Bass fly fishing can be just as, if not more, enjoyable than fly fishing for trout. You lose most of the insect factor, but other aspects of the experience make up for this. Fly fishing for bass is a combination of bonefishing and streamer fishing for brown trout with beefy streamers, and those who do it regularly already know this. With all the fish species in fly fishing, it should never be about one fish species or the other, for example, trout vs. bass, but rather we should look at both as opportunities to take advantage of an incredible resource. North America, and particularly the United States, has a huge variety of bass, such as striped, white, yellow, spotted, largemouth. Another species, not really a “bass”, is close enough to be called by the same name, the peacock bass. This species diversity gives residents and visitors alike a unique opportunity to pursue what I call the green bass trifecta: the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and peacock bass all in the same country. The United States, to my knowledge, is then the only country in the entire world that offers anglers this unique experience, i.e., the opportunity to catch largemouth, smallmouth, and peacock bass without needing a passport. If you’re not already pursuing the trifecta, here’s how to start.
WHAT’S ALL THE BASS FUSS
There are a lot of aspects of getting the bass trifecta that make it special. 1) This is the only place in the world where these three species can be caught. 2) The fishing can be quite amazing for all of these species from a numbers standpoint. Thirty fish days are possible with all three species. 3) The diversity of experience is vast from state to state, and, therefore, everyone can find some watery environment that they like. 4) The fish are among the largest in the world. The United States is the undisputed home of smallmouth bass and holds the world record at nearly 12 pounds. The same could be said for the largemouth bass, although Japan and Mexico have had some amazing largemouth as well. Even the butterfly peacock bass comes in large sizes, reportedly up to 12 pounds, although Florida’s state record is at just over 9 pounds. The all-tackle world record was caught in Venezuela at 12.6, but 13 of the 16 current IGFA world records were caught from Florida’s waters.
BASS FLY FISHING: LARGEMOUTH BASS
Almost every state has both lagemouth and smallmouth bass, so you can most likely get both of these species in one state. Largemouth are usually the easiest to get because you can get them out of any pond, ditch, or canal. America has more or less the best largemouth bass fishing in the world. California holds 20 of the top 25 largemouth bass ever caught, while Florida adds a few in here as well. Almost every state has one or two special spots where tons of largemouth bass can be found. Some of these places are for huge numbers of small to medium fish, but some also have the potential to produce humongous bucketmouths. Largemouth bass can also be caught while on family excursions, since they are often found in parks and recreation areas. It’s no secret that conventional bass fishermen use some of the most tested baits and techniques for largemouth, so you can make your fishing strategy as detailed as you like.
BASS FLY FISHING: SMALLMOUTH BASS
Smallmouth are one of my favorite sportfish, period. They’re awesome fighters and are about as perfect a species for fly rodding as could be imagined. They even eat bugs if you can’t relinquish the entomology aspect of fly fishing. All of the top 25 largest smallmouth have come from the United States, and 13 of these have come from Tennessee. If you live in the East or Midwest, or even parts of the South, you’re blessed with a huge amount of rivers that are filled with smallmouth. The Great Lakes also provide wading opportunities at certain times of the season for some enormous smallmouth. In addition to this, smallmouth will pour into the rivers from the Great Lakes in spring, so you can catch 3 – 6 pound smallmouths while fishing for steelhead. Reservoirs are mostly ignored by fly anglers in the East and Midwest because of the large amount of rivers.
If you live in the West, there are a few rivers that provide a similar experience to the East, particularly in Oregon. However, most of the time, reservoirs and some lakes provide your best shot a catching smallmouth. Prespawn, spawn, and fall bring the fish into the shallows, which allows a fly angler with a kayak or pontoon boat to sight-fish to these guys. You can still access these fish during the summer as well in many of these reservoirs, particularly if they have steep drop-offs right along the shore. Mornings and evenings are your best bet as the fish can adjust vertically quite easily and will feed on the steep rocky banks and/or rocky flats. Note that this is often different from Eastern rivers, particularly small to medium ones, which actually are better as the sun comes up. In the West, any watercraft will help you get in the game for smallmouth.
BASS FLY FISHING: PEACOCK BASS
The hardest fish to get within the green bass trifecta is the peacock. Only Florida and Hawaii have this “bass”, which is actually a cichlid. Florida is by far and away the most developed fishery for peacocks outside of South America, where the Amazon watershed provides the best peacock bass fishing in the world, although places like Singapore produce plenty of peacocks. Florida does not have all of the species of peacocks either, such as the paca and acu, which are the biggest of the peacocks. However, as pointed out above, you’ve got a shot at a world record butterfly peacock (cichla ocellaris) while fishing in Florida. Also, in Florida, you can pursue peacocks nearly year round and for a reasonable price. Neither of these is the case in Brazil. The experience is definitely an urban one, but that doesn’t make it any less wild. All sorts of exotics like jaguar guapote and tilapia in addition to tarpon and snook are found in the waters where you pursue Florida peacock bass. The shores are teaming with feral iguanas, and you might have the opportunity to see a manatee or two. You can walk the shores, looking out for alligators or take a boat, moving through all manner of tubes and low bridges throughout the vast canal systems. This is a very doable trip if you only have a half day and you’re going to be at a Miami area airport. As far as guides, Capt. Alan Zaremba is Mr. Peacock and a superb guide, while Capt. Mark Hall promotes mainly fly fishing for these fish.
The United States is the world hub of bass fishing, and this is not by accident. One of the three “green” bass is probably swimming in a pond, river, or reservoir within ten miles of where you live, and you might just find an incredible fly fishing experience you never knew existed. You might not be ready to give up your ClackaCraft for a Ranger, but you might be missing a new facet of fly fishing that will inform your trout fishing. Consider how amazing the salmon fly or green drake hatch is, and then remember that bass feed on five to ten inch minnows with ease, munch down crunchy crayfish, and will even eat snakes and baby ducks off of the surface. Suddenly, trout “big” doesn’t seem so impressive. Also, don’t underestimate the rugged beauty and fertility of a bass’s environment as well. I’ve seen smallmouth bass rivers that looked like an ocean reef just teaming with huge schools of minnows. Stepping into that environment is the privilege of that angler who lives in or visits the United States while in pursuit of the green bass trifecta. It’s not about trout vs. bass. However, when you live in a place like southern Florida and its thousands of citrus orchards, you might want to eat a grapefruit or orange now and then. You might also want to throw peacock bass into the mix as well. Similarly, you need to take advantage of the great resource you have here in fly fishing for bass.