Warm water fly fishing - Frequently Asked Questions

A contribution by Buck Hall, with assistance from Tom Fry, Brandon C. Nuttall, Richard Warren, Bob Spencer, Sheldon Seale, Henry Kanemoto, Ben Benoit, Clyde Watson, Thi Nguyen and Craig Pence. This document is copyright Buck Hall, and the usual caveats apply.


Much of the fly-fishing literature is devoted to salmonid species, particularly trout. flyfishing, however, is an excellent method for fishing for species that inhabit warmer water, and this FAQ discusses the recommendations of members of Flyfish@ regarding such warm water fly fishing. It is not a course in warm water fly fishing. If you are a beginning flyfisher, I recommend that you seek out professional instruction to learn flyfishing in general. You can then seek help from those who are familiar with warm water fishing.

To keep this FAQ manageable, it is limited to Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Rockbass, Crappies, and Bluegills. For help with other warm water species, it will be best to seek the help of experts in your area.

Although the discussion is limited to these 5 warmwater species, they differ considerably in size and behavior. The recommended fishing tackle and techniques will vary from species to species. These differences are noted in the short sections devoted to each of the fish.

Discussed below is:-

There is one final note before we start. It is impossible to answer or to anticipate all the questions you may have regarding warm water fly fishing with this FAQ. Our motto is that there are no stupid questions. If you have a question which is not answered in this or other FAQs, do not hesitate to post it to the list. However, you are encouraged to read all the FAQs to help keep common questions from being reposted to the list.

Equipment for warmwater fishing

Much equipment is shared with other forms of fly-fishing, and readers are encouraged to browse the other FAQ sections.

Additional equipment is described in the Beginning Flyfishing FAQ which applies here, except for the trout net.


The above items are not absolutely necessary, but if you continue in flyfishing you will probably buy them in the future. The sunglasses are a must because they protect your eyes. The rest of the items can be purchased as you need them.

Warm-water flies

Listed below are some of the suggested patterns for warm water flyfishing. If you feel the need for flytying directions, I will obtain them for you or refer you to the author of the pattern. Please contact me at my e-mail address. Remember these are by no means the only flies which will catch these fish. I am sure there are others that will work just as effectively.

Thanks is given at this time to the following FF@ list members who contributed to this FAQ in regard to flys and patterns for warm water fishing: Tom Fry, Brandon C. Nuttall, Richard Warren, Bob Spencer, Sheldon Seale, Henry Kanemoto, Ben Benoit, Clyde Watson, Thi Nguyen and Craig Pence. If I have missed someone I am sorry.

If you do choose to use a tippet, you may want to start with this formula. The size of the tippet you should use is determined by the weight and bulk of the fly you want to cast .A starting place is the "rule of three". Divide the hook size by three and you will get the "x" size of the tippet. For example, the tippet for a size 12 fly would be 12/3=4, or 4x tippet. This rule of threes is why the "x" sizing for tippets has survived to this day.

Largemouth bass


For the most part the 5/6 weight, 8 1/2 foot to 9 foot fly rod you purchased for trout fishing can work very well for early spring bass fishing. In the early spring this is probably the rod of choice for most bass fishing, since you are fishing mostly clear areas of farm ponds and small lakes. As the summer sets in and the weeds and lily pads start to grow, a 6/7 wt. is preferred to provide the additional power needed to get a bass out of the cover and into open water. You have to be able to control the bass at all times and be prepared to turn him away from cover. A rod with some backbone is needed to move the fish quickly from heavy cover and prevent its returning there. Also, striking a bass demands some additional stiffness in the rod, because striking a bass is far different than striking a trout. An all around rod would probably be a 7 weight, in an 8' or 9' length. A 6 weight will certainly do the job, but will make casting the heavy, air resistant bugs an unpleasant chore for the less experienced fisher, especially if there is much wind.

There is never a need for a drag on a bass reel. Bass do not make long runs. They make powerful surges, and are best fought with hand control of the line. Most of the time there is no need to get the fish on the reel at all, so any reel will do. Likewise backing is optional

A floating line will work best for at least 90% of bass fishing. Either a standard weight-forward or a special bass taper line is by far the best choice for throwing bass bugs. A lot of weight far forward in the line is a big help in turning over bass bugs, especially the larger ones.

Leaders for bass are totally different from trout leaders. A level monofilament will do, but a tapered leader does make turning over those big bass bugs much easier. Bass aren't at all leader shy in ordinary circumstances, so heavy leaders are the norm. Nor do leaders need to be very long. A 7 1/2 foot leader is adequate and a 6 foot leader is rarely a handicap. A tippet of ten pounds is minimum and a 15-20 pound tippet will frequently work better.

