When anglers first go bass fishing with a fly rod, it opens the door to an entirely new and exciting method of fly fishing. Some of the traditional finesse trout fishing methods are pushed aside and the goal becomes drawing out the aggressive tendencies of bass. Using popper flies is one of the most effective ways to get bass to strike. They move water and get the attention of all the fish in the area.
The first time I ever targeted bass on a fly rod, a popper was my fly of choice. On my first cast, I tossed it near a laydown up along the shore and three quick strips led to a massive blow up and I had a 4-pound bass in the boat before I could think of what happened. From there, I’ve been hooked.
3 Favorite Poppers for Bass
Micro Popper- White- Size 10
The micro popper is my favorite bass fly. Bass don’t always want to eat a massive fly on the surface of the water. The micro popper is a great compromise. It’s not overly large, but it has optional rubber legs, deer hair tail and a variety of colors. The entire design looks like a variety of things, so bass can’t help but eat it.
Bass Popper- White and Blue- Size 6
The traditional bass popper is hard to beat. The white and blue and green color is a great representation of a frog. It has red eyes, rubber legs and some deer hair on the backside. This fly moves quite a bit of water and it’s perfect for those larger bass waiting in lily pads.
Hopper Popper- Yellow- Size 6
Recently, the Hopper Popper has climbed to the top of my list for popper flies. It has all of the features of a traditional popper pattern, and it combines them with a Chubby Chernobyl design. The deer hair on top of the pattern and the bent rubber legs make a perfect representation of a grasshopper. It’s effective sitting still or being stripped.
Guide Pro Tip: I love summer time bass fishing. A cool mornings floating down a river tossing poppers into holding water, then WHAM! Check out the flies I love in this article 👉 Favorite Flies for Bass (21 Proven Patterns)
Where to Find Bass-Structure
Depending on where you fish for bass, you’re going to find them in different areas. Their tendencies and habits stay similar no matter where you fish for bass, but the type of water does make a difference in where to find them.
In lakes, you’re going to find bass in heavily structured areas with plenty of room for them to survey the surrounding water while still giving them a chance to dart out in the open water and feed.
Guide Tip: I’ve got so much more to read about fly fishing in a lake. You’ve got to read this 👉 Learn the Tips and Techniques for Fly Fishing in a Lake
Throughout the warmer months, bass will move between shallow and deep water. In the mornings and evenings, they’ll move shallow and sit near weed lines, docks and fallen trees in pursuit of panfish and crustaceans. They’re ambush predators, so they like to be able to sit in an area where they’re not easily visible. This helps them hunt.
During the middle of the day, bass will retreat to deeper sections of water. As the water temperatures warm, they’ll head towards drop-offs and the middle of lakes where the water is the deepest. Here, they’ll wait out the sun and give themselves a chance to digest food. Plus, bass don’t have eyelids, so they don’t do well in shallow water with bright sun.
In the spring during the spawn, bass are going to be on or near their “beds” almost all the time. As soon as the water gets warm and the females start producing eggs, they’ll head to shallow water and begin digging their beds. These small holes in gravelly sections of lakes will host bass for a couple weeks. Males and females won’t ever be far from their eggs.
They’re not overly interested in feeding, but they’ll strike anything that comes too close to their bed.
In the colder months, bass will be somewhere between 15-30 or so feet of water. This section of the water column is going to be the warmest. Surface water will freeze and temperatures are low, so they head deep to preserve energy. Plus, all of the other prey bass like to eat are in deeper water waiting out the winter months.
In rivers, bass are more eager to sit close to the food. They still keep their ambush tendencies, but they’re more willing to dart out into the main current and feast on whatever bait fish or crustaceans float by.
Up Along Banks
Regardless of the time of year, bass will be up along the banks. They’ll sit under logs, near rocks or any other structure that can provide them some cover and shade. Since water is constantly moving in rivers, it keeps things oxygenated and a bit cooler than standing water in lakes. The ideal location is a bank with cover that’s located close to the main current. They can move in and out of the current as they please.
In Pools with Current
River bass don’t always love to sit in fully slack water. As a result, pools can be hit or miss for these fish. They appreciate the deeper water during the hot and cold months, but if it’s not moving, then that means food isn’t constantly cycling through the area. As a result, you want to find pools that are within the main current. Baitfish will find shelter in these slower moving currents and bass will wait here.
