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A lot of angers get overwhelmed when searching for the best bass flies. They see the staggering number of soft plastics, jigs, and other baits used by the conventional crowd and think they have to follow suit. And while you could fill a boatload of fly boxes with all sorts of different patterns, you don’t really have to. Whether you’re fishing a farm pond, a small river, a sprawling reservoir, or something in between, you really only need a few different patterns in various colors and sizes to catch bass.
The key to building a box full of the best bass flies is to think about the major food sources you’re trying to imitate. Then you can start thinking about things like water depth, clarity, and the conditions you’ll be fishing in. Water depth is especially important when fly fishing for bass, and a well-stocked bass box should include flies that fish well at various depths.
As a starting point, I’ve picked out 12 of my favorite patterns for catching largemouth and smallmouth bass on the fly. These have become my go-to flies for fishing the rivers of Central Texas where I live, but they’ll work anywhere that bass swim.
How We Broke Down the 12 Best Bass Flies
At their most basic level, there are two types of bass flies: surface patterns and subsurface patterns. For this collection of the 12 best bass flies, I’ve included four surface patterns along with eight subsurface patterns. These are a mix of old-school and modern flies, and they cover the gamut of typical bass forage, including baitfish, frogs, crawfish, and bugs.
The reason for this breakdown is because I typically spend at least 75 percent of my time fishing subsurface patterns. (This goes up to 90 percent or more during the colder months.)
I tend to use streamers and other subsurface flies more often because of their versatility. You can adjust the depth of your presentation by changing the size and weight of the fly along with your retrieval speed. For example, you can strip a clouser minnow fast and swim it just beneath the surface, or you can pause, let it sink and slowly dredge the bottom. (This is also where sinking lines come into play, but for the purposes of this article we’ll imagine that we’re fishing strictly with floating lines.)
Topwater flies certainly have their place, though. Bass love to attack frogs and other prey from below, and even when they aren’t looking up, they’re drawn to commotion on the surface. Beginners will appreciate this style of fishing because they don’t have to worry about strike detection—the eats are rarely subtle. The visual aspect is the main reason why surface flies are so fun to fish.
The Best Bass Flies for Surface Patterns: Reviews & Recommendations
- Sizes 2, 6, and 10
- Key Colors: Yellow/Orange, Olive, Chartreuse, and White
- Fun to fish, especially for beginners who want to see the take
- The chugging and popping noises are like a dinner bell for bass
- Optional weed guard helps when fishing in heavy cover
- Poppers are wind resistant, which means they aren’t the easiest flies to cast
No list of the best bass flies would be complete without the trusty Bass Popper. A painted hard-foam body with a marabout tail, this is a modern and durable take on the classic hair bug. It’s at the top of this list for one simple reason: it’s far and away my favorite fly to catch bass on.
I tend to fish poppers most in the springtime and early summer, when bass are on the move and the water is warming. During peak summer, I’ll typically fish poppers in the mornings and evenings, when bass are more likely to be looking up.
I always cast poppers near some type of structure or cover, and I generally fish them tight to the bank. Give the fly some action simply by stripping line with your rod tip pointed at the fly. Short, quick strips are the name of the game, and the harder you strip, the more the fly will audibly “pop” on the surface. You can vary up your retrieval rate until you find out what the bass want, but the pause is just as important as the strip. I always work plenty of long and short pauses into my retrieve, and this is often when a bass will strike.
- Sizes 1/0 and 2
- Key Colors: Chartreuse, Yellow, Pink
- A great surface pattern when you need a quieter presentation than a popper
- Durable and inexpensive
- A utilitarian fly that won’t win any beauty contests
A Gurgler is basically an unweighted streamer with a piece of foam on the top. This helps it ride just under the surface. It pushes more water but is much quieter than a popper, so tie this on when you need a stealthier approach.
While it’s arguably more popular in saltwater circles these days, the gurgler was originally designed for striped and largemouth bass. Because it isn’t a precise imitation of any particular prey item, loud colors like chartreuse, yellow, and pink are all good bets.
I tend to incorporate longer, more methodical strips when fishing a gurgler compared to a popper. Because it lacks a weed guard, this fly fishes better in open water than dense cover.
- Sizes 2 and 6
- Key Colors: Yellow, Olive
- A time-tested pattern and all-around bass slayer
- With a built-in weed guard, these are great for fishing heavy cover
- Wind resistant and harder to cast
Larry Dahlberg designed this hair bug for finicky bass that were willing to chase a popper but wouldn’t commit. It’s an old-school surface fly that has spawned new-school varieties like the Joom Diver, which is made of foam and is more durable than the diving bug.
Still, there’s something about spun deer hair that makes these flies special. This could be partly sentimental, as they harken back to the pre-synthetic era (before foam became a mainstay in the fly-fishing world.) But I think it’s also because of the more natural movement and “breathability” that deer hair provides.
Fish it like a popper but with slightly longer and smoother strips. Instead of chugging along the surface, the diving bug will make a wake and slide just underneath the water when stripped. This is often all it takes to draw a savage strike from a bass.
