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Bass fly basics: Fooling bass with a fly can be simple, cheap and effective
  |  First Published: September 2012



My fly-fishing expertise is extremely crude and backwards compared with the anglers often featured in fly-specific books, magazines and videos. I’ll admit from the outset that I can barely cast properly, although at least I’m at the point where I don’t get tangled up much these days.

Having said that, it’s been well over 20 years since I first tried fly-casting and I’ve now caught close to 100 species on the long wand.

What this goes to show is that although it’s very advantageous to be a good caster, you definitely don’t have to be great to go out and catch fish. That part comes more from general angling knowledge and experience.

Out of all the species that can be caught on the fly in our waters, one of the easiest is the good old Aussie bass. They are also one of the most enjoyable to target with fly gear.

Both wild river and stocked impoundment bass respond to pretty much the same sorts of flies and presentations.

When comparing these two environments there are factors to consider which may dictate exactly what sort of gear and flies you’ll do best with.

Most of our bass rivers are relatively shallow, with snag-lined banks and other features such as boulders, sweeping bends and current flow.

Impoundments generally have little in the way of current but they may be much deeper in parts than rivers.

So before buying new fly gear, consider which type of environment you’ll be fishing the most.

Depth is probably the main issue and a secondary issue may be the size of the fish encountered. Although some very big bass are encountered in some of our rivers, the biggest fish are more likely hooked in the dams.

FLY RODS

Years ago, when I first tried fly-fishing I purchased a budget-priced rod. Although it did the job, casting always seemed incredibly difficult.

I didn’t know any better and blamed my poor casting on lack of skill. While my abilities may have been part of the problem, it wasn’t until I started using higher quality rods that I noticed a real improvement.

Eventually, I stepped up to a top-of-the-range, high-modulus rod and this is when it really became obvious. A quality rod definitely improves casting, but it still takes practice and dedication to get better at it.

There’s also no doubt that casting lessons are a great idea and will get you off to a much better start than my crappy beginnings.

I recommend a newcomer start with a 6wt or 7wt. That will cover a range of situations and be relatively easy to cast a variety of different flies.

If, however, you’re pretty much a big-bass impoundment angler than an 8wt could possibly be more suitable. If you’re unsure, a 7wt is the best choice.

THE REEL

When it comes to this type of fishing, a fly reel is basically just a line-storage device, so this is one area where you can go for a budget reel.

Main considerations with a reel are the weight and overall size. The lighter it is, the more comfortable it will be to use and this can also affect your casting performance. Bolt a heavy reel to a light rod and it’s not light any more.

Larger reels hold more line and smaller reels hold less. Backing line isn’t overly important when just chasing bass. Fly line is quite thick and the 30m or so of line will take up some space on a reel. Lighter lines are thinner and will take up less spool room.

So when choosing a reel, try to match it to the line weight you’ll be using and if in doubt, go bigger rather than smaller.

Drag systems in fly reels become important only when chasing larger species, so if the reel is intended for a bit of this and that, it may be worth forking out a bit more for a decent reel.

LINES

There’s quite a wide variety of fly lines on the market these days and at first it could seem a bit confusing as to which one is best for bass. The first step is to understand line codes.

The number is the first thing to look at. A ‘9wt’ means nine weight compatible with similar weight rods and maybe one rod weight below.

In most cases the first letter or two will refer to the taper of a line. There are all sorts of line tapers available these days but some of the main ones to look for are DT (double taper, or tapering at the beginning and end of the line) or WF – weight forward, with a fatter section towards the front end of the line. I recommend starting with a WF, which may be a touch easier to cast.

Then you’ll need to choose between a floating line and a sinking one.

For the majority of river bass a full floating line will be right on the mark.

When it comes to reaching fish in the depths of a big dam, though, a sinking line is the way to go.

So look for an ‘F’ for floating or ‘S’ for sinking on that line code.

Other common options are ‘ST’, a floating line with a sinking section towards the tip, and ‘I’ for intermediate, which basically means a very slow sinking line.

