Lily pads are a bonafide bass magnet across most lakes in North America. The one problem that complicates matters for an angler is what lures to throw to the fish and how to work them properly. Figure out these "pad puzzles" by learning the ins and outs of this plant, and you'll be well on your way to reaping the rewards you uncover.
What To Look For
Lily pads are used by largemouth bass for a number of important reasons -- to ambush prey, seek shelter and cool off. Pads provide shade and a decrease in water temperature that provides comfort on scorching summer days. They also provide a perfect concealment for striking out at prey. Adding up these reasons shows what kind of a magnet pads are for bass.
Lily pads may look similar when you are out on the water, but there are certain variables that make some patches much more attractive than others. Finding healthy green pads is first on the agenda. These oxygen-rich plants will outperform all dead and decaying pads that are around. Lily pads that have access to deeper water also are favored as bass use this space to retreat in times of danger.
Lead-in cover, in the form of weeds or brush, is definitely preferred as it enables the fish to travel to and from pad beds primarily hidden and protected. The pad bed itself should have a variety of other structure and cover mixed in, be it sand, wood, slop and other types of weeds in order for it to be at the top of the attraction scale. Lastly, look for small isolated pad beds away from the large expanses. These "low-key" lilies are usually different in composition to the larger ones, and will generally hold larger loner fish. Now that you've figured out what to look for in lily pads, lets figure out what to throw at them.
Lily Pad Lures
There are wide ranges of lures that can be successfully fished in lily pads, however, deciding on an above or below water approach is the first line of business.
Topwater baits are common in pad fishing, providing an attractive curiosity for hidden largemouth and exciting visual thrills for the angler. Throwing a topwater bait first allows the active fish to take a swipe at your presentation -- this works to the angler's advantage in either a hookset or a missed fish. If the fish is hooked, the only problem left to sort out is getting it out of the pads and into the boat. Using forward momentum and keeping the largemouth's head at the surface will allow you to hoist the fish up and over the pads. (If you're too slow and it buries you in the stems of the pads, it might possibly be game over.)
A swirl or boil at your bait will signal that a fish is present. Throwing a follow-up bait, in the form of a plastic worm or jig and pig, will usually do the trick in getting that "hot" fish to bite.
There are a wide range of topwater baits designed specifically to be fished in pads. The common trait they all possess is a weedless design that allows them to be dragged over the top of the lilies without hanging up.
Some baits to stock your box with would include the Heddon Moss Boss, Scum Frog or Rat, Johnson Silver Minnow, and the buzzbait.
I like to bring these baits over open holes in the pads, pausing momentarily to entice a strike. Often a fish will follow your bait under the pads and smash it when it reaches an opening. For thick pads nothing beats the Moss Boss. My best luck when the pads are sparse is to run a buzzbait through and around the lilies.
If fish hit and miss a topwater bait, or if they are in a negative mood, going below the surface is necessary to entice largemouth to hit. Common baits to throw in the pads are Texas-rigged worms, lizard and craws, as well as a jig and pig. The common trait you have to keep in mind is to keep your presentation weedless.
Nine times out of 10 that same fish that missed your topwater bait will take the follow up bait without hesitation.
When choosing plastics to throw, slim profiles without curly tails seem to penetrate the pads best. (Ribbon tail or curly tails will wrap around pad leafs and stems causing the bait to foul up.) My best luck has been with paddle tail worms as well as lizards.
When dealing with lily pads and the heavy cover they provide, stout tackle and equipment is definitely the way to go. A flipping stick with a lot of backbone coupled with at least 20-pound test monofilament is a mainstay in my boat come pad time. Without sufficient line and rod strength, a fighting bass will certainly tangle you up at his first chance. Remember -- a strong hookset while getting the fish up and away from the cover is the best route to take when playing in the pads.
Spend some time probing the pads this season and see what's lurking below. Choosing the right baits and using the right equipment will bring you newfound success when you spend your day lurking around the lowly lily.
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