Plus, pools almost always have a ton of structure at the bottom. Bass will sit at the bottom and keep their eyes on everything that comes in and out of the pool.
Get The Gear Right
Fly fishing for bass requires some different gear than what you would traditionally use for trout. These fish are aggressive and often living in areas where you’re going to have to cover quite a bit of water. A stronger setup than a traditional trout rig is required.
A 6-weight to 8-weight rod is just about right for bass. The rod should be somewhere between 8’6” and 9’6” long. This length is enough for you to make longer casts and make any necessary mends. Also, make sure you’re using a moderate-fast or fast-action rod. You may run into extra strong fish or strong winds, so you need the power to fight and make long casts. You don’t want to feel underpowered when you fish for bass.
These rods are going to be able to cast your popper anywhere you need or want.
Guide Pro Tip: A good rod for tossing poppers to bass is critical. I’ve got a complete article 👉 Best Weight Fly Rod for Bass
For your reel, the most important thing is to make sure it matches with your rod. For example, if you’re using a 7-weight rod, use a 7/8-weight reel. This will help you balance the rod and ensure the power from the rod matches with the power from your reel. Also, it’s important to use a large arbor reel in case the bass goes on a long run.
Looking for a reel recommendation? First read 👉 Fly Fishing Reels for Bass
For your fly line, you’re going to want to use a weight-forward floating option. Poppers are surface flies, so a sink-tip line would pull the fly underwater and that’s going to kill the effectiveness of a popper.
Make sure the line matches your rod and reel. If you have a 7-weight rod and reel, then use a 7-weight line. A 7-weight line will cast well and feel smooth in your setup.
When using dry flies for bass, you don’t have to worry as much about laying them down softly and slowly pulling them across the surface. You can be a bit more aggressive with your presentation. As a result, a 7’-9’ 1x or 2x tapered leader is just about right. These leaders are strong enough to withstand the strength of bass, and can still give you a bit of room to finesse your way around the water.
Plop and Pause – Let it sit
The plop and pause retrieval method is one of the most effective ways to land bass. It’s amazing how many bass will hit your popper as soon as it lands on the surface. If you’ve located an area where bass are living, make your cast and let it sit for a few seconds.
If the first cast doesn’t work, retrieve the popper with elongated strips and try again. Cast and sit. Cast and sit. This method is especially effective in the mornings and evenings.
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Vary Your Retrieve
An important thing to consider when you’re fishing for bass is how you’re retrieving your popper. When bass are feeding on the surface, poppers will always work. However, you may find that your normal retrieval method isn’t what they want. As a result, it’s important to switch up how you do it.
You can start with smooth, one-foot strips and pauses and go from there. Maybe switch to short and quick six-inch strips that move a lot of water and create action. After this, try a mixture of both.
There’s no secret stripping pattern that’s always going to land bass. It mainly depends on how aggressive the bass are feeling. If they’re aggressive, then match the energy with short and powerful strips.
If they need some coaxing, then work with shorter and smooth strips. You can throw some pauses in there as well.
It truly is a trial-and-error process to get bass to strike.
The twitch is perfect for those shy bass. Big bass are far more calculated when they strike, so the twitch is a great method if you’re able to see a big bass on a bed. A twitch is a soft, tiny strip. You’re retrieving a few inches at a time in a smooth way. The popper will still move water, but it’s not going to make a wake behind it.
The pop retrieve is the best option to get the most out of your poppers. A pop retrieve requires a short, strong strip and a pause. When you make these short, strong strips, you’ll hear the popper make a “pop” sound. This is exactly what these flies were designed to do.
The Dance – with different patterns
The “dance” retrieval method is meant to imitate a frog that’s swimming to shore. When frogs swim, it’s not a smooth and straightforward process. They move side to side, swim fast for a few seconds and then slow down.
You want to do your best to mimic this with your popper. Move the rod tip as you retrieve, change how much force you apply to the strip and how long you make the strips. It’ll help you land fish.
One More Cast
Poppers are some of the most effective bass flies on the market. I absolutely love using them any time I get the chance. There are few more exciting freshwater strikes than when a bass takes something on the surface. They come out of nowhere and give you a phenomenal fight. The more you use these flies, the more fish you’re going to catch.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
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
A huge thanks to Umpqua Flies for use of the Hopper Popper image. Great flies – Umpqua