This chunky trout mouth fell in love with a deer hair slider, the Umpqua Swim Frog diver.
Photo by Reid Bryant

Catching largemouth bass with surface flies is great fun, but it’s not as easy as you might think. Perch are not like pike and are almost always ready for a large meal. In fact, bass can be quite picky and often ignore big, noisy topwater flies. Here are some steps you can take to improve your chances.

1. Fly choice

Traditional deer hair bugs and balsa poppers look cool, are fun to fish with and create lots of excitement on the water. However, sometimes the noise and splashing is too much, especially when the water surface is absolutely calm. In such situations, I prefer a smaller slider, e.g Sneaky Pete or small Dahlberg-style diver that slips underwater when undressed. And when I decide to popper, I usually break the “big fly, big fish” rule and go for smaller patterns. The biggest bass I have ever caught on a fly was on a Gaines Bass Duster which is about an inch and a half long. (Unfortunately, I don’t think Gaines causes this bug anymore.) Don’t forget Pencil snaps, either. These offer a much less bombastic action and are great for fishing holes in weed beds – just toss the fly out in open water and give it a few twitches. Finally, dragonfly imitations work great in the heat of a sunny day when larger surface water bugs rarely strike.

2. Retrieve

A subtle, erratic recall almost always outperforms one chug-chug-chug stable strip. The traditional method of fishing a headwater is to chug it two or three times and then let it rest until the rings disappear. You will be amazed how often a fish will attack the fly while it just sits and does nothing. If you can see a fish under your motionless fly, try simply twitching it to suggest life. That’s sometimes all it takes to start a strike.

3. Make it big

The big, noisy poppers work best when you’re fishing in deep water – say on the outside edge of a large weed bed – or when the water is choppy. These are the times when you need to get a Pisces’ attention.

Experimenting with fly selection and retrieval is sure to result in more shots and make the whole bass fishing project more interesting and engaging.