White Bass on the Fly

Want one of the best river experiences on the fly rod?   Oh yeah, did I mention it’s in Oklahoma?

Fly fishing for white bass is definitely a head turner, as the sport is typically known for its delicate presentations and beautiful casts by a man in a fishing vest smoking a cigar. However, if you haven’t heard, that persona has surely evolved. Actually, fly fishing and traditional angling have never been so similar.

Growing up, I did most of my fly fishing and guiding in Michigan and Colorado, before moving and guiding in Oklahoma. With all my time on the water, I can say that white bass (aka sand bass) runs in Oklahoma are one of the best experiences on the fly and it’s a trip that you surely don’t want to miss. In fact, between the end of March and start of May, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Why? Well, to start, imagine fishing in a turquoise colored river surrounded by freshly green trees and vegetation, with spring temperatures and crisp air. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Actually it’s quite humoring when my Colorado or Midwest angling buddies reach out and ask where I’m at… okay carrying on from Oklahoma’s beauty and back to white bass.

What experience can you expect when fishing for sand bass on the fly?

To start, I would compare the fight experience to that of mini striper, or a feisty mid-sized walleye that wants nothing more than to drive to the bottom, mixed with the ambience of trout fishing in the midwest. All while having a catch rate similar to fishing for stocked trout on a March brown or Caddis fly hatch. Most of the time you’ll be streamer fishing these chunky fish and experiencing heavy takes and dives, and quick runs is simply amazing. Oh did I mention it’s all on a rod that has the sensitivity of a crappie pole?

Is fly fishing better than traditional angling when fishing for sand bass?

Yes, 100%… okay, I’m a little biased here… and it’s important to note that all of our trips are run out of a skiff, Jon boat or drift boat giving us the advantage to transport to various fishing spots. However, when guiding we hear a lot of “Dang fly fishermen” or “how is this happening” comments from traditional anglers. Even my personal favorite, “looks like we’re getting into fly fishing.” In reality, they’re pretty similar. Each method is based on using the tools you have to increase your chances for a take. Both traditional angling and fly fishing have their advantages and disadvantages, but the essence of fly fishing is all about fine tuning the micro variables, which is what is needed for success in the sport, and here it definitely works with fly fishing. Is it the golden ticket to stock the freezers? No, it’s a tool that give more options to present your fly/lure to the fish.

Really quick, before getting the line wet, do your homework on fish behavior and know/learn their behavior and where they will more likely be given the time of year. This should be a go to for all species and nothing is worse than being that angler on the water that fishes (and holds) a spot that’s not conducive to species or environmental variables. I tell everyone time and time again, don’t fall victim to the lottery effect or fishing effect. Think like fish and use nature and your brain to your advantage. For all those screen readers out there (fish finder enthusiasts) use the technology but don’t be afraid to cast in areas that look fishy even if your screen doesn’t agree.

Two most important tips:

Tip 1 - Presentation

First, and most important, presentation. Fish all the depth layers of the river until you find the desired strike zone. For example, if you can imagine, take a section of the river (from the bottom to the top) and cut it into 4 sections long ways. Fish will hold in different sections of the river and your first move is to adjust until you find that strike zone. For example: you may notice fish holding in the 1st section (bottom) but they’ll want their food,or the fly, presented to them in the 2nd or 3rd sections before they take. Playing with this variable will help tremendously and is the most important principle when fishing for sandies. Next, find the trigger and don’t be afraid to change things up. Time and time again, if you’re not catching fish and it’s not working after 20-30 casts…change it up. Again, don’t fall victim to being sucked into a routine or that fishing/lottery effect (I’ll publish another article in the near future to further explain). You’re better than that! Fish fast, fish slow, swing it, lift it, etc…The smallest changes can make or break it.

Tip 2 - Fly/lure selection

When it comes to fishing in general, a good starting point is determining how you want to fish. Do you plan on imitating your target’s food source or creating a reactionary strike? Maybe both? When fishing for sand bass, I’ve found over 80% of the time you’ll be on the imitate side with a mix into getting a reactionary strike. That being said, start with a fly that looks like its food and change out colors if necessary. Small clousers is a sure start and one of the best flies. It’s all about size, shape and color… and the fly presentation. That’s it! White bass are not smart fish, and they have one major thing on their mind at the moment, spawning.  No need to overthink it or make things more complicated than they have to be. Trust me, no matter what you have, you’ll be fine. I recently tested this theory as I was convinced to use a fly tied by my daughter on one of our free for all tie Friday date nights (you cannot say no to a persuasive 10 year old). It may not have resembled anything I would have chosen myself, but it caught fish…a lot of fish. This is just one example but it shows the importance of presentation and why it’s number one.

Oklahoma offers amazing experiences on the fly, for this I’d just leave (or retire) that tweed jacket and leave the dry flies in the truck. Cigars are definitely welcome. I hope this article is helpful for those interested in white bass on the fly, or those who’ve never fly fished for warm water species before. This is a perfect opportunity for those getting into the sport, families (children included), and those who are experienced anglers just looking for a great time on the water. It is an experience that cannot be missed, and as Oklahoma’s premier and luxury guide service, Native Waters Outfitters would love to prove that to you. Book now! 


We are #oklahomaflyfishing


Nate Satterelli

Professional Fly Fishing Guide