Choosing the best bass flies is a bit different than choosing flies for most other species. While bass do feast on the odd insect, their diet is prominently more meaty prey like small fry or terrestrials.

In a lifetime of fishing – including in the odd far-flung place – I have picked up a few ideas from other anglers and tried a few myself. My bass fishing is predominantly on the south coast of England but as you will see below – there is a bit more to bass than that.

In this post, I’ll be sharing with you the best bass flies to add into your fly box including different flies for different species of bass, and how to fish them in a variety of waters from Europe to North America.

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Which Bass Which Fly?

There’s a question! It depends on where you are reading this because ‘bass’ can mean very different things. In North America, this will likely mean ‘largemouth’ ‘smallmouth’ or black bass or one of the related species. In Europe, we are talking about ‘sea bass.’

Bass Jumping Out Of Water

The odd thing is despite being completely different, both are great sport with some similar techniques.

I propose to consider both branches of the fly fishing world – either as an ‘eye-opener’ to another part of our sport or perhaps by way of encouragement should you travel abroad to one side of the pond or the other.

Remember to bring a travel fly rod in your kit and a selection of the most productive bass flies to try your luck wherever you go.

What Makes A Great Bass Fly?

There are some general fly tying principles that apply here, so no need to create too many distinctions when talking about what makes great bass flies.

Best Bass Flies - Reel & Box with flies inside

If you are fly fishing in North America your best bass fly fishing selection may well follow the more modern generation of trout or pike flies and lures; but if you are fishing in Europe then your bass flies are likely to emulate sea food, probably more akin to hairwing salmon or pike fly patterns in character.

Frankly, I reckon you could catch either variety of bass with a simple hairwing salmon fly or predator pattern fished in a broadly similar style.

Action

Whilst normally if you were trout fishing I would say that you want flies which are a general impression of the fish’s food and are not too ‘splashy’ when they hit the water on being cast out.

It is a bit different for the bass fisherman. North American flies for bass will on the whole tend to be bigger and flashier and look a good mouthful – more in the nature of attractors.

Man holds Best Bass Fly Fishing Flies above fly box

The sea bass fly-fisher on the other hand will probably be more imitative but both will still aim for a bit of wiggle in the water. Hair wing patterns will be a strong contender.

Imitation

Less critical I suspect for the black bass where bright attractor patterns and lures predominate, but with the odd fish fry hairwing in the mix. Sea bass flies tend to be more imitative and will look to represent sand eels or fish fry.

Attraction

Black bass fishing means an ‘attractor’ is the order of the day. Bright yellows or reds, or poppers to make an audible impression. Sea bass will need a more ‘real food’ approach though they are also suckers for the odd plug or spinner.

Bass Species

Obviously the species will vary a bit here! The North American bass species tend to be grouped together as ‘black bass.’ The sea bass, as a European fly fishing phenomenon, is a beautiful silver fish now carefully managed due to over fishing in the past, but there are many other bass species around the world.

North American Bass

North America is easily one of the most popular fly fishing destinations for bass. The best bass flies in North America will be those that attract the many bass species that fill the waters from Mexico to Northern Canada. These species include:

Largemouth Bass

Have a variety of local names throughout North America, and achieves weights up to twenty pounds or so for the largest fish.

How To Catch Bass Fly Fishing on a River

Spotted Bass

Up to a couple of feet long and ten pounds top weight, this species of bass gets its name from the spotted pattern found on their flanks. In the US, spotted bass are found primarily in the Mississippi River basin and the Gulf states from the Florida panhandle all the way to Texas.

Guadalupe Bass

An endangered species mainly found around Texas. In fact, the Guadalupe Bass is the ‘state fish‘ of Texas. Typically much smaller and up to three pounds in weight, if you’re fishing for these you should be catch-and-release fishing to help the species repopulate.

Smallmouth Bass

Also known as the bronze or brown bass. Smallmouth bass look rather like a giant perch and can reach up to ten pounds or so. They are a great fight on a fly rod and are popular amongst anglers.

Smallmouth Bass Mouth Closeup Vertical

European Bass

The bass of my homeland. We do have populations of largemouth bass here, but the saltwater thriving species is what’s predominantly fished and eaten throughout Europe.

Sea Bass

The European bass typically achieves weights up to ten or eleven pounds. The take home catch size has been increased to 42cm/nearly eighteen inches length to help assist with stock conservation.

Bass Jumping Out Of Water

There are numerous other sea bass species worldwide – too many to list here, but of less interest to the currently established fly fishing cadre on the European circuit.

