch smaller fish on it, but in terms of being targeted at smaller trout, bass and panfish the rod is really overkill.  As a fast action rod, it will detract from newer anglers improving their stroke.  If you have medium to expert skills, and are targeting larger smallies and trout in larger waters, then this rod will shine.

Weight

IMX Pro is classified as lightweight for its rod class, due to the primary use of graphite in its construction. As such, it’s a good candidate to take on a longer fishing trip, especially if you are out for dawn to dusk days like we enjoy fishing.

Warranty

Very few companies offer what G Loomis does – a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty, for parts and labor or a fully replacement resulting from manufacturer’s defects. Of course, accidental breakage is on you, as is the case with most makers.

Video Review

We like our viewers to have a full picture before purchasing online, and like the following review by Reds Fly Fishing in Eastern Washington: https://redsflyfishing.com/products/g-loomis-imx-pro-single-hand-rods

Summary

If you are looking for a fast action rod that can handle big water, but still has the feel the play hard-running smallmouth, then consider the G Loomis IMX PRO 690-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 9’0.”  It has all of the features we are looking for in a smallmouth rod, and though on the pricier side, won’t compromise if you are looking for a quality rod up to the job.


Redington CRUX 690-4 – Best Value

The bottom line first – In our view, Redington again proves they can pack in features well beyond the price, making the CRUX our pick for our hard-to-earn “Best Value” designation.

Our at-a-glance summary of specifications shows this is a very versatile rod, especially considering the price:

The CRUX is a well crafted balance of advanced technologies that make this a quality rod at a terrific price.  By building in not only specificiations and features well beyond the price, but also versatility across fish types and fishing conditions, Redington leverages the value of this rod even further beyond the price.

It can be used at all the lengths short, medium and distant casting. These kind of features make the this rod a commodity in this niche.  Its lightweight is perfectly suited for catching of both trout and smallmouth bass.

Do not be fooled by its budget price as Redington CRUX looks luxurious with the premium metallic olive matte finish alongside with many other nice looking features that we will list further down in the article. This rod is not that hard to use, thus any fish flying enthusiast will be able to use it. Its fast action speed combined with lightweight makes it a great fit for any water surface.

A quick note on our “Best Value” designation.  Based on our reviews, we only give out this designation when the rod maker haspacked in more features and quality for the price than any other brand &/or model. That means the rod doesn’t cost a mint, yet will still do the job well for you, and last a long time if taken well care of.  It is not the pinnacle of quality, especially for a given focused function, but this rod carries a reasonable price what it brings to bear.  As a result, the rod will work for more advanced anglers and beginners alike.

Detailed Review Comments

Redington CRUX is a great all-rounder which will meet the needs of many/most anglers pursuing smallmouth bass.  For one, it simply feels more high-end that it is.  Redington CRUX proves its place on this list and more.

Its lightweight materials and construction do not impact performance, though be advised that this is not the upper tier of rod performance in this category (smallmouth and large water trout).  The angled grip is a nice new addition, and the rod is well suited for all the water surfaces.

Advantages  

  • Lightweight
  • Extremely versatile
  • Great sleek look and quality materials
  • Strong enough to handle most smallmouth fishing conditions and fights
  • Great price
  • Good rod as a back-up for more expensive rods in this category.

Considerations

  • Not as light as the previous rod
  • Not the highest performance in this rod class, if that’s what you are looking for

Design and Construction

Lightweight, sturdy and super modern are adjectives that can be used to describe Redington CRUX. Its metal finishing gives this rod both premium look and feel. Amazing connectivity between top, middle and lower part gives this rod Another great feature is that it is light enough due to the use of the proper materials.

Action

Redington CRUX is a fast action rod, though not as stiff as its counterpart the G Loomis IMX Pro above.

Versatility

As we had mentioned earlier Redington CRUX is a really all-rounder which makes it extremely versatile, thus it can be used in any fly fishing trip. This means that you can use to fly fish on any water surface no matter of the size.

