Bass - Our Very Cooperative Fish on The Fly!
Updated: Aug 11
Updated: July 29, 2020
Ontario has one of the most diverse fisheries in the world when it comes to the number of species we have available to anglers. Many anglers find themselves targeting the same fish species (trout) day in, day out and not taking advantage of other opportunities that are at our doorsteps - this couldn't break out heart's more!
During the summer months every game fish's season is open for angling and with so many species to target, anglers end up spreading out on countless water bodies, leaving you with more water to explore yourself. Finding yourself on a stretch of water by yourself, or with very few other anglers is a real possibility, even here in Southern and Central Ontario!
While trout are great fun in cooler weather they are quite sensitive to water quality and temperature. When water temperatures exceed 65 degrees Fahrenheit trout of all species have a difficult time recovering after being stressed (being fought), as a result mortality rates, even with the best fish handling practices, rise significantly. At 68 degrees Fahrenheit (water temperature) we're off of trout, and we're in search of warmer water species.
Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pike, musky, walleye, carp, panfish, the list goes on! More water bodies in Ontario hold these species than trout, so you don't have to travel far to find fair game!
Bass on the Fly?! You Bet!
They're a ton of fun, a challenge at times, and...
You Probably Already Have Most of The Gear You Need!
Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are extremely wide-spread throughout Ontario, making them extremely accessible to anglers. If you're standing on a dock and you're in a lake or river with bass in it, you're probably only feet away from one! From the Toronto Harbor, through Southern and Central Ontario, and into the Northern parts of our province bass are there!
Bass are endless fun to fish for and a perfect target for both beginner anglers and grizzled veterans alike. Bass are hard fighting and acrobatic fish that can be caught using many techniques - popping poppers, slow rolling or ripping streamers, dead drifting big nymphs and crayfish patterns, and even presenting dead still flies on the surface, it all works (at the right time)!
Bass make for a great species to transition to from trout fishing large in part because you do not generally need special gear to get into them. Your standard 5wt through 9wt rods are great bass sticks. What will help you get the most out of that rod is a warm water rated line with an aggressive forward taper that will allow you to cast larger, less aerodynamic, flies. Cold water lines get very limp in warm conditions and make casting a difficult, but if that's what you have, make it work!
Delicate trout tapers do not do a great job of casting out larger bass flies, so keep that in mind as well. If you do have a fly line that is meant to cast smaller trout flies (trout dry flies, nymphs, and small streamers) stick to much smaller and less air resistant bass flies, keep away from the big poppers and heavily weighted patterns. Those delicate trout tapered lines just don't have the weight in the right place for the big stuff. Once you make the change to a bass focused, or big fly, line we can guarantee you wont regret the purchase - what a difference it makes!
Don't forget about removable sink tips such as Polyleaders and sinking lines, either sink-tip, or full sinks! Some patterns need help getting down to where the bass are, and in deep water conditions it is nearly always necessary to get your flies down during the day when the sun is out, or when it is just plain'ol bright.
For flies many standard trout, salmon and saltwater flies will work very well, you probably already have a few! Atlantic salmon bombers, large bonefish shrimp patterns, Clouser minnows, trout streamers, and large nymphs will all catch bass well and consistently.
While those are the flies you may already have in your box and can get started with, there are a lot more flies designed for bass that will elevate your time on the water.
We can break down bass flies into essentially three basic categorizes. Surface, subsurface, and near bottom. We're big fly nerds at the shop, we'll keep the fly subcategories for bass under wraps for now and save that for a future post!
Poppers, sliders, divers, simulators, hoppers, beetles, wigglies, mice, ducklings, skaters, the list goes on... what all these flies have in common is how they interact with the surface. These flies are designed to disturb the surface of the water and get noticed, but not always in a big way. Poppers that make a big splash when landing and a big pop when retrieved can sometimes spook fish into the next lake or river. When picking surface flies think about how deep the fish are and how aggressive or wary they may be. Fish that are deep (8"+) sometimes need a big commotion on the surface to get them to investigate. Fish in shallow water, and fish that are skittish often need less commotion around them to keep them from spooking, keep them where they are, and for them to take your fly.
Here is a great tip for you - when you present your fly, leave it... just leave it... don't touch it... don't move it... not even a little. Leave that fly dead still, and for longer than you think your should, want, and can stand. Fish know what is happening around them far more than most people think. That fly hitting the surface, even if the fish are 10'-20' away (depending on conditions)... they know it is there, they can see it, or they have felt, or heard it, or the disturbance it has caused. Moving that fly too soon can cause the fish to spook, but leave it in place until the rings around the fly dissipate and a bit longer after that, that bass that has come in to investigate what your fly is may gently sip it down, or try to wipe it from the earth with a ferocious eat after you just give it the most subtle twitch... and we mean twitch, not pop.