The Clouser Minnow deserves special attention as a fly for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Thanks are sent out to Ben Benoit, Steven Robbins, Bob Petti, Aaron Adams, John Shannon, Vernon Martin, and Lindsey Grandison for all their help and suggestions for Clouser Minnow patterns. Clouser Minnows tied with synthetics are better suited for clear water while the bucktail Clouser minnow is more effective for darker waters. With the bucktail, the wing is tied in at an angle such that it projects upwards at a 30 degree angle. The belly in contrast is tied in horizontal to the shank. This configuration provides for a larger silhouette. For the clear water synthetic Clouser minnow, both the belly and the wing are tied parallel to the shank. The synthetics are too limp and won't stand out straight like the bucktail.

Hooking largemouth bass

A special contribution by Bob Spencer

Many beginners, and trout fishermen who make the transition to bass fishing, fail to appreciate the need for special techniques in striking and hooking bass. This a different game, and the rules are different. Simply raising the rod, or striking with the rod tip has no place in hooking bass. If those methods are used, the percentage of missed strikes, fish on for only a moment, or even for 2-3 minutes will be far too high.

Bass have a tough mouth, which is hard to penetrate with a hook. Barbless hooks help a lot, but are not the total answer. Bass can clamp down very firmly on a big bushy bass bug and simply prevent the strike from moving the hook enough to penetrate.

The answer lies in the "straight line" strike. When the bug hits the water, immediately lower the rod tip until it is pointing straight at the bug. Every time! Keep the rod pointed at the bug, and don't move the rod to work the bug or to retrieve. Do all working/retrieving by hooking the line over the index or middle finger of the rod hand and pulling on the line with the line hand.

Keep your eye on the bug! Bass frequently make a loud violent strike, but many times they just quietly inhale the bug from below. When the strike comes, DO NOT RAISE THE ROD TIP. Instead, lock the line both under your finger on the rod handle and in the line hand. Strike by moving the reel end of the rod sharply straight back, away from the bass.

Simultaneously, begin to raise the rod, but keep it moving backwards. Don't be shy about putting some muscle into the strike, sock it to 'im! This backward and upwards motion looks to an observer to be part of one continuous motion, but is not. The result is that the stiffer lower section of the rod is brought into play at once, putting some real power into the strike.

Striking this way,hard, you will feel solid resistance immediately. NOW DO IT AGAIN! At least one more time, two more if you think the fish is big. Now, sit back for the fireworks display. Using this technique and paying attention to your knitting, hooking percentages will approach 100 percent.

Smallmouth bass and rockbass

When you fish for both largemouth and smallmouth bass you will find that they are different in many ways. A major difference is that the largemouth bass will eat almost anything that crosses its path, while the smallmouth bass is much more selective both for color and presentation. You will find just as soon as you think you have it all figured out the bass will show you who is "boss". I can speak from experience that if you have not tried fly fishing for smallmouth bass then you are in for a real treat.

The smallmouth bass is probably one of the greatest fighting fish of all time. When you have one on, the amount of effort it takes to land this species is unbelievable, especially when the rod you are using is a 4/5 weight fly rod with about a three pound tippet. The fight is more difficult when you are fishing in a lake or farm pond where the bass can find deep water. At times you feel as though you are caught on the bottom and all of a sudden he decides he wants to come to the surface and jump. You must be careful not to loose the fish at this time. He can put so much slack in the line so rapidly, it is hard to reel it in fast enough.

In my opinion fishing in the streams or rivers for smallmouth bass and rockbass for that matter offers the most fun. You can wade very much like trout fishing, and even use some of your trout flies, especially the wooly bugger and clouser minnow. Both have produced some real nice bass, which are very good to eat, especially when taken from fast water.

There are times when the smallmouth bass is as spooky as trout, and you have to very careful in the presentation of the fly just as you would for trout. But there are other times when everything you throw works well, and the fish cooperate just as it is with trout. I don't know how most people fish for smallmouth bass in the streams and rivers. I fish always up-stream. I can't really tell you why except that was the way I was taught. I think it has something to do with not letting the fish know you are coming by wading down-stream. It makes sense I guess.

Anyway, regardless how you fish the river, be prepared for some real fun if you hook on to a big smallmouth bass. Fishing in the river he will jump almost as soon as you set the hook. This fish hits so hard you really don't have to worry too much about setting the hook. Just watch the line very close and be ready at all times.

The rockbass is always around the smallmouths and you will catch them much the same as you will the smallmouth bass. Some fishermen say the rockbass is not good to eat. To this I say hogwash. When they are cleaned properly and cooked the right way, they are excellent as bluegill. Clean them just as you would bluegills and be sure to fillet the fish just as you would the bass. This really the only way to clean fish.

There are many different ways to bake and fry fish, so I am not going into all the recipes that are available. If you are interested in a very good recipe for frying fish write to me by my e-mail address and I will send it to you. I hope I have whetted your appetite for some smallmouth fishing. As I write this, there is snow on the ground. However, I can only think about the up coming spring and getting my flies tied and organized. There is one really large smallmouth out there just waiting for me to show up. The good Lord willing, I will be there as soon as the first ice leaves the ponds, lakes and streams of northwest Ohio.


