It’s an interesting juxtaposition comparing someone’s first fishing rod to their first fly rod. For most new fly anglers, you go to your local fly shop and get a nine-foot five weight outfit, usually for trout. The options for trout flies and trout fishing gear are endless. The pictures on the wall, the decor, the rustic ambiance is catered to that of trout fishing. It’s the “River Runs Through It” aesthetic and expectation.
Now compare that to shopping at a Bass Pro Shops or similar big box store. All the fishing gear and tackle is geared for bass fishing. Aisles upon aisles of tackle, tackle boxes, baits and lures, gear, line, rods and reels. Heck, the big fish tank in the middle of the store is full of bass that would be the catch of a lifetime!
Whether you claim to be a bass fisherman or not, most fishermen have caught a largemouth bass before. It’s the first fish caught with a grandchild and a grandparent. Whether on a pond or river close to where you grew up, everyone has their “First Bass” story. Consequently, it’s not a fish many think of targeting with a fly rod. BUT THEY SHOULD!
Largemouth bass are the largest sport fish in the United States, and according to a survey conducted in 2016 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “9.6 million anglers spent 117 million days fishing for bass.”  The same survey showed 7.8 million anglers spent 63 million days fishing for trout . Of the total anglers surveyed, only 17% were fly fishing . In reality, largemouth bass are a much better gamefish to get an angler into fly fishing than trout. They fight hard, are acrobatic, readily eat flies, crush flies on top water, and often allow for second chances when the first bite is missed. Largemouth are also found in a wide variety of water bodies, most of which are found a close distance to one’s home.
My favorite thing about fly fishing for largemouth bass is the accessibility. You don’t need waders, or a drift boat, or a flats skiff, or kayak, or canoe. The bank of a pond or a river is the perfect place to fish for largemouth. I catch most of my bass on a nearby golf course, just a short walk from home. Lakes, retention ponds, rivers, creeks, and ditches are all great habitats for these fish. Largemouth bass like to ambush from cover, so shallow water corners, lily pads and weeds, rocks, or fallen trees are great areas to target these fish.
Largemouth bass also do not require a lot of gear. A basic fly rod between a 5 weight and an 8 weight will work. The rod can be any length, but a 9 foot is best, especially for reach casting from the banks of a pond or river. The reel can be very simple, it just needs to house the fly line. A basic large arbor reel will work and will have plenty of stopping power if you do have a chance to play the fish on the reel! I recommend a floating line, with a short and large forward taper. This will help in casting larger poppers and streamers. When fishing in deeper water I recommend a sink-tip or intermediate fly line and an unweighted streamer.
For a leader, I use 6 – 7 feet of 10 or 15 lb. monofilament. Largemouth bass are not leader or tippet shy so keep it simple. As you change flies and replace the sections with tippet, keep a basic taper to help turn over those bigger flies. I often make my own leaders with a 4-foot section of 20 lb mono, followed by 3 feet of 10 or 12 lb. A shorter leader of 3 or 4 feet is best when using an intermediate or sink tip line when fishing subsurface baitfish flies, weighted or unweighted, to find bass in deeper water. A sinking leader tied to a floating line can also be used in these circumstances.
I mostly fish topwater in ponds and rivers because the eats are exciting and it’s easy to get hooked up. For topwater flies, any kind of frog popper, slider or terrestrial bug will work, in a size 4 to 2/0 hook. Flies like the Double Barrell Popper, Boogle Bug, Sneaky Pete, Umpqua Swimming Frog, Wiggle Minnow or Gurgler work perfectly. Pop or wiggle the fly then wait for the blow up! If a big noisy fly doesn’t solicit a strike, tie on something smaller and more subtle. Most of the time a largemouth will eat a topwater fly on the pause. After popping the fly a few times, wait for the strike. It often happens when you least expect it!
As a rule of thumb, fish topwater flies at dawn and dusk, but switch to swimming flies during the day. These fish are fierce predators that don’t take much to entice. A fly that imitates fleeing prey will make a largemouth strike out of instinct. Streamers like Wooly Buggers, Murdich Minnows, Clouser Minnows, Deceivers and Seaducers are great baitfish patterns for largemouth. Size 2, 1 and 1/0 flies in white, olive, black and chartreuse is all you need. When fishing around structure and grass, utilize flies with weed guards. Most often, big fish will be hiding in the thick cover and shadows. If you set into what feels like a tree limb, and that limb starts pulling back, hang on tight and enjoy the “Largemouth Rodeo”!
There really is no excuse to not go fly fishing for largemouth bass. Find a ditch, river or pond nearby, tie on a topwater frog and see what’s out there in your backyard!
 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/fhw16-nat.pdf)