Most fly anglers leave bass fishing up to those with the fancy bass boats and thousands of dollars in spin fishing gear. As a result, they miss out on hours of fun targeting a fish that’s easily accessible with a fly rod. In order to land these fish, however, you need a high-quality reel!

Bass are strong fighters and live in the majority of lakes and rivers across the United States. I put off targeting bass for the first four or five years of my fly-fishing career. I only wanted to target trout and didn’t even think to go after the majority of fish I grew up targeting with traditional gear.

Okay, if you want to just cut to the best recommended fly reel for bass – Get the Sage Spectrum C (link for price check). For value, quality, drag performance and capacity, easily the best.

Smallmouth Bass Fly Fishing
Smallmouth Bass Fly Fishing

Once I started going after bass, my entire perspective changed! I learned quickly that my gear wasn’t strong enough. A solid bass reel is a combination of heavy-duty high-quality components. You need to make sure it can create enough tension and hold enough line for any of those big fights!

BassAverage WeightRod and Reel Size
Smallmouth3 to 6 lbs.6/7 Weight
Largemouth4 to 8 lbs.7/8 Weight
Striped Bass20 to 40 lbs.+10 Weight
Data compiled from Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bass_(fish)

Style of Tossing Flies to Bass?

When you fish for bass, you’re really only going to fish two types of flies: streamers and poppers. You really don’t have to overthink your flies when it comes to targeting bass!

When you’re fishing with streamers, you’re targeting these fish lower in the water column. Bass are ambush predators so it’s not uncommon for them to wait in cover or behind the weeds for their prey. Fish your streamers near cover, weed lines or anywhere near a spawning bed. Quick strips are going to work well.

Guide Tip: Put the complete package together with this article – Best Fly Rod, Reel and Fly Line for Bass

Bass will more than likely hit the streamer on the fall! You don’t have to be very subtle when targeting these fish. If your streamer smacks the water or you disrupt vegetation, they’ll still be more than happy to hit your flies. When streamer fishing, you have to be prepared to land large fish. As a result, a large arbor reel is a necessity! You don’t want one of these fish to spool you.

The other common fly that anglers use is a popper. Popper flies are the perfect option for when bass are feeding on the surface. Fishing these through lily pads or near weed lines will almost guarantee a strike. Bass are more than happy to completely leap out of the water to take your popper.

Again, be sure that your reel is able to handle a large fish taking quite a bit of your line. The powerful runs from these fish are well-known to break lines and cause all sorts of trouble.

Characteristics of a Great Reel for Bass on the Fly

When purchasing a fly fishing reel for large fish, you’re going to have to consider a few things. Any old reel isn’t going to do the trick. You’ll have to be sure to invest and purchase a reel that’s going to be reliable.

Drag Style

The first thing to consider with your reel is the drag style. If you’re targeting large fish, you’ll want a disc drag. When tightened, washers in the reel are compressed and create friction against the spool. The more tension against the spool, the more drag you’ll create. Bass are known for their short, powerful runs and a higher amount of tension will tire them out fairly quickly.

Guide Tip: Set your drag lighter than you think. All those rod guides and the water adds drag to the line. You can always add a bit of drag when fighting a fish. Read more about reel drag in this article: HERE

Sealed Drag or Not?

If you are interested in any sort of saltwater fishing, then you’ll need a fully sealed drag. A fully sealed drag is going to keep saltwater out of the important parts of your reel that could quickly corrode. Most higher end reels are going to come with a fully sealed drag.

Even if you don’t fish in saltwater, it’s not a bad idea to purchase a fully sealed drag system. They’ll prevent sand and excess water entering the important areas of your reel!

Arbor Size

Another important feature of your reel to consider is the size of your arbor. When you’re targeting bass, a large arbor reel is necessary. You’ll have less line memory with a larger arbor. Plus, if you happen to tie into a bass that makes long runs, you’ll want to have your 120 yards of backing plus the fly line! Odds are you won’t run into any bass that will take all of it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Looking for more info on fly fishing reels, arbors and large arbor reels? I’ve got a resource that explains it all. What is a Large Arbor Fly Reel

Capacity

Arbor size and capacity go hand-in-hand. If you’re going to target bass with a 6 or 7-weight rod, then you’ll want a reel that matches the weight. A 6 or 7-weight large arbor reel can hold anywhere from 100 to 200-yards of backing and 30 or so yards of fly line. This amount of line is plenty for everything from bass to salmon.

Finish, Machining and Durability

Purchasing a fully machined reel is something every angler should strive to do. Yes, fully machined fly reels are a bit more expensive, but they’re lightweight and durable. Most fully machined fly reels are made of aluminum. It’s worth the extra money.

Durability is also key in your reel consideration. The last thing anglers want to worry about is whether or not their fly reel is going to last. You want to be able to fish your reel hard. Having peace of mind going after the large fish gives you the confidence to think through your fishing style. Make sure the reel you buy has solid reviews and is from a reputable company.

How to Balance Reel, Rod and Line

When you’re looking to purchase a fly rod setup, make sure you understand what type of fish you’re going to be targeting. The heavier and stronger the fish, the heavier and stronger setup you’ll need.

If you’re targeting bass, a 6 or 7-weight setup is ideal. It’s heavy and powerful enough that you’ll be able to land the fish, but not too heavy that it’ll feel clunky as you cast. If you purchase a 6 or 7-weight rod, you’ll want at least a 6-weight reel.

