By Nick SImonson
An emerging area of cover that provides a haven for largemouth bass from the start of summer all the way up to the season’s end is a shallow bay or shelf with a mud bottom capable of sustaining a stand of lily pads. Frequently associated with a population of frogs lounging about in fairy tales, these green structures serve less as a floor for amphibians and more like a ceiling to aquatic insects, minnows and other prey items that draw territorial bass to a location virtually all season. They do, however, provide a meal of frog legs (and more) from time to time, and bass often look up to see what’s hanging around as they lounge in the shade the plants provide. Gearing up to exploit the structure of these plants and the habitat they create and knowing how to overcome those challenges presented by a field of lily pads can make for exciting fishing this time of year.
Gear for Green
Lily pads are strong-stalked plants and provide little in the way of assistance once a fish takes a lure. From when they first begin to unfurl and reach their way up to the water’s surface, the stalk provides the primary obstacle to anglers connected with fish. For this reason, gearing up with at least a seven-to-eight-foot, medium to medium-heavy rod works wonders in leveraging fish out of the shallows and away from the base of the plant stalks, where bass seem to instinctively know to run at the first sign of trouble.
Filling a reel with heavy-duty line will help make short work of those wraps around the vegetation by a fleeing fish. Superlines in 20- or 30-pound test with little stretch are a good minimum to consider and can be used as a string saw that helps cut through vegetation and horse bass quickly out of the cover. Be wary though as these no-stretch lines easily telegraph a strike, but not a firm connection, and may excite an angler into a premature hookset on an explosive take.
Fill the Holes
Using weedless lures designed for working over the surface, like a Scum Frog, or just about any unweighted soft plastic rigged Texas-style will allow an angler to easily work the open spaces between each pad. Slide, slip and slither the offering over the green expanse in the direction of an opening in the ceiling. Pause the bait on the edge of the hole, and with a twitch of the rod tip, pull it into the space.
In the case of floating baits, like the Scum Frog, an unweighted tube or creature plastic, if an explosion doesn’t ensue, allow it to sit in the opening for a few seconds before moving it on to the next space. If a bass does blow up on the bait, try to override the adrenaline rush and wait to feel a firm connection to the fish before hauling back with a hookset. It’s tough, but it helps with getting a better connection.
For Texas-rigged, weighted tubes and slow-falling plastic sticks, allow them to make their way down into the water column if a take doesn’t occur right away. With their superior eyesight, bass from a good distance away can see a slow spiral or a shimmy as the bait makes its way to the bottom in the shade of the lily pad stand. Let it rest there for a few seconds and raise it back up and repeat the slide-and-drop tactic over the next stretch of pads.
On the hookset, sweep back strongly to lift the fish out of the cover and toward the surface, and try to slide it back toward the boat. If the fish goes deep and wraps around the stalks, keep the pressure on and attempt to cut through the base of the plants and work the fish free. There’s some muscle involved in getting big bass out of this kind of cover, so don’t be afraid to up the strength of the line used, especially with so many low-diameter superlines available to anglers these days. Use reels with high retrieve ratios to cut down the amount of line quickly and practice pitching and flipping techniques to open spots near the boat as well and power any nearby fish up with a strong sweep of the rod.
While it may take some time to learn the ways of fishing both the top side and the waters below lily pads, they can provide some of the summer’s most exciting fishing when the gear, baits and techniques match the challenges bass in these locations provide.
(Featured Photo: As lily pad fields emerge and become established in backwaters and bays, baitfish and other prey items will relate to the shade they create. As a result, bass will be under the canopy of green as well. Simonson Photo)