- Sizes 4, 8, and 10
- Key Colors: Black, Yellow, Olive
- Great fly for beginners because it’s easy to cast and you can see the fish eat
- Doesn’t require as much finesse and movement as a popper or diver
- If you’re in a waterbody that holds panfish, you might catch more bluegills than bass with this one
A lot of anglers overlook the smaller foam bugs in favor of the bigger and bolder poppers, but bass eat insects too. Fish a foam bug during the early mornings and evenings, when hatches are most likely to occur.
A foam spider was one of the first flies I learned how to tie, and it’s a great starting point for new fly anglers who just want to catch something. Foam bugs are hell on bluegill and other panfish, but they’ll catch bass of all sizes as well—especially in creeks and smaller rivers.
The Best Bass Flies for Subsurface: Reviews & Recommendations
- Sizes 2 and 6
- Key Colors: Chartreuse/White, Tan/White, Pink/White, Silver/White
- A classic bass fly that is arguably the most popular baitfish pattern ever created
- Durable and easy to tie
- Versatile pattern that can imitate different prey at different depths by changing up color, materials, and the weight of the eyes
- Your fishing buddies might ding you for lack of originality
The OG baitfish pattern, Bob Clouser invented this fly for Susquehanna River smallmouth. Anglers soon learned that it was just as effective on other species in other places, and I’d be willing to bet that more bass (and more species of bass) have been caught on a Clouser Minnow than just about any other pattern.
There’s a reason why 36 years after it was invented, the Clouser Minnow is still the #1 best-selling fly for saltwater and warmwater species. Sure, there are other, more innovative, and more “realistic” looking baitfish patterns out there. But in terms of timelessness and versatility, the Clouser Minnow is in a class of its own.
The beauty of this sparsely tied baitfish pattern lies in its simplicity. It’s one of the cheapest and easiest bass flies to tie. You can change the colors of the bucktail to match the batfish in your area, and you can add or remove flash depending on the situation. You can also use eyes of various weights and change the speed of your retrieve to fish it at different depths.
- Sizes 4 and 8
- Key Colors: Dirty Olive, Orange, Brown
- A generalist crawfish pattern
- Sinks quickly and stays deep
- Not the most realistic looking crawfish pattern available
A box of the best bass flies would be incomplete without at least one crawfish pattern. Bass (and especially smallies) love mudbugs, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen little orange claws sticking out of a bass’ gullet.
There are certainly more realistic crawfish patterns out there, but Dave Whitlock’s Near-Nuff Crayfish has stood the test of time precisely because of its generalist appearance. As its name implies, the fly looks “close enough” to a crawfish without trying to be an exact copy of one.
Crawfish patterns should be fished slow and deep. After giving it time to sink to the bottom, make short, slow strips to hop and crawl this fly along the rocks.
- Size 4
- Key Colors: Dirty Orange
- A solid crawfish imitation that has good movement underwater
- Sinks like a rock
- Claws are more basic than some other crawfish patters
More of an exact imitation than the Near-Nuff, Hada’s Creek Crawler is a newer pattern that works well on smallmouth and largemouth bass in rivers and lakes. The epoxy-coated body helps it sink faster than other crawfish patterns, allowing you to get in the zone quickly.
Tied on a size 4 hook, it’s relatively sleek and small compared to some other crawfish patterns. The Gulley Craw, which is much bulkier and heavier, would be on the other end of this spectrum. But when targeting picky bass in ultra-clear water, sometimes less is more.
Fish it just like you would any other crawfish pattern. This fly also works well on carp when fished extra-slow in the shallows.
- Sizes 2-6
- Key Colors: Grey/White, Chartreuse/White, Black/Red
- An excellent, modern baitfish pattern
- Has a bulky profile that draws strikes from discerning fish
- Internal rattle gives it added noise and vibration
- A little pricier than some other options
The EP Rattle Fly is part of a larger collection of baitfish patterns developed by Enrico Puglisi. The EP Peanut Butter, EP Mullet, and EP Minnow are other flies in the series that imitate baitfish of various sizes and shapes.
Although Puglisi designed these as saltwater flies, they were quickly adopted by bass fishermen. The key to these flies is the material itself. EP fiber is a durable and translucent material that moves like a cross between bucktail and marabou. And because it’s synthetic, the material doesn’t absorb water, which makes the fly easier to cast.
The Rattle Fly is one of the best bass flies out there because it has visual appeal, along with added noise and vibration. The rattle triggers a bass’ lateral line, which helps draw strikes in stained or off-color water.
- Sizes 2 and 6
- Key Colors: Tan, Craw, Shad
- A jack-of-all trades baitfish pattern that screams, “eat me”
- Rides hook-point up, which helps decrease snags
- The tail and rubber legs need to be checked every so often because they can get twisted around the hook after it gets chewed on
Bennett’s Lunch Money is at the top of my rotation these days, and over the last three years, I’ve caught more big bass with this fly than just about any other. This is partly because it was designed by commercial tyer Matt Bennet specifically for the waters I typically fish. Bennet set out to create the perfect bite-sized baitfish pattern for Central Texas rivers. I believe he succeeded, and I’m sure this fly would work just as well in other parts of bass country.
