The continuous wavelet transform (CWT) introduces an expandable spatial and frequency window which can overcome the inferiority of localization characteristic in Fourier transform and windowed Fourier transform. The CWT method is widely applied in the non-stationary signal analysis field including optical 3D shape reconstruction with remarkable performance. In optical 3D surface measurement, the performance of CWT for optical fringe pattern phase reconstruction usually depends on the choice of wavelet function. A large kind of wavelet functions of CWT, such as Mexican Hat wavelet, Morlet wavelet, DOG wavelet, Gabor wavelet and so on, can be generated from Gauss wavelet function. However, so far, application of the Gauss wavelet transform (GWT) method (i.e. CWT with Gauss wavelet function) in optical profilometry is few reported. In this paper, the method using GWT for optical fringe pattern phase reconstruction is presented first and the comparisons between real and complex GWT methods are discussed in detail. The examples of numerical simulations are also given and analyzed. The results show that both the real GWT method along with a Hilbert transform and the complex GWT method can realize three-dimensional surface reconstruction; and the performance of reconstruction generally depends on the frequency domain appearance of Gauss wavelet functions. For the case of optical fringe pattern of large phase variation with position, the performance of real GWT is better than that of complex one due to complex Gauss series wavelets existing frequency sidelobes. Finally, the experiments are carried out and the experimental results agree well with our theoretical analysis.