by Steven Neely


Fly fishing for bass is the pinnacle of UK saltwater fly angling. Not only are they stunningly good-looking. But they offer an incredible fight through their sheer brute force and ignorance. A lot of you will typically think of beaches or rocky bays and headlands when you mention bass fishing. But one of my most preferred methods is targeting them in the strong tidal flows and currents of estuaries. These estuarine environments can also be life savers when you are dealing with bright sunshine and clear skies. A scenario in which most of us find ourselves through summer and into early Autumn.

As with most types of fly fishing, these bright conditions can prove challenging. But looking for moving water can be the key to success. Whereas bright sunshine and calm water might prove a challenge on the open coast, where we would normally be looking for a bit of life or ‘fizz’ in the water. In estuaries, the strong flow and moving water give the bass a strategic advantage and encourages them to feed. As each summer passes, we seem to be facing ever-increasing temperatures, extremely low water conditions and, in many cases, Stillwater fishery closures. Even if you aren’t a die-hard saltwater fly angler, exploring these coastal estuaries is something I encourage you to get out and try. It can provide some unreal sport when conditions inland aren’t favourable.

A picture of a bass caught while fly fishing for bass

Fly Fishing For Bass – Location

Estuaries provide the ideal spot for bass to forage for food. Tide rips, channels and outflows all generate suitable movement in the water, which the bass will take full advantage of when lying in wait for sandeels, small bait fish, shrimps and juvenile mullet etc. When you start scouting out estuaries and looking for likely spots, remember, like all predatory fish, bass love structure. Boulders, weed, sand gullies and holes all become likely ambush spots for a hungry bass to lie in wait.

Remember, big bass are relatively lazy. They like an easy meal – using the structure and current to their advantage. The tide plays a pivotal role in where fish are and when they feed. Moon phases influence the tidal height variants and, in turn, have a large bearing on the strength of the current.  With spring tides providing the strongest flow. Determining the structure, strength and direction of the tide and current are all keys to success when targeting bass in estuaries. 

It’s important to note that safety always comes first when dealing with the sea and strong currents. Especially if wading. It’s important to be aware and mindful of tide heights, soft sand and any areas you may get stuck. Remember, it’s just a fish, it’s not worth taking risks, but with a sensible approach, appropriate gear and a good weather and tide app, you can be well prepared and tap into some awesome saltwater fly fishing sport.

An angler holding a bass while fly fishing for bass

Fly Fishing For Bass – Rods

When I’m Fly fishing for Bass, I use a 9’0” #8, saltwater-specific fly rod. I have found this to be the best balance between presentation, power and enough backbone to tame larger fish in a strong current. My go-to rod this season would be Sage Salt R8 paired with the Sage Enforcer reel.

The Salt R8 delivers everything you need in a saltwater fly rod. It loads quickly, has a sweet spot for a more intuitive feel and has plenty of backbone, strength and power to tame fish in strong currents and land them quickly for a stronger release. Probably my default line for most estuary fishing would be full intermediate. This comes into its own for keeping the fly in the take zone. When fishing strong currents, it is crucial your flies are presented in the correct way. By this, I mean not too fast and preferably close to the bottom. 


Fly Fishing For Bass – Lines

I use the RIO Premier Coastal Quickshooter XP most in these fast current situations. The line loads the rod quickly, is easy to cast, and keeps the fly down in the zone where I need it. It features a short front taper which has no problem turning over heavier flies. For example surf candy patterns or clouser minnows. It also has a clear head section which helps presentation when fishing in clear water.


When fly fishing for bass, fly choice is very personal and, of course, will vary for you depending on the bait fish and food sources present in your area. For the locations I fish, it’s nearly always sandeel patterns be it simple flatwings, surf candies or clouser minnows. I will carry a variety of sizes and weights to cope with the ever-changing current speeds, and the colour choice is also kept simple, with olive/white or chartreuse/white patterns making up 90% of my fly box.

Fly Fishing For Bass – Tactics

I find the most productive times to target the mouth of estuaries when fly fishing for bass are the last two hours of the outgoing tide and then the first hour or two of the flood. As the fish start dropping back towards the bar mouth, they will hang up and wait in likely ambush spots. Using the current to their advantage to feed. Once the tide turns and starts to push, you will then hit the fresh fish, which push in, chasing food with the tide. Bass love feeding in moving water. Often as the tide drops and you lose current, the fish will switch off.

Ideally, I look for depressions and gullies which the bass will use in their favour, waiting for prey or food to wash past. If you can find these structures and present your fly over these areas, if the bass are there, you are likely to get a strike. However, not all fish will sit static and wait for food. As you know bass are predators and have no problems staying mobile and on the hunt. It is key to cover as much water as possible. Try and be as methodical and controlled as possible in your approach to maximise your chances of intercepting a feeding bass.

Fly Fishing For Bass – Positioning

Try as best you can to get into a position ‘upstream’ of the features and structure. Either cast up the current or directly across the current at 90 degrees. Give your line and fly time to sink as it begins to swing around and over the structure. If executed properly, you should be able to maintain a relatively tight line throughout the drift.  Using short, sharp strips, you can add some extra movement and life to your files. Try not to animate them too much, as you want to keep them as close to the bottom or structure as possible.

If you don’t lock up on the swing, then simply cast and repeat. Maybe take a few steps down to ensure you are covering every bit of the target area. It also pays off to fish over an area with one fly, switch patterns and come back down again. Try and be as methodical as possible to ensure you don’t miss likely ambush areas. Make no mistake, there is nothing quite like that moment when you feel that violent thump as the line tightens, and you strip set into a bar of pure silver. They will use every bit of their strength and current to their advantage. Believe me, if you start fly fishing for bass, you’re in for one adrenaline-fuelled ride.

If you want to find out more about fly fishing for bass click here

You may also like