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While the fly fishing traditionalists continue to fish exclusively for native, natural trout with only dry flies and bamboo rods, the modern fly fisherman has turned his high-tech gear and unprejudiced attention to new quarry: the freshwater bass. And if you’ve ever caught one, even with sacrilegious non-fly tackle, you understand why.
Bass are aggressive, opportunistic predators that will absolutely destroy a properly presented fly.
Part of what makes these fish so popular is their accessibility: bass are found in waters all over our country, and in a variety of aquatic habitats.
Backcountry warm water lakes in Maine are home to monster smallmouth. Spring snow runoff in the Rockies fills reservoirs that allow largemouth to survive year-round. Shoot, I’m looking at a ditch outside my window with a couple pools where I know bass live. I wouldn’t be surprised to hook into a lip ripper in the puddle at that WalMart parking lot downtown!
Another factor that has contributed to bass’ increase in popularity with fly fisherman is that most fly fisherman can fish for bass with the tackle they already own. A simple 5-weight rod with a typical trout set up can be used to wrestle in these hard fighting fish.
But, while bass can be targeted with classic trout-fishing setups, there are situations that warrant a different approach and a different rod. These situations do not require a different set up, but using one will provide you with a significant advantage. And while these fish are highly aggressive, they do haunt anglers with their unexplainably high intelligence.
In this article we discuss these various situations, and try to give you every advantage you can get by educating you on the best weight fly rod for bass.
But if you want to skip the reading, we recommend a 7 weight for all around bass fishing.
Targeting largemouth bass with a fly rod is one of my personal favorite types of fishing. It is the first method of fly fishing my dad taught me at our lake house in Guntersville, so I hold this activity with the utmost regards. Watching an eight-pound bucket mouth inhale a fly from the surface will also make you just about crap your pants, so I encourage everyone to try it.
When deciding on what weight fly rod to use to target largemouth, the most important factor is the body of water that you’re fishing in. The size of your rod will be different if you’re fishing in a 150,000-acre lake as opposed to a ditch that’s 25 feet wide- that’s probably a no brainer. So that’s how we’re going to break it down for you.
Largemouth Bass in Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers
Alright, you’re going for the lunker largemouth found in our freshwater lakes. When fishing for largemouth bass on a lake, the two major considerations for determining the weight of your rod is the size and aerodynamics of your fly, and whether or not you’re fishing from a boat.
For lake bass fishing, you will primarily be fishing with either of two methods. While nymphing for bass is possible, I don’t know why anyone would choose the boredom of such a task. Instead we’re going to focus on dry flies and streamers.
Dry Flies for Bass
Using dry flies for bass is slightly different from dry fly fishing for trout. With bass, some “dry flies” imitate surface insects, but they may also imitate injured fish, frogs, mice, or even small ducks. As you may suspect, these larger prey require larger flies (and result in bigger hits).
With these larger flies, you’re going to need a bigger rod to properly cast these big dry flies. A 7-weight rod will often times be enough for these jumbo sized, aerodynamically challenged flies, when fishing on a lake. The problem with this rod will arise if the flies are exceptionally large, or if the wind is too strong. If this happens, you may have to use a double-haul cast to get your fly out where it needs to be.
If it’s a windy day and you’re casting big dry flies for bass on a lake, you could decide to use an 8-weight rod. The large size of this rod may scare away some anglers, but using it in this situation will allow you to cast normally for the distance you need.
Streamers for Bass
Another exciting and effective technique for catching largemouth bass on lakes with your fly rod is casting streamers. Because bass are aggressive, opportunistic feeders, they are especially susceptible to streamers that imitate injured fish. These flies range in size from small woolly buggers to articulated streamers as big as your hand.
The size and weight of these streamers will be the determining factor for the best weight fly rod for fishing for largemouth on lakes. Small, relatively light streamers can be cast perfectly well with a 7 weight, or even a 6-weight rod. But, larger streamers will often times require an 8-weight rod to get your fly where it needs to be.
Fishing on a Boat vs. Fishing from the Shore
After considering the size and aerodynamics of your fly, the second most important factor in deciding what weight fly rod to use to target largemouth bass on a lake is whether or not you’re fishing from a boat.
Fishing from a boat allows you to get closer to the fish (or, at least, where they’re supposed to be). Closer to the fish means shorter casts, and shorter casts means you can get away with using a smaller rod.
If fishing from a boat, I usually go down 1 weight so that I can cast more accurately and my dead-gum shoulder won’t get so worn out. That means, on a calm day casting medium sized streamers, I’d usually cast a 7-weight from the shore, but a 6-weight from my boat.
Largemouth Bass in Small Rivers / Ditches / Streams
As we mentioned earlier, Largemouth Bass love to live in some weird places. This gives you the opportunity to fish for them in the various small bodies of water that are at your disposal. You need to experience the thrill of horsing a 3-pound hog out of a drainage ditch, trust me.
In these situations, your typical 5-weight trout set up will get the job done. That is because you will likely be using smaller flies than you’d be using on a large body of water, and you have much less water to cover. Casts of 30 feet will be more than enough for you to catch plenty of fish.
A 5-weight can perfectly cast a small or medium sized woolly bugger these distances, as well as other similar sized streamers. These smaller bodies of water can also give you some top water action, but since these fish tend to be more easily spooked, a smaller offering will better serve you.
I have always fished my Orvis Helios 2 any chance I get, and when I’m fishing for Largemouth in these small bodies of water its the only rod I’ll think of using. Recently, though, Orvis came out with the Helios 3, and it will soon be replacing my 5-weight Helios 2. Having cast this rod, I can say with confidence that it will not disappoint.
Fly fishermen are known as a serious bunch. We do things the right way, the hard way, and we’re highly opinionated.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Fishing for Smallmouth is an absolute blast, and something I encourage all fishermen to try at some point. But people who fly fish for smallmouth bass will swear to you that nothing else compares. I’m typically a largemouth bass fisherman, so I try to stay away from making such statements, but you need to investigate for yourself.
Similar to largemouth, smallmouth bass have varying habitats that will determine the weight of the rod you’ll need to target them. This characteristic is to a lesser degree for smallmouth, though, as they have more specific habitat requirements (higher oxygen concentration and colder water).
So, again, we’re going to break down the weight of the rod you’ll need to target smallmouth, depending on your fishing situation.
Smallmouth Bass in Small Rivers
One of the most frequently utilized methods for catching small-mouth bass on a fly rod is floating or wading small rivers. While fishing these bodies of water, you will often times be under thick cover, making short to medium length casts into fishy habitats. For smallmouth, fishy habitats are the kinds of places you cast to knowing that you’ll get hung up if that cast is even somewhat inaccurate.
In these situations you’ll often times be casting medium sized streamers, or small to medium sized dry flies. You will be unlikely to be dealing with significant amounts of wind though, which is a huge plus.
My go to, no questions asked, fly rod for catching smallmouth bass in these small rivers is a 9-foot 7-weight rod. Currently, the rod in my arsenal that fits this description is my Echo Bad Ass Glass. Unlike most modern fly rods of this size, this rod is fiberglass instead of the faster, stronger graphite.
Using a rod made of fiberglass has two main effects: the price of the rod will often times be significantly lower, and the action of the rod will be slower. A slower action means that the tempo of your casting needs to slow down to allow for the rod to properly load.
Smallmouth Bass in Large Rivers and Lakes
Smallmouth Bass also thrive in larger rivers and lakes. In fact, these bodies of water are the home to the largest of these fish. When fishing for smallmouth in these situations, it is very similar to largemouth bass fishing.
If you’re fishing from the shore, you’ll need to be able to cast relatively far to get to the fish. If you’re fishing from a boat, you’ll have the advantage of getting closer to the fish. Since you’ll be casting relatively large flies, you’ll want a rod that can compensate for the lack of aerodynamics of your projectile.
n these situations, I recommend either a 7 or 8 weight rod in 9 and ½ feet. As I’ve said, you can’t go wrong with Orvis’ Helios H2 or H3, if you’re willing to pay the price. Echo’s Bad Ass Glass, can provide a cheaper alternative. Or, if you’re looking for something in-between, look into the Sage Pulse. This rod has a satisfying, fast action that is perfect for launching streamers and dry flies at smallmouth bass.
Best Weight Fly Rod for Bass – Conclusion
So if you’re trying to start fly fishing for largemouth or smallmouth bass, I can’t blame you. You’re going to have a blast. Just be sure to know the type of fishing situation you’ll be entering into, and have the correct weight rod that will be most effective in that situation.
If you get the chance to fly fish for bass sometime soon, let us know what products you used and give us your opinion on their effectiveness!
We do a lot of fishing ourselves, but getting feedback from more people always helps!
Also, if you found this article to contain helpful information for you to decide which weight fly-rod to target bass with, make sure to give us a like and share it with your fishing buddies. They may want to catch some bass with you!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. But if you’re targeting largemouth bass on a lake you are likely undergunned.
Overall likely a 7 weight, but we argue for 8 weights when you’re throwing big meat.
Overall, poppers, streamers, or leach patterns.
They do live in some waters that can also hold trout, but they feed less when they’re cold. They’re cold blooded, so they prefer warm water.
At first, harder. They EXPLODE on top water flies especially, but after that, they don’t jump quite as much during the fight as a rainbow does.
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