It takes a disciplined angler to motor past a section of lily pads without making a cast. No matter what kind of other pattern may be working on a given day, something tells you that you've got to give them a try.
And you should. Pads provide bass everything they need, including cover, comfort and a smorgasbord of creatures they love to eat.
"I'm always looking for shallow vegetation when I'm on the water, and pads certainly fall into that category," says Arkansas pro Mike Wurm. "Lily pads may not be appealing to bass year-round, but I believe they are worth checking out throughout the primary fishing season."
Any number of presentations will catch bass in sparse pads, but when they're tucked under the thick stuff, nothing is more effective than pitching jigs and worms. By dropping lures into holes, the bait falls abruptly into the face of unsuspecting fish lounging around the tangled roots along the bottom. Those same lures can be swum over and through openings that bass use as ambush areas when they're suspended beneath the massive leaves.
Like everything in fishing, though, there are times when the odds of catching bass in pads are better.
Hot summer months may be the best, especially in sections of the lake where there is current providing more oxygen. The water is shaded, hence it is cooler, making it more agreeable for a variety of aquatic life.
"The thing I've noticed most is that the bass living in thick pads tend to be more active on muggy days when other patterns are dead," says Midwest natural lakes expert Greg Mangus. "In fact, that may be the best midafternoon pattern for catching a big bass."
Mangus says clear lakes that get a lot of boat traffic tend to be the best for summer afternoon pad pitching.
"It's one of the few areas where there isn't a lot of human activity," he notes. "Bass in high traffic areas will move into nearby pads for security."
The sunshine helps, too, says Wurm. On cloudy or windy days, bass are more likely to roam outside the pads.
"The bright sun puts them in the pads and makes it easier to target with flippin' baits," he explains. "On cloudy days, spinnerbaits and faster moving baits fished around the edges tend to work better."
That doesn't mean finding the fish is easy. Pad bass rarely stay in one section for very long periods, roaming freely beneath the canopied jungle.
The outside edge is the best place to start, says 1999 Classic champion Davy Hite, because it generally offers slightly deeper water and the ambush edge that bass inherently prefer.
"A massive pad field can be difficult to figure out, but as a rule, bass prefer to spend their time closest to the edge," he explains. "The edges tend to provide more holes and targets, so you can cover them pretty quickly with a flippin' rod."
Just as is the case in any bass fishing scenario, any irregular feature above and below the water can be a hot spot. Texan Randy Dearman looks for points in the pads, open areas or even a slight change in depth.
"I've also seen instances where several fish were holding in an isolated clump of pads growing away from a larger group of pads," Dearman offers. "Never pass up those."
Although deep water close to pads can certainly enhance their attraction for bass, depth isn't a prerequisite, even in hot weather.
"On Northern lakes, some of the best pads can be the ones growing farthest from deep water," says Mangus. "Those clumps nearly always produce a fish or two, because most anglers don't bother fishing them."
Regardless of where you're fishing, watch for any movement in the pads. Bass will often reveal their presence before you get a bite.
"When you see movement, slow down, be quiet and fish that stretch hard," Dearman explains. "Bass will bunch up in one section, and movement might indicate some kind of feeding activity. If you think you spooked the fish, back off - or make longer pitches to those places."
And while fishing the interior sections of pads requires a lot of work, there may not be a better way to catch a giant bass. To fish those areas effectively, you'll need to forego the trolling motor and opt for a push pole to ease your boat around without spooking bass.
"Churning the pads with your electric motor will only spook the fish and diminish your chances of getting one to bite," says Dearman. "With a push pole and a lot of work, you can sneak up on those bass that other anglers aren't targeting."
Density of the cover dictates which lures pros will use, and often requires experimentation. As a rule, tubes, jigs, lizards and worms are among the most popular baits chosen for pitching into pads.
"The first thing you've got to do is establish how the fish are relating to the pads," offers Hite. "Are they on the bottom, suspended just beneath the pad or somewhere in between? If they're suspended, and you're fishing a heavy bait, you're going to miss out on those catchable fish."
Wurm usually starts with a black neon flipping tube rigged with a 3/16-ounce sinker. Tubes are great for penetrating pads, and offer a realistic presentation.
"The water is usually less than 4 feet deep, so the 3/16-ounce weight gives you an adequate fall without plunging too deep into the root systems, where it can hang up," he describes. "If I'm fishing a jig, I usually opt for 3/8 ounce."
Jigs come into play when pros believe the fish are feeding on crawfish and the bait must be swum and jigged around the bottom. However, when grass grows within the pads, a jig is more difficult to work effectively.
That's why Louisianian Mark Sabbides prefers to pitch worms into pads. He says you can do everything with a worm that can be done with a jig, yet it moves through the cover much better.
His favorite is a 5-inch, junebug Gambler paddle-tail worm rigged with a 1/4-ounce slip sinker pegged with a toothpick. He modifies the spade-shaped tail by cutting a slot in the tail to create more action.
"Ribbon-tail worms tend to wrap around the pads or the stems when you're trying to move the bait," he describes. "The paddle-tail swims and falls with fewer problems."
He doesn't like using screw-in sinkers for the technique because they tend to bend the nose of the worm and affect its natural movement.
"Peg with a flat toothpick, not a round one," he advises. "The sinker will slide better on the flat toothpick and cause less damage to the line."
A plastic lizard also gets high ratings from everyone because of its tantalizing fall and action from head to tail. You can fish it weightless on top of the flat pads, swim it or let it nose-dive into the roots.
"If the fish are hitting lizards, I'll have three rigged up with weights varying from 1/8 ounce to 3/8, until I determine which they prefer," says Hite. "And if there are big bass around, I'll increase the size of the bait to 8 or 9 inches. A big fish can't resist that big lizard, and lily pads might be the best place on the lake to catch a giant."