Weight

Redington CRUX is light thus you will be able to get more out of this rod if you are using this rod on your trip no matter if you use it as the first or the second option when you are fly fishing.

Warranty

You will be pleasantly surprised when you find out that Redington CRUX comes with the lifetime warranty. Yes, even this budget but highly effective model has this kind of warranty (manufacturer defects, not user breakage).

Video review of Redington CRUX

Showing this budget beast of the rod in a video will help you get acquainted with Redington CRUX 690-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 9’0″ and to see if this is the rod for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWXJRVD9LoM

Wrap up

If you are looking for a high quality rod that won’t drain your wallet then Redington CRUX 690-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 9’0″ is a solid choice.  We also consider it a great back-up rod for more expensive rods in this category. 

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Echo Bad Ass Glass – Best Glass For Smallmouth

Bottom line first – way more strength than you’d expect from a glass rod, yet with the flexibility that many enjoy.  Check our out at-a-glance specifications:

Echo’s new Bad Ass is a revolutionary rod that uses fiberglass, which makes it extremely light and durable. Fiber glass has been known for its quality and Echo Bad Ass Glass utilizes it to its full potential. The best thing about Echo Bad Ass Glass is that can be used for both freshwater and saltwater, thus versatility is brought to another new level.

Echo is well known for the production of high quality rods that can last for a long time. Echo Bad Ass Glass is made for getting the larger fish . You will get the new feeling of fishing when using this rod it is unbelievable and a unique experience. Except its unique design, this rod is not super expensive as you would expect, but its price is a bargain.

Detailed Review Comments

Echo Bad Ass Glass 680-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 8’0″ is a new leader in  fiber glass market as all of its features make it a great choice. This rod has the great power, thus you will be able to catch bigger fish . Small mouth bass can be easily caught when you are using this rod. The combination of the lightweight and powerful makes it a great choice for any lover of angling.

All of this power does not affect the fly fishing experience as the feeling is smooth and fiber glass makes Echo Bad Ass Glass 680-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 8’0″ really bendable but do not worry this does not make the rod breakable as the fiber glass has really good quality. Another great feature about Echo Bad Ass Glass 680-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 8’0″ is that can be used by both  beginners and experts , thus you can use it for a long period of time.

Advantages

  • Unique flexible high quality material (fiber glass)
  • Great for bigger fish
  • Can be used for saltwater too
  • Beginner friendly
  • Great price

Considerations

  • Not as versatile as other models
  • Only one rod length to choose from
  • It takes a bit of time to get used to

Sizes and Models

You can check out its various sizes and models in the table below.

Design and Construction

As we had mentioned earlier Echo Bad Ass Glass 680-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 8’0″ has a lot going for it when we are talking about its design and construction. The use of fiber glass makes it both super lightweight and powerful which enables you to get bigger fish. Its modern and sleek design will fit in perfectly with any fly fishing outfit that you have.

Action

Echo Bad Ass Glass is another fast action rod which is enabled by its smart use of fiber glass.

Versatility

Not as versatile as the other two rods on our list Echo Bad Ass Glass needs to have some points taken away from it. All in all it is great for salt fishing and Stillwater fishing, which makes it good enough for catching smallmouth bass.

Weight

Super light and super easy to carry, Echo Bad Ass Glass excels at portability. As we had already mentioned, all of this is thanks to the use of fiberglass. Carrying it will be really easy ,so you will be able to fly fish for much longer.

Warranty

Echo Bad Ass Glass gets a lifetime warranty so you know you will have a long time to spend with this rod.

Video review of Echo Bad Ass Glass

The easiest way to find out about Echo Bad Ass Glass is to watch a video and we have one ready for you, all you have to do is to watch the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDpm8y-8IBM

Wrap Up

If you are willing to give this new fiber glass a try then be sure to think about getting Bad Ass Glass 680-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 8’0″ for yourself and give it a spin in any lake or a sea.


