A beginner’s guide to bass on fly
  |  First Published: August 2004

IF THERE is a better freshwater fish to catch on fly in August I’d like to hear about it! Otherwise, it’s the good old bass for me. The best part is that bass often prefer flies to any other artificial presented to them, so flyfishing is a deadly method when mastered.

Methods don’t vary much, whether the dam you’re fishing is Boondooma, Maroon, Moogerah, Somerset, Samsonvale or Wivenhoe – except that in the latter two impoundments the bass are mighty hard to coax into taking a fly in the first instance. Baits and deeply trolled lures work, but flies? The jury is still out on the reason why they fail so spectacularly.

Whichever impoundment you fish, a boat is a virtual necessity because it allows you to move about to find the feeding schools of fish.


Most bass anglers opt for an 8wt rod for their lake fishing. Rods of this weight have enough power to cast the fast sinking lines required for some of the fishing, and the rod’s strength is handy when you need to control a decent bass that’s 15m down and has just spotted a couple of snags to dive into. Bass are powerful fish that will head straight to cover if given half a chance.

It’s hard to get away with just one fly line for impoundment bass angling. In the early morning the fish are often found in the shallower water (around 2-5m) working flats or submerged weed beds for tucker. In this situation a sink tip line is ideal. It gets the fly down easily and allows you stay attuned to what’s going on below, as the floating section registers a draw or strike immediately.

Later in the day the fish school up in deeper water (around 6-15m), and that’s where the universally-used Scientific Anglers Striper IV line comes into its own. These lines cast well and have a slim profile to minimize drag in the water. They also sink rapidly so you don’t have to wait as long for the fly to enter the strike zone.

One reel will take both lines provided you buy it with a couple of spools. Fortunately, as the majority of fishing will be in freshwater you don’t need to splurge on a state-of-the-art saltwater quality reel. That’s unless (as I do) you want to use the same 8wt sink tip line for targeting flathead in spring and early summer.

A sinking leader of around 2-3m is ideal, and most serious bass fly anglers seldom use anything other than fluorocarbon. I prefer Siglon Sinking as it is pure fluorocarbon rather than a fluoro-coated mono like some of the other leader materials. Siglon is as tough, as it needs to be, and tends to be stiff as well, which means less kinking when it has been rolled up on a reel for a while.


There’s no universally successful fly. In a dam that’s full of bony bream, such as Somerset Dam, the larger (size 1/0) Clousers or Deceivers in white/silver tones work much better than in Maroon Dam, where main food items are little firetail gudgeons. Maroon fish prefer smaller flies, such as size 2 Clousers, Crazy Charlies, or Bunny Flies.

One proven bass fly, which mimics the action of a small yabby when the fly is worked correctly, is John Schofield’s Bass Vampire. This purple and black fly has proven itself over and over again, and I advise any keen fly angler to make it the first fly of the morning in virtually all of our dams – except maybe Somerset or Moogerah where the fish often gorge on bony bream just after daylight. Having said that, if I locate fish in Somerset Dam and they won’t accept the big silver and white Deceiver, a Vampire goes on the leader next drift.


When bass fishing you need a reliable sounder and a good working knowledge of its functions. I won’t enter into a discussion on which sounder is best; the most important thing is that you understand what the sounder is displaying and know how to improve upon that display if necessary.

When fishing deepwater later in the day I rely absolutely upon my Lowrance X87. If I can look at the screen and see three half arches right on the bottom while moving very slowly, I understand that my boat is sitting right over a school of fish, most likely scattered over a fair area. I then cast out as much line as possible and allow it to sink to the bottom before commencing a series of sharp little strips or longer draws that tend to kick start a bass into motion.


If the fish aren’t responding, the next move is to try a ‘reaction’ style tactic. Make a long cast and feed out line while the boat drifts or is gently motored away from the line. Once you’ve judged the fly to be near the bottom – it sinks at around 30cm per second – strip the fly rapidly back in a tuna-style retrieve. Sometimes this works a treat, triggering fish that were previously uninterested as they react to the fleeing food.

Early morning fishing isn’t as dependant upon sounder use. The idea is to drift or use an electric motor to mooch slowly over the shallow flats within a bay or off the end of a prominent point. Cast towards the shallow water. With the fly deployed, give it some lifelike movements by regularly stripping or drawing it. If a fish or two shows on the sunder and no hits are forthcoming, try the tuna-style retrieve to see whether it will trigger a reaction strike.

Finding just where to fish in any dam takes time and some devotion to the sounder’s readout, but there’s no mistaking the signs of a good school of active bass. The sounder screen will fill with spaghetti lines of moving fish, some diving, some lifting. It’s then that the hits come thick and fast and the sportfishing potential of bass on fly really comes to the fore. At such times it’s more a matter of getting the fly down to the fish as quickly as possible rather than electing to use a particular retrieve. If they want it, they’ll grab it.

The main thing to remember when starting this exciting branch of flyfishing is to persevere – practice makes perfect! These days on-water experience tells me just when my fly line is on the bottom, even in 15m of water, but you won’t be able to detect the subtle difference in tension from the first couple of sessions. Keep at it, keep the faith, and leave that spin outfit at home!

1) Denise Kampe was pretty pleased with this fly-caught bass.

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