We'll leave you with one more tip as well - fish don't have eyelids. This may seem like an odd tip, but think about it. When it is bright outside, what do you do? ...we're going to bet you try and shield your eyes in some way. Fish can't squint, or pop on a baseball cap, or wear a pair of Smith Optics (our favourite brand of eye wear!), or even close their eyes. They find cover for their eyes under or around structure and cover in shadows, and that often shielding from the sun comes in the form of depth. It can be much darker deep down in lakes and in dark holes in rivers, and that's where you will often find fish when the sun is high.
You may have a heck of a time catching fish on poppers or near surface mid-day so choose your time to target fish on-top wisely.
Using poppers and surface flies are our favourite way to catch bass, but it isn't always the most effective, just as with fishing for trout. Be prepared with subsurface flies to make the most out of your time on the water.
Flies for Subsurface Fishing
Food just inches below the surface could be what bass want and are feeding on, or it could be food 2' to 10'+ down and well off bottom, or anything in between, or deeper.
How will you know? The fish will tell you. Our strategy is nearly always to start near surface, then move our flies deeper until we start catching fish, or seeing activity around our fly. Bass eat insects, leeches, baitfish (minnows), drowned mice and ducklings, washed in/drowned worms, swimming frogs, and just about anything else that moves in the water... even if it isn't moving they may take a swipe and taste of it. There are flies to mimic all these things!
A good selection of flies to target sub surface feeding fish will do wonders to improve your success! These flies may be weightless streamers that will sink just below the surface, or flies with heavy dumbbells, cones, beads, or other weight, that will carry your fly to greater depths to find fish.
Flies for the Depths
"GET DOWN" is not just a loved movie line of Arnold Schwarzenegger fans! Getting your flies down deep, near rock piles, boulder gardens, fallen timber, and all sorts of bass habitat can be your key to bass success. Leeches are often near bottom, and so are crayfish, nymphs, caddis, and a myriad of baitfish, and if that's where the fish are feeding, and that's what they are feeding on, don't try to force feed them with other presentations unless you like getting snubbed and the smell of skunk.
When considering flies to fish very deep, it isn't always about how much weight the fly has. It is also about how the fly is designed. A fly that is sparsely dressed with a modest set of dumbbells or weight in the fly will sink far faster, and achieve greater depths, than one that is very bulky and overdressed. The Clouser minnow is a great example - it is streamline, and slick in the water, and drops like a stone. SO, when you're picking your deep diving flies for the depths, consider all aspects of the fly's design.
BASS WORTHY LEADERS AND TIPPET The one other piece of gear we would recommend changing in preparation for this style of fishing would be your leader. Because of the size of flies we're fishing for bass, a heavier, stouter leader than your standard trout setup works well in turning them over. If you already have saltwater or salmon leaders, they'll work well too!
For tippet size, match it to your leader appropriately, and anything from an 8-16lb size works well. Using abrasion resistant material for your leader and tippet will also pay off in spades. These fish often live in and around rocks, fallen timber, and vegetation making abrasion a real issue.
CLICK HERE FOR OUR SELECTION OF BASS WORTHY LEADERS AND TIPPET AVAILABLE TO VIEW AND PURCHASE ON OUR WEB STORE
Although you don't need specialized gear for bass there are much better performing rods, lines, and flies for the job. If you decide that you ever want to get serious about bass we have the gear that will help you fish more effectively. Reach out to us, we're happy to guide to to the gear that makes a difference and does the job.
Fresh Ways to Catch Bass
Bass are predatory fish and in some cases can even be the apex predator in a water body. Although bass are great fun for beginner anglers because of their cooperative nature, the most successful bass anglers use a range of techniques that range from subtle surface presentations, deep water dredging with big patterns, and everything in between.
While some fly anglers may be intimidated by large flies we should remember that many bass are not timid animals and we shouldn't always treat them as if they are. While fishing clear or cold water may dictate that you fish slowly and with small flies, during summer months a fish's metabolism speeds up greatly and your approach can be much more aggressive - when bass are on, they are on!
What about finicky bass? As extremely aggressive as bass are some days, other days they just aren't. Water temperature plays a big roll, along with changes in barometric pressure. Some fisheries are known for having very selective fish, such as the Saugeen River, and with shifting unstable weather, fishing can get darn tough. During these times being stealthy, slowing down, fishing water thoroughly, and showing fish different flies and a variety of presentations and depths is your best bet to get fish to the net. Try small and medium sized leech patterns, streamers that have a jigging action, and slow moving crayfish patterns. Many times with these tough conditions you'll have fish follow your flies in only to turn away at the last moment, to convert these follows to caught fish you can set up a tandem rig. Keep the fly you were getting follows with on attached to your leader, then attach a length of tippet off the bend of that hook and tie on a small streamer or nymph, fish can be drawn to the larger fly and then often commit to the smaller pattern.
In many river environments the crayfish are the preferred food source for bass, especially if you have a rocky bottom. Always pack crayfish patterns into your bass kit in a variety of colours and sizes. Slow roll those crayfish, adding weight if needed with a couple of split-shot about 18" above your fly. Crayfish don't swim near the surface, or even mid-level, so many sure you're getting those bugs down where crayfish live.