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Summary Reviews of Runner-Up Fly Rods For Smallmouth

Each of our reviews is designed to provide all the information you will need, so you can be confident in your choice of the best fishing sunglasses.  Many of these brands come with multiple lens color options, and some in both men’s and women’s models, so be sure to look at the details when ordering.

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Sage Payload – Easiest To Cast

Sage Payload 9’ 6-wt  is made to be used for catching bigger fish ,and this rod has a lot more features to offer. Sage Payload 9’ 6-wt is made for anglers who loves to cast large flies and use heavier lines. Another great thing about this rod is that it is very versatile as it can be used both freshwater and saltwater. As you might have predicted, the Sage Payload 9’ 6-wt is the fast action rod which makes it perfectly suited for smallmouth bass.

Advantages

  • Solid rod for larger fish
  • Sturdy construction

Considerations

  • Sage Payload 9’ 6-wt rod is not as compact as some rods in this class


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Orvis Helios 3F – Highest Quality & Best Warranty

Orvis designed and constructed the Helios 3F with a number of characteristics that can enable you to push your fishing to a higher level, emphasis on casting accuracy.

The nice thing about the 3F is, it has an emphasis on touch and accuracy, at the it has the power to deliver both distance and strength.  While this fly rod comes at a price, the cost may seem reasonable if you consider the performance that comes with it.  This is an average rod that you might consider throwing in the trunk on top of other gear, it is rather an investment that can help take your casting to a new level.

For more on the differences between the Orvis Helios 3F and the 3D, check out our review of the 3F here.   In short, think “F” for feeling and “D” for Distance.

Advantages of the 3F:

  • Design takes casting variables out of play, to increase accuracy
  • It is able to sense even the slightest fish bump, very sensitive rod
  • Lightweight materials and design
  • Versatile rod that will cover many conditions and fish species
  • Warranty is a 25-year guarantee
  • Modern design, many feel is attractive (some do not).

Considerations:

  • Higher priced rod to achieve the performance
  • Not geared for longer-distance casting (despite the marketing claims, in this case we must disagree)
  • Has a medium action, which is better for feeling and accuracy, but not suited for longer casts, windy days, or powerful currents


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G. Loomis Asquith – Best For Windy Conditions & High Flow Water

G Loomis Asquith 690-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 9’0″is an awrd winning model which gives you that really premium feel when you are using the G Loomis Asquith 690-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 9’0″.This rod  is the most advanced high end rod and it is super light, so it will be really easy for you to carry it , thus you will be able to fly fish for days. Its lightweight does not impact its power as it is still strong to be casted over the longer distances. G Loomis Asquith 690-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 9’0″ is made by American and Japnese company, so you know that you are getting a great quality for your buck.

Advantages

  • Modern design and great quality
  • Premium model

Considerations

  • G Loomis Asquith 690-4 Fly Rod : 6wt 9’0″ is a bit pricey


All The Rods We Reviewed…And Eliminated

We reviewed many very quality rods that, while they didn’t make the Top 3, are runner-ups that you may want to consider for your circumstance.  Any of the following will work for you, as long as their specifications match up to your fishing conditions and skills:

  • Echo Bad Ass Glass – Top 3
  • Echo EPR
  • Fenwick Fenglass
  • G. Loomis Asquith – Runner Up
  • G. Loomis IMX Pro – Top 3
  • G. Loomis NRX+
  • Orvis Helios 3D
  • Orvis Helios 3F – Runner Up – Highest Quality & Best Warranty
  • Orvis Recon
  • Redington CRUX – Top 3, Best Value
  • Sage Ignitor
  • Sage Bass II – Discontinued By Manufacturer
  • Sage Payload – Runner Up – Easiest To Cast
  • Scott Meridian
  • Scott Sector – Runner Up – Most Versatile In This Rod Class
  • St. Croix Mojo Bass – Runner Up – Best On A Budget
  • Thomas & Thomas Exocett SS
  • TFO Mangrove
  • TFO BVK

