Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass – Tips & Tricks (A Quick Guide)

Bass are hands down the most popular fish to catch in the United States.

Over trout and other species, smallmouth bass easily top the charts for anglers.

Fly fishing for smallmouth bass is great fun and a somewhat religious practice for many fly fishers.

So, what makes fly fishing for smallmouth bass so addictive?

While I can’t speak for the thousands out there, I can tell you that once you hook your first smallmouth bass on a fly, you won’t be targeting much else for a while.

They eat with vigor and aren’t scared of much, and will give you an adrenaline-fueled, thrilling fight on your line.

But how do you get one to bite in the first place?

Let’s find out.

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Tips on How to Catch Smallmouth Bass with a Fly Rod

Smallmouth bass are a great species to target with the fly rod. They are super aggressive and generally have eyes bigger than their mouths!

Even the smallest of them will smash a fly similar in size to themselves without hesitation.

As much as they are easy to catch on fly, some days can be more tricky than others. They can be very selective in what they eat and may turn their nose to your fly on many occasions.

But don’t stress!

Below are a few pointers to help you up your catch rate and have a great day out on the water.

smallmouth bass fly in the early morning

Best Places to Find Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass can be found in most freshwater systems throughout the US, and they prefer slow-moving rivers, and streams, as well lakes and tailouts.

Even that old overgrown pond at the back of uncle Sam’s’s house should have a few bass in.

What I am getting at is that smallmouth bass are in most freshwater systems, and it is a matter of knowing what to look for to locate the fish.


Bass love structure! If you find a decent structure, you will find the fish. Look for broken logs and branches.

Lilly patches are a goodie and even under piers or bridges. Bass like to pounce on their prey, so they need as much cover as possible.

Slow-Moving Water

Doing a slow downstream drift for a few smallies is great fun. Work the pocket areas with less movement when drifting down the river or walking the bank.

The bass will hang out in these areas and feed into the stream when needed.

Tailouts are also great areas to swing your fly through. Again, bass love to hold in these areas and ambush prey as the flee.

Still Waters

I love fishing for smallmouth bass in ponds and smaller still waters. Again, find the structure, and you will find the fish.

I usually work the edges of the bank first to make sure there aren’t any fish hanging out there, then I proceed to work the deeper ledges and holes.

Winter is a great time to target bass in still waters; they tend to hold deeper in the water column and eat less frequently to preserve energy.

But when they do feed, WOW! They take the fly with such power, it’s almost like they are grumpy or something!

Check out Winter Bass Fly Fishing for more information.

fly fishing equipment - fly rod, reel, backpack, fly box and flies

What are the Best Flies for Smallmouth Bass?

When it comes to flies for smallmouth bass or any bass, think big!

Bass eat baitfish, frogs, crabs, and mice, and they have even been known to be cannibalistic at times.

So yes, they will probably eat your small nymph you twitch past them, but they will most definitely smash your streamer you swing across their path.

Ok, so maybe not all the time. Bass can be tricky to catch sometimes, especially in the colder months and in waters with high fishing pressure.

Baitfish patterns; SF baitfish, craft fur baitfish, and even clousers work well. My favorite fly for smallies is the sex dungeon in a tan, black and green color with rubber legs.

Here is a great SBS video Sex Dungeon SBS.

As long as the fly has movement and some color, the bass will be interested. Changing the retrieve slightly can also provoke them to eat the fly.

Check out this link for extra info on fly fishing for bass.

Strategies and Techniques for Smallmouth Bass

If you are a newbie to the fly-fishing world, don’t worry! With these simple tips, you will be catching bass in no time!

  • Always approach the water with stealth, never just cast out as far as you can to begin with. Work the closest bank first. You never know where the fish are holding, and they could be right in front of you.
  • Work the structure, as I mentioned earlier. Find the structure, and you will find the fish.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Look out for rising fish, birds, active nests and frogs, that type of thing. Remember, bass eat anything!
  • Use short erratic strips to give your fly small bursts of life, bass love this!
  • Don’t be afraid to change your fly. If you feel something else will work better, change it! It is essential to have confidence in what you are fishing.
  • Have patience , work the water completely before you move. Bass are kind like this, and if there is a fish in the area, it will generally show interest in the fly.
  • Use a 7wt rod and fly line to target bass. I wouldn’t go any lighter. You need some weight to throw those heavier flies. Understanding the fly lines for bass will help! Understanding the fly lines for bass will help!
  • Fishing from a kayak is great but just be aware of the echoing sounds you make when you bump the boat’s hull, as bass will flee when they hear it. Head to this article on the best fly fishing kayaks for some excellent options.

Last Cast

I like nothing more than chasing smallmouths on the fly, and yes, my way and approach may not work for everyone.

This article aims to get you to catch more fish, please take from it what you need and put it to practice.

Grab your fly rod and head out to the nearest bit of water and get that fly wet. The chances are you will pull a good few bass out as well!

Please remember to practice catch and release at all times. Preserving our fish species will ensure that our grandkids will be able to have as much fun as we do.

Tight Lines!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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