• Topwater Finesse Fly Fishing for Bass
  • Post author
    Luke Langton
  • bassfly fishingfly fishing tipsfreshwaterlargemouth basspopper fishingsmallmouth bass

Topwater Finesse Fly Fishing for Bass

bass fly fishing surface seducer double barrel popper

Bass caught on a popper tied with a Surface Seducer Double Barrel popper & slider body.

Bass like to party, which is what makes them the most chased game fish in the United States.

Aggressive eats, jumps, and willingness to eat on the surface make bass a fun fish to chase, especially on the fly. Personally, I think the topwater takes are where it’s at in bass fly fishing. Part of the fun is getting the fish to eat what you want it to eat.

If you’re set on getting bass to eat on the surface and it’s not working, before you give up and switch over to fishing a streamer, try dialing it back first. That’s where the topwater finesse comes into play.

3 Reasons You're Not Catching Bass

Bass can tend to be reckless feeders, whether it’s aggression, anger, hunger, or curiosity, they can be caught on some crazy flies. Most of the time they like it cranked up to an 11, with aggressive erratic strips that cause a massive disturbance on the surface. 80% of the time this approach works. The other 20% of the time you’ve got to move to plan B: turning the volume down from an 11 to a 2 and convincing them to eat.

deer hair diver fly fishing

Most surface bass flies are designed to pop or dive, which typically requires an aggressive strip or series of strips to get the fly popping or diving. These are very effective ways to fish for bass on the surface and I would never considered leaving the house without a handful of both poppers and divers. Deer hair divers are definitely one of my favorites.

We’re going to dive into the other 20% of the time when bass are in the mood for something a little different.

Finesse- (verb) do something in a subtle and delicate manner.

Sometimes turning it down a couple notches is all that is required to convince bass to eat. This can be achieved several different ways with your presentation, retrieve, choice of fly, or a combination of each.

Temperate Bass Flies: How to Diversify Your Fly Box

When I think of finesse and fishing the first thing that comes to mind is subtle twitches. Topwater finesse flies are designed to be twitched or wiggled. Some of my favorites are flies that can be fished effectively multiple ways.

double barrel damsel popper fly fishing surface seducer

The Double Barrel Damsel fly (tied with a Double Barrel popper & slider body and Dragon Eyes) can easily be fished as a popper, but with the extended rubber legs it can also be just as effective when the bass are not in the mood for the traditional offerings if you slowly twitch the fly on the surface of the water.

Fly Fishing for Tailing Redfish: 5 Mistakes You'll Make This Summer

Open up your loop to allow the fly to land more softly, wait until all the ripples dissipate, and slow the retrieve, moving the fly just enough for the rubber legs to flex and relax. It can make the difference in getting the bass to come to the surface.

tullis wiggle bug fly fishing articulated fish spine fish skull

The Tullis Wiggle Bug is another effective topwater fly that can be fished effectively in multiple situations. This is an articulated version with a 15mm Fish-Skull Articulated Fish-Spine in the back and Living Eyes.

3 Tips to Catch More Smallmouth on the Fly

The more steadily the fly is retrieved the deeper it dives, when slowing it down a quick pull wiggles it under the surface and it floats back to the top. I’ve caught a lot of fish on the pause as the fly is coming back to the surface. 

chernobyl ant fat albert style fly fishing topwater

Chernobyl Ant / Fat Albert style flies are another type of pattern for delicate topwater situations. Simple little foam bugs with longer rubber legs, their effectiveness comes from their legs during subtle slow steady retrieves that just flex the legs enough to get the fish’s attention. Subtle can be the difference maker.

bass fly fishing surface seducer double barrel popper

Bass caught on a popper tied with a Surface Seducer Double Barrel popper & slider body.

You can see the running theme with these flies, all topwater flies that allow you to fish on the surface without being overly aggressive. There’s a great section on topwater fishing that breaks this down in depth in Tim Landwehr’s Smallmouth Modern Fly Fishing Methods, Tactics, and Techniques book. Most of it holds true for the largemouth as well and in my neck of the woods a largemouth is 99 times more likely to eat on top than a Smallmouth.

Fly Fishing Tips: Adapting Streamer Designs for Warm Water

If you want to catch fish on the surface and the normal poppers aren’t working, before you hang up the surface flies remember to try dialing it back a bit and see if that will draw a strike.

If all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with streamer fishing!

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About Luke Langton:

Luke is an avid fly fisherman and fly tyer from Smithville, Missouri who chases most warm-water fish and the occasional trout. When has the chance, he enjoys getting his daughters out in the boat with him. He helps out around K&K Flyfishers  teaching many of their fly tying classes and runs The Midwest Drift blog. You can follow Luke on Instagram @the_midwest_drift.

  • Post author
    Luke Langton
  • bassfly fishingfly fishing tipsfreshwaterlargemouth basspopper fishingsmallmouth bass

Comments on this post (4)

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Bob Price; is this the BP from SJFF? If so, we shared a boat in the ’90’s on Monterey Bay. I’m in Auburn; give me a call/email.

    — Michael McKinley

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Hey Bob, try a bead head woolly bugger, cast it up stream allowing it to tick bottom. Also try drifting an elk hair Caddis.

    — Paul Nelson

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Include me in your list

    — Homer Tourkakis

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I need all the help I can get, after 6 or 7 tries to get a bass on the fly I am getting frustrated. I tie my own flies including poppers and divers. This article will surely help me, Thanks

    — Bob Price

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