Great Flies For Smallmouth Bass

These are some of the best flies for smallmouth bass you can use, designed for and/or proven for smallmouth bass:

  • Clouser Minnow – designed specifically for smallmouth
  • Blados’ Crease Fly- designed for stripers but subsurface commotion also attracts smallmouth
  • Woolly Bugger – imitates leeches and crayfish which are staples in the smallmouth diet
  • Crystal Bugger – adds a whole lot of flash when needed to the Woolly Bugger
  • Kiwi Muddler – a variation on the Muddler that adds marabou, imitates sculpin and mad tom catfish minnows
  • White Zonker – imitates a silvery baitfish
  • Barr’s Meat Whistle – imitates a leach, crayfish, or slow moving baitfish
  • Hansen’s Meal Ticket – articulated streamer, strong action, designed by Rainy’s Signature Fly designer Sean Hansen
  • Murdich’s Minnow – a baitfish pattern originating in saltwater, now used more widely for smallmouth, pike, trout and salmon
  • Any crawfish pattern you like

How To Catch Smallmouth Bass On A Fly Rod

Here’s an assembly of to-the-point tips for how to catch smallmouth on a fly rod:

Water conditions and temperatures:

– Smallmouth prefer clear, cool water

– Water temperature between 55 – 80 degrees, preferably 65 degrees and above for best results

– Toward the end of June is when smallmouth bass fishing starts to pick up in northern climates

– Spring spawning happens when water is in the 65 – 70 degree range

– When temperature gets above 80 degrees, fish deeper, 15 – 30 feet down, test for thermocline

Locating smallmouth:

– Widespread from small ponds to large lakes, small streams to large rivers

– Look for hard structures they can lurk near, especially rocky points, boulders, bluffs, ledges, jetties, rip rap, even large gravel, stumps, etc.

– Where there isn’t hard structure, look for drop-offs, edgelines of underwater vegetation, etc where they can surprise attack minnows

Casting techniques:

 – How much to work a spot – give one of these techniques 10 – 15 tries, from different angles at different depths, then try one other technique.  If it doesn’t produce, move to another location.  If you are convinced there are fish there, come back 30 – 60 minutes later and try the other two techniques.
 – Extra slow retrieve. let your fly sink and sit till it drops down deeply, then add some motion for a short bit. Repeat, casting nearby and from different angles to cover the water and find the fish.  Do this technique slower than you probably have patience for, and it’ll entice the most reluctant smallmouth.

 – Pause, go, and stop – Not unlike slow retrieve, but with increased stripping distances as you work the fly back to you.  After your initial cast, pause a few seconds then do a short strip.  After another pause, do two strips, then three and so on.  The idea is to entice the fish into thinking their prey is escaping, and is a consistently producing approach.

 – Continual stripping – First get your fly to the desired depth (and vary this till you find the fish), strip without pausing.  Best for imitating minnows and leeches.  Of course don’t only vary the depth, but vary the speed and regularity / irregularity of your stripping till you find what they want.  Try stripping that ranges from an injured baitfish that can’t move that far at once, to continually swimming bairfish.

 – Panic retrieve – Cast so your fly hits the surface and creates a lot of commotion.  Then, do immediate strips as if it is panicking. Introduce changes in direction, which you can do by mending the line abruptly, back and forth, every 5 – 7 feet.

Wrap-Up

In this article, we’ve given you an overview of the fly rods, flies, and techniques that will help you be successful catching smallmouth.  Don’t hesitate to share your own experience, or ask us questions by visiting our contact us page!

FAQs

By Mark Velicer

An avid fly fisher for over 40 years, Mark has lived and fly fished WA, MI, CA, PA and NY along with countless trips to other places. He can’t get enough of the water; white water kayaking, rafting, drift boating, and hiking to alpine lakes.


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