Since the main diet of most crappies is minnows, streamers are good flies to use. Through the many years of fishing for crappies, I have found one predominant color seems to catch the most crappies - chartreuse. For some unexplained reason this color seems to work best. I use a Mustad #9672 size 6 hook to tie a chartreuse pattern. By using chartreuse chenille, yellow hackle and my own imagination, I seem to end up with a fly that will catch crappies, especially in the early spring on our lake here at home.

I usually use my 5-6 wt rod with the usual trout style fly lines. The reason for the heavy weight rod is because in early spring the possibility of catching a largemouth bass while fishing for crappies is good. If this happens, I need a heavier rod to be able to bring the bass out of the brush or wherever he wishes to go. This brings up a another point. You will be fishing in or near the brush for the crappie since this is where he feeds most of the time. Crappies travel in schools, and where you find one, you'll generally find several. So be prepared to handle any fishing situation that might come along.

Crappies, bluegills, and bass for that matter are not as leader shy as the trout. One doesn't need to use the tapered leaders that you use for trout. They work well, but it is an expense you don't need. I have found that the size of the leader matters more than the taper of the leader.

For crappies, instead of using a tapered leader, I will start with a 10 pound leader made from Maxima's Ultragreen (super soft and limp) and add a tippet of 4 pound Maxima Ultragreen. The length of the leader depends upon your preference. I usually start with four feet of 10 pound test and use a nail knot to tie on about three feet of 4 pound test for the tippet.

I use this setup because I am fishing next to heavy cover, and I need the extra strength. If I get caught, then the break off comes at the tippet and not the leader. The four pound tippet will handle all the bass I hook when fishing for crappies. When fishing in heavy cover, the rule is if you don't get caught occasionally fishing for crappies, then you are not fishing right.

You will find it is much easier to fish for crappies with a fly rod if you can fish from a boat or canoe, simply because of the locations you will be fishing. One can fish the shoreline if there is room for the back cast, but usually there is not. Wading is ok if the water will permit it. At our lake, the water is usually too deep for wading except in some areas along selected shorelines. Generally we fish from a boat.

Plan to keep the crappies you catch because they are very good eating especially in the spring when the water is very cold. I hope this gives you some insight in the art of fishing for crappies, I don't claim to be an expert, but I hope this will open up the possibility for you to get out and fish whenever you can.


Pound for pound, bluegills are probably the greatest fighting fish on earth. I'm sure you have heard this statement made many times. But unless you have caught a 1 1/2 pound bluegill on a three weight rod, you really can't appreciate this statement. I have had this privilege once in my lifetime and, despite what all the catch and release advocates say, this fish is mounted on my living room wall. This was probably one of the greatest thrills of my flyfishing life. I caught the fish on a fly I tied myself, a little scud pattern that I can't even remember how I tied it.

I hope I can persuade you to take a child bluegill fishing sometime in your life. It doesn't have to be fly fishing, although I hope you do teach the child someday how to use the flyrod. The bluegill will help you, because he will take anything you want to present to him. You can fish with a spinning reel or a closed casting reel. It doesn't matter, the bluegill will co-operate. Through the years I have tried to find the perfect fly that the bluegill will take time after time, but so far I haven't found it. I'm not sure there is such a thing even though we all have one favorite fly that we use when we want to catch the big bluegill.

Although one can catch bluegills and rockbass on the standard #5 or #6 weight trout rod, it will be much more fun when one uses a #3 weight rod. I have a 7 foot graphite that I use whenever I plan to fish for bluegills. I have a single action reel with no drag. I use a floating double tapered fly line and use 4 pound Maxima's Ultragreen(super limp) for a 4 foot leader and 2 pound Maxima's Ultragreen for the tippet.

I have found that it is more important to use the right weight tippet that to use one that is tapered. The 2 pound tippet works very well for both bluegills and rockbass. The length of the tippet will be determined by the clarity of the water. When the water is gin clear I use a longer tippet than when it is cloudy. The tippet is usually around 6-7 feet for clear water.

Remember while you may be fishing for bluegills, be prepared for the "bass attack" that may occur. As we have said elsewhere in this FAQ the bass doesn't realize you are fishing for bluegills, and he will eat anything that comes before him. But isn't that a nice extra!

Other useful information

There are many books and videos in which one can find help in flyfishing for bass and bluegills. I suggest you visit your local library. It may surprise you with what you may find there. Check the recommended books section of the FAQ for suggestions, particulalrly under the warm water species section

Final comment

Remember, as you read this FAQ about Warm Water Fly Fishing, that I do not claim to be an expert on this subject. The only thing that I bring to you is over 50 years of experience fishing for the bass and especially bluegill. I truly love to fish for the bluegill and have tried just about everything possible to catch them. Everyone I catch is more beautiful than the last. I remember my kids growing up fishing for bluegills at Rice Lake in Canada, and I hope in some way this FAQ will start some dad or mom on the road to fishing for bluegills with their kids. Then all the time spent was worth it.
Copyright 1995 by BUCK,