If you were to name the most popular freshwater fish there’d be a lofty argument between those who say walleye and those who say bass. Though they both have their merit as sportfish, there is little argument about which species is more dynamic to catch and release on the fly. From strike, to fight, to sheer power, there are few species that can challenge the smallmouth bass on all three of these indicators.
Smallmouth bass are acrobatic, dynamic, and downright vicious in their feeding patterns. This is part of the reason they are so revered as fly-friendly fish! From dragging crawfish pattern flies slowly along the rocky bottom of the lake to offering a topwater popper to entice an aerial strike, there is little argument that smallmouth bass are 100% fun on a fly!
We asked some of the hosts of The New Fly Fisher what their favourite or go-to bass flies are and why. Here are their responses.
Bill Spicer’s favourite bass fly
For smallmouth bass, my go-to fly for the last 10 years has been Scotty’s McFly. This is a deadly fly for smallmouth, as it is for multi-species. I believe it is the orange marabou that is the attraction. The fly, weighted of course undulates in the water and both the white and orange maribou pulses with the action of the angler. It almost breathes underwater. Fished as a streamer, it’s deadly in still water and in rivers, but it can also be fished under an indicator dead-drifted in both situations. The pearl mylar chord and flashabou give this fly a sparkle that smallies simply can’t resist.
To learn how to tie the Scotty’s McFly, check this out:
Rob Heal’s favourite bass fly
For smallmouth bass, my confidence fly is an olive and black woolly bugger. One doesn’t need to say much about the bugger but this combination produces more fish for me than any. Woolly buggers are the ultimate cross-prey files, meaning they can emulate a vast variety of prey species smallmouth bass feed on. Though they can be effective in vibrant colours such as red, blue and chartreuse, for my buck, I generally start with natural organic colours such as black, brown, rust or olive. These natural hues seem to match food sources best. Woolly buggers can represent a variety of prey to smallmouths including; leeches, baitfish, crayfish or hellgrammites to name a few. Either weighted or not, an olive and black woolly bugger is tops in my book.
For a great woolly bugger recipe and tying instructions, look no further than here:
Jeff Parks’ favourite bass fly
I generally fish smallmouth bass in rivers – moving water. This presents a variety of challenges on the presentation of flies to smallmouth bass. My go-to fly for smallmouth bass is Dave Whitlock’s crayfish with painted claw tips with pink nail polish. Can’t beat it. You can fish it weighted in faster-moving water. The barbell eye sinks the fly fast and also keeps the hook point up so you reduce your incidents of getting snagged on wood or rock. Another pattern I love, and to round up the water column is a yellow Gurglar topwater pattern. Any gurgler, of any colour, will move surface water acting like a dinner bell and more often than not, smallmouth can’t resist and react violently!
If you’ve never tied a gurgler, here is a dead easy demo:
Colin McKeown’s favourite bass fly
When I get the chance to go on a fishing vacation, I love to head to “Trophy Alley” in Ontario’s Algoma Country! With drive-to opportunities for soft water smallmouth bass all season, you can really experiment with different flies for smallies. One of my go-to flies for big smallmouth all season long is a Murdich Minnow in white and in a perch pattern. These flies, often up to 3 or 4 inches in length emulate smelt, shiners and other schooling baitfish that smallmouth love to ball up and crash upon. They eat this fly with sheer violence and often hook themselves with the speed at which they attack! Great fly for multi-species.
Here, good friends Tom Rosenbauer and Tim Flagler have a tie-off with different renditions of their Murdich Minnows:
Mark Melnyk’s favourite bass fly
I grew up fishing smallmouth bass in Ontario and have thrown a tonne of different lures and flies for smallies. My go-to fly for smallmouth is, hands down, bar none a simple balsa wood or foam popper. The key to this fly’s effectiveness, in my opinion, is that it has a concave face. Flies like round-faced poppers or Sneaky Petes, though effective in their own situations, don’t ring the bell for bass the way a concave face does on a popper. That “glug” sound is money to bring in bass…tie a stonefly dropper off the bend of your popper’s hook and you’ve got a deadly 1-2 punch for smallmouth bass. Colour should match the weather, dark colours on cloudy days and bright colours in bluebird sunny conditions!
Here are some tips on fishing smallies on poppers:
So there you have it, a bottom-to-top go-to fly selection for smallmouth bass. Include a variety of sizes of each of these flies in your box and you will see significant smallie success! They are high-flying, energetic and aggressive fish that are worthy of all freshwater anglers!