For now, though, go for a floating or sinking line, depending on your needs.

There are also more specialised lines, like distant taper, shooting heads, tarpon and clear tips or a mixture of all of the above. Don’t worry too much about all that sort of stuff, unless you really know that you need it.

Over the years, I’ve mainly used a full floating weight forward 6 weight (6FWF or similar) line in creeks and rivers and I have no reason to change. It works perfectly.

BACKING, LEADER

The easiest and cheapest option for backing line is to simply wind on some old braid off a reel that may need its line replacing. In most cases 50-100m of 10kg braid will be fine. I have only about 10m of braid as backing on one of my small fly reels and there aren’t too many bass around that will peel off enough line to get me into any sort of strife with that.

At the business end of the fly line, a leader is required. Things can get very fancy here but there’s no need for that if it can be avoided.

About 1m of 20-25lb stiff mono, such as Schneider, is followed up with another metre of 8-12lb mono or fluorocarbon.

That forms a basic leader that can be used in a river or dam, with floating or sinking line and surface or sub-surface flies.

However, a slightly longer leader can be beneficial so if your casting ability is up to it, stretch that leader length out another 50cm or more.

If the fish are big and the environment gnarly, beef up it up a notch with a heavier tip section of, say 12-20 lb fluorocarbon like Sunline FC Rock.

I find a simple 10-turn albright knot good for joining the two lines together.

Loop-to-loop connections from fly line to leader are about the best way to go, although they can be a bit complex to make up. Most fly lines come with a spare braided mono loop or two and they make things easier than making them up from scratch.

If you’re not familiar with the loop-to-loop concept, search YouTube for instruction videos or consult staff at a specialised fly-fishing outlet.

BEST FLIES

Forget about all that fancy fly pattern talk and those outrageous names for specific flies.

In basic terms, there are surface flies and there are sinking flies and while some anglers prefer to use only surface flies, I strongly advise carrying both types if you really want to catch bass – they won’t always hit stuff on the surface.

I tie all my own flies and don’t strictly follow any known patterns or recipes.

The good thing about bass is that their natural diet consists of all sorts of different terrestrial and aquatic goodies, from ants to moths, beetles, small fish, frogs, worms and even mice and lizards. Flies that loosely resemble just about any small live creature will catch bass at one stage or another.

As a starting point, try surface or near-surface patterns such as Gurglers, Muddler Minnows and Dahlbergs and sinking patterns such as Woolly Buggers, Clousers and Bass Vampires.

Yes, there we have some of those fancy fly names, but what I do is make up my own or similar versions of these familiar patterns, substituting one material or colour for another. There’s definitely no need to try to copy fly patterns precisely.

Fluffy marabou is one of my favourite materials and some reliable colours for river or dam bass are black, purple olive, yellow, green and orange.

A dark base colour like black or purple can be nicely offset with a dash of contrasting red or yellow, for example.

Larger trout flies, as well as those that work on bream or flathead, will certainly tempt bass.

So don’t get too caught up in trying to be precise when it comes to bass flies. Just have fun with your flies and be confident that bass will eat them.

CASTING, PRESENTATION

More challenging species like bream and trout may require precision casting with an extremely stealthy approach. That will certainly help you catch bass, but isn’t quite as necessary.

When casting around snags in creeks it’s beneficial to be as accurate as possible, but the good news is that you can generally get much closer to where a fish may be without spooking it than you could when chasing bream or trout.

So try to be quiet, try to cast accurately, but don’t worry too much about it.

The more you do it, the better you’ll get but in the meantime you’ll start catching bass, which is the main thing.

A surface hit from a bass is very obvious but sometimes hits down deeper may only be subtle plucks or bumps.

Quite often you’ll just feel a tightening of the line or you may be stripping in and come up tight on what feels like a snag at first.

In any case, if you suspect a fish has hit, strip the line back solidly while at the same time raising the rod. If it’s a decent bass, hang on and try to fight it with the line more than the flimsy fly rod.

Once you’ve caught your first few bass on fly, confidence levels will quickly build and then plenty more will follow.

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