You can get away with a bit heavier reel depending on the weight of your fly rod. However, you won’t go wrong purchasing the exact weight reel of your fly rod.

When it comes to your fly line, don’t overthink your decision. Have your line be an exact match to your fly rod and reel. A nice 6 weight rod should work well with a 6 weight reel and 6 weight forward floating fly line. If you’re needing to make longer casts, then up the weight of your line by one. The line will come out of your rod with a bit more force.

Favorite Flies for Bass Fishing

Can you effectively chase bass with only three flies? Probably not, I wrote an epic article on Bass Flies (21 Proven Patterns).

But to detail which favorites I’d recommend for each “style Popper or Streamer”.

For poppers – get the BoogleBug BooglePopper in size 6 and 8. Blue has been effective, but consider yellow as well for sunny conditions.


When it comes to streamers and bass, you can’t go wrong with a CLOUSER. Deep running and I can attest to how effective it can be. Best part they’re relatively inexpensive to buy. Check out this link to Amazon – Clouser Flies


Big foam poppers are tough to cast. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a wimp. Tossing flies all day is hard, combine that with punching a wind resistant fly kills my arm. A Style of dry called a “Slider” is rising on my favorites list. The pointed head allows just a bit more aerodynamics and creates an erratic movements when stripping. Recommendation – the SNEAKY PETE POPPER (link to Amazon to check prices)

3 Recommended Fly Fishing Reels for Bass

You can tell the difference between a high quality and low-quality fly reel. A high-quality reel feels stronger and retrieves the line better. Again, feeling confident in your reel is well worth the extra money. Take the following three reels into strong consideration.

Sage Spectrum C

If you know anything about fly fishing, you’re quite familiar with Sage equipment. The Spectrum C model from Sage comes in a 7/8 option and a 9/10 option. Depending on the size of your rod, make sure you match it up well with your reel. Bass require a 6 or 7-weight rod and reel so the Spectrum is a great option.

Amazon sells the Sage Spectrum C (link for prices and reviews)

You’ll have a one revolution drag knob with numbered settings, easily convertible right and left-hand retrieve. A changeable drag system is ideal. You need to be very specific with how much pressure you put on these fish.

The unique thing about the Spectrum C is that it has a vented concave arbor that allows you to store about as much fly line as you need. You also receive a fully sealed drag system so you can take this out into those challenging conditions without having to worry about it falling apart after one or two seasons.

Pair this with floating or sink tip line and you should be good to go. You’ll appreciate the indented knob. It won’t slip out of your hand during a challenging fight! Plus, it’s only going to cost you $150!

Redington BEHEMOTH

The Redington BEHEMOTH is a sneaky good reel. Redington has a phenomenal reputation in fly fishing and you can be confident in the power that it has. Choose between the 6/7 or the 7/8 weight model for your bass setup. Redington claims that it has the strongest drag in its class! The carbon fiber drag system isn’t something to laugh at. It’s extremely powerful.

If your looking for BANG for the buck the BEHEMOUTH (link to Amazon for more info) is a proven workhorse.

Also, you have the Die-cast construction and a soft touch ergonomic handle. It’s easy to operate!

The large arbor design reduces line memory and can hold all of the line you would ever need to fight salmon. If you ever take this reel to saltwater, you can use it! It’s able to fight fish like GT or Tarpon. Perhaps the best aspect of this reel is the appearance! The BEHEMOTH comes in green, black, gold and grey. They all have matte finishes that look wonderful.

Thankfully, this is another affordable option for anglers. You’ll only need to spend $140 or so to add it to your arsenal.

Waterworks-Lamson Guru S Series

Lamson makes beautiful reels. This is perhaps the best option for bass on this list! The 7+ HD model is able to hold 6 and 8-weight lines. The versatility is great. You can buy an extra spool for this reel and switch out the lines depending on what fish you’re targeting.

The Waterworks-Lamson Guru S isn’t cheap. If your wanting a fly reel that will last a lifetime, plus get your friends to say “Holy S#!+ that reel is amazing” The Waterworks-Lamson Guru S is the reel. (Amazon link to check current prices)

It’s a large arbor, fully machined and is anodized. Take this to freshwater or saltwater and it’s going to perform. It has a fully sealed drag system so you don’t have to worry about unnecessary materials getting in and ruining your reel. These reels are extremely light. Keep that in mind when pairing it with your rod! It only weighs around 10 ounces.

FAQ

Best Time of Day to Fly Fish for Bass?

If you’re going to target bass, then you’ll want to fish for them in the early mornings and evenings. This is their most active feeding time!

Can you Bass Fish with a 5-Weight Fly Rod?

A 5-weight fly rod is a bit light for bass fishing. You’ll want to use at least a 6-weight rod for these fish. Some anglers prefer to go with a 7-weight, but either option works just fine. Read more about fly rods for bass in this article – What Fly Rod Weight for Bass

What Size Leader for Bass Fishing?

When bass fishing, you’ll want a 0 or 1x leader. Bass don’t have sharp teeth that’s going to break the leader, but their sheer power has the ability to do so. Want to learn how to tie a leader? Read How to Make a Fly Fishing Leader

Last Cast

Bass anglers are well aware of the perfect day to target bass. A cool morning with the sun coming up over the horizon makes for ideal conditions. Throwing a popper over some lily pads and waiting for that blow-up is exhilarating.

Bass are a pleasure to catch. The first time you land one on your fly rod will likely not be the last. Their power and speed are addicting.


Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels