Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass

By Andy Whitcomb

Sep 21, 2015

Smallmouth bass are celebrated for their power and fight.

Smallmouth bass are celebrated for their power and fight. Even the small bronze fish surprise many anglers because they represent like much larger fish. And what better way to “kick it up a notch” than to catch smallmouth bass on a fly rod? However, I have been making some mistakes on the Allegheny River.

Bass Fly Fishing Techniques

The first two tips are from Lamar Underwood’s book, “1001 Fishing Tips” when fly fishing for saltwater “Silver King” tarpon but they can apply to fly fishing for smallmouth bass too, especially in slow, clear, shallow water.

  1. Cast where the fish cannot see the fly land on the water. And while I’m at it, an awkward slap across the water by my floating fly line, thanks to the frequent fly-snatching brush at my back, can’t be helping either.

  2. Work the fly away from the fish, rather than strip line to make it swim to the fish. Bass want the impression of a prey item trying to escape.

  3. Minimize the “decision window.” In the slack water of river eddies, my fly offerings were getting many looks and follows but the fish were allowed to examine the fly too long. The reaction strike may have occurred more frequently if I had stripped the fly away faster or presented the fly to fish in faster moving water where the decision to hit or pass must be made more quickly.

Fly Fishing for Bass with Small Bait

Flies for smallmouth do not need to match a hatch as with a trout. Bite size flies representing minnows, crayfish, leeches, or grasshoppers should do the trick, providing you use a stealthy presentation. And when you do head out to battle smallmouth bass and lower hanging limbs with a fly rod, make sure you have your fishing license.

Have you had success with fly fishing for smallmouth bass?

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.