I’m partial to the tan color, with the white “shad” color coming in close second. I’ve had good success with the orange “craw” color as well, as it makes a decent crawfish imitation when fished deep and slow.
As with the other streamer patterns, experimenting with the retrieval rate will help you dial in a pattern and get more bites. But short, quick strips are usually the way to go. This choppy rhythym helps the fly breathe and causes the rubber legs to jiggle, which drives bass wild.
- Size 2
- Key Colors: Tan/Natural
- A well-designed streamer that’s perfect for pounding the banks
- Articulated body helps it dance and wiggle more than a typical streamer
- Lack of a stinger hook sometimes leads to short strikes
This fly is primarily a sculpin imitation, so if the water you’re fishing is home to sculpins, it’s a must-have. While it was originally designed as a trout fly, it works great in warmwater environments as well.
It’s part of a larger group of subsurface flies known as articulated flies. These modern, segmented flies have one or more sections that move independently, which allow them to wiggle, shake, shimmy, and dance as they are stripped through the water.
This is a great fly for pounding the banks. I tend to retrieve it a little faster than some of the other best bass flies on this list. This keeps it higher in the water column, which helps prevent snags and allows me to watch it work.
- Size 6
- Key Colors: Olive, Tan/Grizzly, Yellow, White
- Another modern, articulated streamer that has earned a spot in my box of the best bass flies
- Does double-duty as a trout fly
- Two hooks helps you stick more fish
- A little harder to cast than some of the other subsurface patterns on this list
A cross between a muddler minnow and wooly bugger on steroids, the Mini Sex Dungeon was designed by Kelly Galloup for meat-eating brown trout in the Madison River. But this articulated streamer is money on bass, too. It’s one of those flies that fishes just as good as it looks.
If you’re looking for something with a little more heft, you can move up to the full-sized Sex Dungeon tied on size 2 hooks. Use more natural colors like olive and tan to imitate typical bass forage. Gaudier colors like bright yellow and white will help elicit more reactionary strikes.
You can fish this fly in all sorts of waterbodies, but I’ve found that it works best in rivers. Having a little current helps the fly dance and breathe even when you aren’t stripping it. Try swinging it through a deep, rocky run for smallies, and hang on tight.
- Sizes 1/0, 2, and 6
- Key Colors: Olive/Tan, Baby Shad, Baby Rainbow, Black/Purple
- An uber-realistic baitfish pattern, and one of the most innovative fly designs in recent years
- A variety of sizes, colors, and materials helps you match different baitfish species
The name of this fly says it all. More a family of flies than one specific pattern, Blane Chocklett’s Signature Game Changer series has revolutionized the world of articulated streamers. Instead of having a single pivot joint, these flies are made up of four to seven independent wire segments. The result is more like a lure than a fly, and this is the closest you’ll get to throwing a swimbait on a fly rod.
The Game Changer family incorporates several different sizes, from the 2-inch Micro Finesse Game Changer to the 11-inch Hybrid Game Changer. These can (and have) caught nearly every predatory fish you can think of, including muskie and saltwater species.
When targeting big bass, I’m partial to the 3.5-inch Finesse Game Changer, which is tied on a size 2 hook. I typically size down to the Micro in clearer water. The newest addition to this growing family of modern flies (and one that I’m dying to try out) is the Changer Craw.
The only downside to these flies is how much they cost. Because it’s so time-consuming to tie and requires specific materials like the Articulated Fish-Spine, it’s easily the priciest fly on this list. (Most are between $8 and $15 apiece, but they the 11-inch Hybrid version will set you back $45.) For those willing to shell out the extra bucks, though, this is easily one of the best bass flies available today.
How to Choose the Best Bass Flies
Now that you have a box full of the best bass flies, you need to pick which one to tie on first. In time, you’ll find your “confidence flies” that work day-in and day-out. These are always the best ones to start with. From there, you can experiment with different sizes and colors, or change the pattern altogether if you’re not getting any bites.
I like to fish surface flies early and late in the day, when the sun is low on the water. The rest of the time I’ll typically fish subsurface flies near shade and/or structure. I’ll typically start with darker colors on overcast days and use brighter colors when it’s sunny.
Change up your presentation before you change your fly. This can be as simple as speeding up or slowing your retrieve, or it could mean fishing another water type altogether.
The clouser minnow is the easiest bass fly to tie. One common mistake is using too much material when tying these. A sparsely tied clouser minnow sinks better, which gives it a better jigging action in the water.
2, 4, and 6 are the most common hook sizes for largemouth bass. You can step up to 1/0 and even 2/0 hooks on larger rivers and lakes, or if you’re headhunting with extra-large flies.
Chartreuse, orange, olive, yellow, tan, pink, and white are all good colors to choose from. Natural colors (like olive and tan) work best in clear water, while bright colors (like yellow and pink) work better in off-color water.
I could easily go on to list dozens more fly patterns, and some of these would catch just as many (if not more) bass than the flies listed above under the right circumstances. As with all fishing, experimentation is the name of the game. Over time, you’ll find your go-to patterns that work best under different conditions.