Understanding The Hatch

There will be less emphasis on traditional fly life with these fish, and more on lures and bait fly imitations. Black bass will be foraging for something fairly meaty which may include terrestrials but likely the bulk of their food will be water-dwelling small fish or shrimps and crayfish.

For this reason, when targeting bass it’s not that important to understand the life cycle of insects. If anything, you’d consider the life cycle of fish in the water to imitate small fry or juvenile fish.

Life Cycle of Fish

The sea bass tends to follow the food with an incoming tide – so bass may well chase mackerel who are in turn following the whitebait, but will go for other sea life emerging to feed as the tide covers new ground – when sand eels may be top of the list.

What Do Bass Flies Imitate?

As mentioned above, while there are some insect pattern exceptions, most bass flies will be imitating terrestrials, small fish, fries, and perhaps sand eels. But there are differences in the imitation patterns between bass species.

Bass are a carnivorous species so the odd terrestrial – frog, mouse, or whatever is also fair game, and several of these fall into the ‘favorite Bass flies’ category.

For Black Bass

These fish might take the classic fly pattern (I mean imitations of real flies here) but for ‘best bass fly patterns’ you will probably be fishing fry patterns, crayfish (crawfish), and the like.

Finished Clouser Minnow Fly
The clouser minnow. A classic bass pattern.

Bass are a carnivorous species so the odd terrestrial – frog, mouse, or whatever is also fair game, and several of these fall into the ‘favorite Bass flies’ category.

For Sea Bass

Obviously the terrestrials are not going to cut the mustard here but hairwing fry patterns or perhaps a plastic/rubber shrimp or sand eel will cover the ground to effect.

Basic Types of Bass Flies

We’ll break these down into three main categories. Even though there are more types of bass flies out there, these are the ones that you’ll most likely have in your fly box when targeting bass.

Dry Flies

Something with high calorific value – a big fly – is more likely to be effective so we are looking at damselflies or other larger bites, or large floating pattern terrestrials.

If you’re new to fishing dry flies, or you’re a veteran always trying to up your game, check out our Guide To Fly Fishing With Dry Flies.

Dry Fly Fishing with a 3 weight fly reel

Wet Flies

The best flies for Bass will probably be lures imitating fish fry, shrimps, perhaps poppers suggesting an injured small fish as easy prey and struggling in the water, but larger nymph patterns will be worth a try too.

Saltwater Flies

When fly fishing in the conventional sense (that is – using something with fluff or feathers on the end of my leader) I would look to hair wing predator patterns for sea bass.

I do fish with plastic shrimps or sand eels too – but use a spinning rod for these occasions, use a lightly weighted pattern, and find I generally have both more control over the cast and also quicker and easier to switch patterns.

The Best Flies For Bass Fishing

Here it goes. My list of the best bass flies you can find today. The sport is always evolving and fly tyers are always finding new and increasingly effective patterns, but these are some tried and tested patterns that always seem to do the trick.

Catch and Release Largemouth Bass Fly Fishing

Dry Bass Flies

These are rarer when fishing bass, but they can still be very effective. There’s nothing quite like seeing a bass aggressively take a fly on the surface, often jumping clear out of the water.

Floating Spider Fly Pattern best bass flyFloating Foam Spider

A foam body and just four legs – black rubber – this is an easy pattern to tie and less tangly than something with eight legs – at least when knotting on, if not when casting.

Deer Hair Mouse Bass Fly PatternsDeer Hair Mouse

The deer hair is buoyant and helps keep this on the surface, a long tail should help establish a bit of noise and attract attention as this is pulled through the water.

The clipped deer hair takes a bit of practice to achieve a neat mouse body if you tie your own but is something to do in the long winter evenings.

Soft Foam PoppersPoppers

Choose a foam ‘top water’ floating pattern – as with the mouse the noisier patterns are probably more attractive to the largemouth bass who may be more sensitive to noise in the water.

Wet Bass Flies

The bread and butter of bass flies, these will be flashy imitations that get the bass’s attention in the place where they feed most, under the surface of the water.

Sunray Shadow fly patternSunray Shadow

One of my favorite bass flies, and favorite hairwing patterns – very simple, quick and easy to tie if you make your own.

Black over white bucktail, or synthetic or other hair on a 1/0 hook or thereabouts; you can stick some eyes on too – ‘dumbbells’ if you buy them or two bobbles from a basin plug chain if you are like me and too tight to fork out for shop ones!

Catches salmon, pike and other toothy critters too.

Deer Hair PopperPoppers

‘Again’? I hear you ask – yes – and different poppers can be made to swim at different depths and some have a vane fitted to make them dive up and down so you can cover different depths of the water column. Poppers can be a very versatile pattern and it is worth acquiring several different patterns, sizes, and colours.

French Nymph Fly fishing trout flyNymphs

Essentially you are looking towards some of the larger nymph patterns here – maybe dragonfly, damselfly or large mayfly patterns. A large ‘Richard Walker’ mayfly nymph may be worth a try.

Perhaps less used in America these might have a novelty value for the fish who have seen it all before – and the pattern is visible and weighted to get down in the water.

Given a good draw on the line, this will aso fish in the upper part of the water. I have seen fish which were otherwise invisible and hidden from sight launch themselves at this pattern like a rocket.

Tied with angora wool and brown silk and a bit of pheasant tail in the original pattern, but a close approximation with cream wool, brown silk and a size 10 hook should do the trick. Weight with lead wire to get this pattern down to the fish.

clouser minnow fly patternFry Patterns

These will be imitating small fish fry which are vulnerable in the water and a favorite prey for bass of all sizes.

Crayfish Fly Pattern a great fly for fishing bassCrayfish (Crawfish)

Another favorite of bass, these are uniquely tied flies that are closer to lures than they are to flies. But once under the water, bass can’t seem to resist them.

Sea Bass Flies

Of course, there are no dry patterns here. Fish in the sea are going after live sea food patterns and cold care less about what small insects land on the surface when there are juicy, meaty prey underwater.

Sand Eel Bass Fly PatternOz’s Sand Eel

The ultimate hair wing pattern for European sea bass and will probably catch anything else you like to throw it at if the tying is the correct size. I suspect this is the favorite Bass fly in the UK.

The Austen Goldsmith pattern is a great general fry pattern and should do for pike, tied small for trout, it is a beautiful minimalist pattern for anything carnivorous in the water. Greenish/olive/brown hair over a lighter body, size 6 or 1/0 hook for bass. Size 10,12 or 14 for trout depending where you are fishing.

Other popular patterns include the softy sand eel, the striped sand eel, and the flat wing sand eel ties.

bass popper fliesPoppers

Now, you could probably catch sea bass with some of the deeper fishing poppers. These will be flashy, exciting and will attract the fish’s attention for sure.

Shrimp Fly Pattern for fishing bassShrimp

Shrimp are great patterns to fish for bass with. A pro shrimp saltwater fly and an ultra shrimp are great patterns to use in saltwater and they’ll attract the bass quite easily.

Best Streamers For Bass

There is potentially a bit of overlap between the hairwing flies/lures and streamers here as they are all long soft mobile patterns designed to move in the water, but consider these:

Minky fly patternMinky and Variants

A black or brown strip of rabbit fur will provide a very mobile pattern in the water and should generate a high level of interest to a hungry fish. These should also be attractive to sea fish including sea bass, mackerel and other predator species and is a productive fly pattern.

Clouser Minnow Saltwater Fly PatternClouser Minnows

Another variant on hairwing patterns this has quite a full body and can be fished deep or near the surface depending on the weighting. A classic and proven bass pattern but a good ‘all rounder’ for most predator fish.

Wooly Bugger Fly Pattern tiedWoolly Bugger

A large pattern and an acceptable crayfish imitation at a pinch! This is one of the older patterns to there and it just seems to work on pretty much any species you’re targeting.

Buy Pre-Tied Bass Flies

Sometimes the best way to buy bass flies is in a box with a variety of pre-tied flies. Here are a few that you can get on Amazon that are high-quality and a lot cheaper than you’ll likely find in your local fly shop.

Top Water Deer Hair Fly Assortment

  • Included: Deer Hair Mouse, Red and Black Deer Hair Bass Popper, Green Deer Hair Frog Popper, Green and Yellow Deer Hair Diver, Chartreuse Rabbit Tail Diver and Black Rabbit Tail Diver
  • Size: 2

VIEW ON AMAZON

Yazhida Bass Fly Fishing Flies

  • Included: All popper flies of varying colors and patterns
  • Size: 2-6

VIEW ON AMAZON

Yazhida Bass Flies Poppers, Nymphs & Streamers

  • Included: Dry flies, Wet Flies, Nymphs, Streamers,Fly Poppers
  • Size: 8, 10, 12 & 14

VIEW ON AMAZON

Conclusion

So there you have it. Two very different types of bass fishing for two very different types of bass – but with some overlapping styles of fishing technique and fly type.

The best Bass fly fishing flies seem to cross the boundaries for both species. This is not classic chalkstream fishing as the Victorians would have known it; but represents a more modern take on fly and lure fishing and provides great sport.

Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Guide To The Best Bass FliesThe Best Bass Flies