Stake out the stems

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Cast the right bait into an area of pad stems and you'll often see the stems parting as a big fish makes its way toward your offering.

Gone are the greenish canopies that provide shady solace during hot summer days, but don’t assume a pad field’s appeal lies solely in its overhead cover. Come the prespawn, the stalky remains play big for staging bass. 

When vast fields of lily pads shrivel during winter, their vanishing canopies leave only the skeletal remains of what anglers simply call "pad stems." Lacking the overhead cover, these areas lose much of the shade that bass seek during the hotter times. 

Late winter-early spring, however, finds fish relating to shallow cover near their spawning destinations. Here, fish find warmth in the darker vegetation, along with last-minute feeding opportunities. Cast the right bait into this zone and you'll often see the stems parting as a big fish makes its way toward your offering.

“Usually, that’s one of the few types of cover that remains through the winter,” Elite angler Keith Combs said of the pad stems’ seasonal relevance.

Fellow Elite Bill Lowen agrees and notes the broad attraction: “I think anywhere in the country that’s a good option. I think those areas where pad stems are growing have a darker, muckier bottom and that stuff warms up faster.”

Influencing factors

Obviously, sunny days fuel that heating blanket effect, while also cracking the whip on prespawn advancement. Conversely, while a cold front tempers the fish’s aggression, declining temperatures amplify the habitat’s appeal.

Consider, also, how the wind cold fronts bring will impact the fish. During the 2020 the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Floridas Kissimmee Chain, Scott Martin found that the fish he’d been targeting amid pad stems vacated the habitat when a big Day 3 wind created a harsh, whipping environment.

“Wind also stirs up the soft bottom where those pads grow, and it’s worst in Florida,” Combs said. “When you get a big wind in Florida, you get debris-filled water. It’s not just a stain — all that decayed vegetation gets stirred up, and the fish don’t like that.