Kayak & Shore Fishing

Lily Pads and Bass
August 29, 2023 at 3:40 p.m.


Lily Pads and Bass

During these sweltering summer days, bass and other gamefish find shade and shelter under dense patches of lily pads. For those of us that tend to avoid those early “O-dark-thirty” starts to the day as well as those after sunset trips that keep mosquitoes fat and happy, midday trips are good. If we get some afternoon cloud cover without the electrical component, or find overhanging shade trees, that’s even better. Bass looking up from their shady lair can easily spot anything crawling on or swimming among these green canopies. Frogs create a silhouette for fish looking up and cast shadows for those that aren’t.

Sure, these fish will take a swipe at something that swims deeper in the water but for anglers that like to land quality fish, a surface lure makes a lot more sense in lily pads. Unfortunately, most of the multiple treble hook lures that work in open water are useless in a dense patch of pads. That leaves a few proven weedless lures as the best choice. Floating frog lures or unweighted worms can explore an area with far fewer hangups and will draw more strikes than live bait because they cover the area while a shiner or minnow is busy taking several wraps around a lily pad stem.

Nothing upsets this tranquil, shady spot more than an angler jerking on a hung-up lure. Even if they successfully pull a lure free using heavy braid, the whole area is disturbed. Of course, a bass boat moving into the patch to retrieve a lure shuts the bite down too. Kayak anglers are best suited for fishing lily pads due to their inherent stealth. Rather than lose a lure, we slowly, quietly slip in and free the lure. While we’re there, by pausing for a moment among the pads, we make a few casts to the edges of the pads and work the lure back towards us. This is a somewhat unique presentation compared to casting from the edges of the patch.

There is no way to fish in lily pads without an occasional hang-up. The slot in the leaf where the stem hooks on is the usual culprit. Tournament anglers often use 30-50 lb. test braid and matching leader to be able to jerk a lure free quickly and crank a big bass across the top to the boat. We rarely change our basic tackle for both salt and freshwater. We use 10 lb. braid with 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader but vary the leader considering the target and the structure nearby. For toothy saltwater fish, we go up to 40 lb. leader but believe that wire decreases strikes. For freshwater fish, we drop down to 10-15 lb. fluorocarbon. The lighter material lets the lure move, especially when tied on with a loop knot.

The best way to get your lure back from a lily pad patch, especially if it is attached to a bass, is to keep your rod tip high and most of the line out of the water and off the pads. Relentless pressure is the key. If we’re fishing with a frog lure (our favorite is a Zoom Horny Toad rigged weedless on a 5/0 wide gap hook) we swim it from pad to pad but pause as it climbs up onto the leaf. A lot of strikes come during this pause. We use this same retrieve for unweighted worms. There’s something about a worm dangling off a lily pad that bass can’t resist.

Strikes at a lure on a lily pad can be explosive. The bass will tend to study an intended prey for a few moments to confirm that it is real and won’t fight back. When they decide to eat, they will launch from deep down and keep going up as they break the surface. If they miss your lure, keep it in the area while they look around for something they missed on the first try.

Give lily pads a try. Sure, you’ll lose a few big fish to the pads, but if you’re feeling lucky, you could get them to your kayak for a picture or two. For my last birthday treat, we took a picnic to Webb Lake and, of course, we had to make a few casts from the shore. As Kimball worked her way along the grassy shoreline catching bass, I made a few casts into some lily pads and connected with a nice fish at midday. It took some effort and a lot of luck, but I got that fish out of the pads and in hand for a quick picture. Try it if you’re up for a fight.

Kimball and Les Beery, authors of
Angler’s Guide to Shore and KAYAK Fishing Southwest Florida, contribute these excerpts from both Waterproof books to promote the excellent fishing available in the Englewood area. They are available locally at Old Florida Gallery on West Dearborn, and for download at
 www.anglerpocketguides.com &  amazon.com.