Fly Fishing Bass: A Passion for Life

// Words & Pictures by Fabrizio Gajardoni

Last updated on January 11th, 2024.

It was the year 1981 when I had my first fly fishing experiences with trout and chub. Things changed when I discovered (black) bass on the fly in 1984. I fell in love immediately.

As an eager fly fishing student I was looking for any information on black bass fishing I could find. I read articles in the magazine “Consigli di Pesca” (tips on fishing) published by the Fly Angling Club of Milan. I found an article that caught my interest: “The Particularities of Black Bass”.  

Fly fishing bass fly fishing magazine
Consigli di Pesca: Vintage Italian Fly Fishing Magazine

Suddenly the world of fly fishing for bass opened up to me. Since then I have always caught this fish that I love particularly because of its aggressiveness and unpredictability. I started to fish for it with small streamers made of marabou that I was tying based on the bits and pieces of information I could find at the time. Then, after a short time I also switched to fly fishing poppers made of wood and deer hair bass bugs. I really like creating these colorful and unusual artificial baits and I still use some of my first wooden poppers and deer hair bugs.

Various flies - fly fishing poppers
Fly fishing poppers for bass from 1984

I remember mounting them on salmon hooks modifying the shank of the hook because stinger hooks did not yet exist in Italy. Nowadays, unfortunately the situation is no longer the same since many lakes have fallen dry and black bass are now a rarity in my area. But my passion for this fish has never waned and I continue to catch them whenever possible. 

My favorite bass flies

One of my favorite baits are the small wooden poppers and sliders. In the beginning I used to fish mainly with large poppers and sliders in size # 2/0. For many years I had a lot of success, then I noticed that the fish were getting more and more suspicious. So I gradually decreased the size until I got to the wooden poppers built on 6/8 nymph hooks. With these little poppers I caught a lot of black bass, even big ones. I find that they are particularly effective when the fish are very difficult to catch. Between poppers and sliders I prefer the latter, especially on particularly crafty fish.

Fly fishing bass
Black bass caught fly fishing poppers

The colours I prefer are white/purple, fluo orange and fluo yellow. These are particularly effective when red dragonflies touch the water to lay their eggs. 

Dragon flies - best flies for bass
Dragon flies to catch Black Bass on a fly

The technique when fly fishing bass

The technique to catch bass is very simple: a cast close to the weed and a pause of a few seconds. Then a small strip, another pause and then with just the tip of the rod try to transmit some small vibrations to the artificial bait so that only the feathers and rubber “legs” of the bait vibrate. Usually the attack is ferocious. Obviously the fish do not always behave in the same way, it often happens that they attack the fly when it is completely motionless even a few seconds after landing on the surface.  

For big bass which are very suspicious sometimes I add a dropper fly with a small streamer at about 20” (50cm) from the popper. It doesn’t always work but sometimes a bass interested but not convinced of the popper turns and attacks the small streamer behind it. For these situations I use very soft streamers with a good movement. 

Fly fishing bass
Soft streamers to catch bass

When fishing streamers for bass I prefer small streamers made of marabou or rabbit fur. Here as well my favorite colors are white, purple, black and yellow. The technique for these is very simple. The retrieve must be done slowly trying to make the artificial bait move sinuously close to the underwater vegetation where the bass are usually holding. 

Other times, instead, the bass lie close to a bank or above an underwater structure. Oftentimes they are a bit lazy, they chase the streamer slowly without attacking it and then they leave, returning to their initial position. A little trick that works well often is to stop the streamer as soon as the bass approaches and let it gently sink to the bottom. 

The bass will then follow the streamer until touching it with the tip of the mouth while frantically moving the side fins, a clear sign of aggressiveness. As soon as you make the streamer move or vibrate the bass will open the mouth and suck it in in a split second. 

Of course this trick works when sight fishing in clear shallow waters. A very important factor in this case is the approach. You have to try to predict the movements of the fish without being seen by them. 

A special memory

In forty years of fly fishing for bass, I spent hundreds of days looking for this fun fish and the memories are endless. There is one incident I remember in particular: I was fishing in a lake full of black bass and big rudd. I was wading into the lake up to my waist. About ten feet in front of me there was thick underwater vegetation that to about 20” (50cm) below the surface. I cast a white streamer over the spot and hooked a rudd of about 15” (ca. 35cm). This species is a lot of fun to catch on a fly rod with streamers. At first it fights hard and then gives up easily letting the fisherman drag it towards him.  

Fly fishing bass - rudd on the fly
A fly caught rudd

Well, just as I’m sliding the rudd over the grass, suddenly the water explodes. A giant bass attacks my rudd and makes it disappear in his huge jaws in no time. My rod bends down and I see the big bass trying to take off into the grass. The fight only lasts about twenty seconds. 

Unfortunately the hook is not set in the mouth of the bass but in the mouth of the rudd. Suddenly the big bass opens his mouth and the rudd is catapulted into the air with my rod unbending in the blink of an eye. 

Everything calms down in an instant, dozens of silver scales float in the water all around me. The big bass’ teeth have completely deformed the poor rudd that has no chance of surviving. I don’t know how big this fish really was but I can assure you it was huge. A bass of what size could swallow 20” (35cm) fish in one take…?

Fabrizio Gajardoni with bass in 1987
Fly fishing poppers: a bass caught by Fabrizio Gajardoni

Check out our episode of “Characters” about Fabrizio Gajardoni here.