Fly anglers typically target trout early in the season, and for good reason. Area creeks, streams, and rivers at this time of year begin to produce some very nice insect hatches and the trout in these waters key in on them, making for some of the best fly fishing of the year. But there’s another gamefish in town – the largemouth bass – that’s also keying in on prey this time of year.
While classified as a warmwater species, largemouth bass can be caught early in the season with fly fishing gear. The best way to catch largemouth bass at this time of year is to fish shallow areas from late afternoon into early evening after a string of sunny warm days. The shallow water warms faster than the depths and the bass will lose their wariness in the fading light and hunt these shallow areas for prey.
The set-up is simple. All one needs to fly fish for largemouth early in the season is a 6 weight fly rod (minimum), a fly reel with a drag system and backing, appropriate weight forward floating line, and a 2X to 3X leader with tippet. The best flies to use are streamers in muted colors such as brown, olive, or black. The size of the fly can be anything from 6X to 2X. The wooly bugger is an excellent choice.
Fish shallow water carefully and slowly. When fishing the shallows, remember that bass are spooky. If they feel threatened, they have nowhere to go but out – they can’t simply dive. The key to fishing the shallows is to approach the area carefully – whether it be from the bank, by wading, or by boat, and to cast with equal care. It’s common to ‘line’ these fish. Once the fly has been cast, allow the fly to sink and then slowly retrieve it. Slow sporadic retrieves can also work well. The takes will be subtle – sometimes a slight movement in the fly line is the only hint that a bass has inhaled the fly.
Use the approaching darkness to your advantage. As the daylight fades, the aggressiveness of your fishing can increase. When the sun is very low, the bass will become more active and show themselves, chasing bait into even shallower water. Once located, these ‘turned on’ fish can be caught easily, and sometimes a switch to using a popper can work very well.
Fly fishing for bass can be very rewarding in early season. There is often little fishing pressure on these fish from fly anglers and even baitcasting / spinfishing anglers don’t fish for bass until the traditional start of the season in June. Remember that early season fly fishing for bass is permitted in New York as long as one practices catch and release.