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Photo by Greg Bostater, Maine River Guides
Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass have long been a popular gamefish in the US. The geographical diversity of the species presents opportunities for anglers from California to Florida, Texas to Maine. Voracious eats, sporty runs, and ambush-driven feeding habits are also part of the Bass’ angling allure. Although Bass sometimes eat with reckless abandon, they can also be challenging to fool, another attractive quality that fuels angler humility and drives angler persistence.
Fly fishing for Bass can be loads of fun, but choosing the right setup can be difficult. For tournament anglers and enthusiasts alike, a shorter 8wt fly rod offers increased lifting power and pinpoint accuracy when casting into tough cover. While an 8wt rod may be the predominant setup for Bass, there are instances where a 5wt, 6wt, or 7wt is the right tool for the job. What considerations are relevant when choosing a fly rod for Bass? Conditions, angler ability, and fish size all play into the election of a fly rod when targeting these sturdy predators.
We’ll get into that. First, let’s hear what the guides have to say.
“I would say the best size rod would be a 5wt-7wt. Where I fish, weather plays very little in my decision on the rod size as you can hide from the wind daily. I do like a shorter rod for the increased lifting power and also to get the fly to turn over under overhanging trees. Shorter rods will allow you to punch the fly underneath trees and that is important where I fish. The only reason why I would use a 7wt would be if we are throwing bigger poppers or Clouser Minnows.”
-Captain Jason Sullivan, Rising Tide Charters
“I consider a 9 foot six weight rod with a fighting butt my ideal rod for the rivers I guide smallmouth bass on here in Maine in 80% of situations. I find the 9 footers easier to cast for most anglers than the shorter rods.”
“Sometimes, the overhanging trees don't give my anglers a very big "window" to cast that fly up into where the fish are. A shorter rod is ideal for the mangrove style casts necessary to keep that fly in the zone and not in the trees.”
-Greg Bostater, Maine River Guides
Photo by Greg Bostater, Maine River Guides
Whenever you’re trying to choose a fly rod, start with the fishing. What are you trying to accomplish? For bass, if you’re throwing large flies into tight cover as Jason Sullivan does in the Everglades, a shorter rod in a heavier line weight (7wt) with a medium-fast action and a soft taper for casting wind resistant flies makes the most sense. If you’re fishing smaller streamer patterns on an open river for Smallmouth as Greg Bostater does in Maine, a 9’ rod in a lighter line weight (6wt) will allow the angler to cast farther, cover more water, and get the most out of every fish. Environment matters, and making the right rod decision hinges on an angler’s ability to understand where local bass are located, what flies they generally eat, and the most common casting distances in your respective fishery.
An angler’s ability or experience should also play into a rod decision. Usually, and Greg Bostater sees this with his clients, 9-foot rods are easier to cast than shorter rods. If you’re a new fly angler who may not be able to cast a fly line between two trees with a shorter rod, it’s worth investing in a rod that is more caster-friendly like a 9’ 7wt. Maybe you have experience with shorter rods and plan to fish tight cover, especially in a tournament setting. In this case, go with a shorter rod model.
If you're not sure which rod you prefer, we have you covered with our Castability Guarantee.
Finally, whenever you purchase a fly rod, fish size matters. If you’re targeting giant Largemouth Bass, a rod with a stout butt section and a fighting butt helps play heavier fish and get them out of cover quickly. Rods designed specifically for Bass like the Sage Bass II and the St. Croix Mojo Bass include important rod design elements that make angling for large fish easier. That being said, there are fly rods that are not specifically designed for Bass that work equally as well in certain conditions.
Targeting smaller fish calls for a smaller rod. No surprise there. A 5wt or 6wt could make smaller Bass more entertaining and more sporty. Similarly, many anglers like the style and feel of fiberglass rods. If you're looking to get the most out of a day on the lake fishing for Smallmouth, fiberglass rods are worth considering. The Fenwick Fenglass or the Echo Bad Ass Glass are both glass rod series' that have heavier rod models to cater to larger fish.
The obvious choices include the Sage Bass II and the St. Croix Mojo Bass. Greg Bostater loves the TFO BVK in a 9’ 6wt model and says “it’s affordable, durable, and probably the easiest to cast for anglers of any skill level”. Other rods worth considering: G. Loomis NRX, Orvis Recon, TFO Mangrove, and the Echo EPR.
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