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AKRON -- Some of my best fishing days have come when I've focused on lily pads, be it for giant pike or big-mouth bass.
There's a reason you can find the predators lurking in there, and while it's to stay cool in the heat of the summer, right now the big fish are cruising lily pads because the bluegill, sunfish and crappie are stacked beneath them.
For that reason, this is one of the best times of the year to fish fields of lily pads. They're still not fully developed, giving the angler plenty of pockets to pitch into in search of supper.
Some, though, can be intimidated when it comes to fishing lily pads, as lost hooks and lost fish can make for a frustrating day. Admittedly, that's a distinct possibility, but it's a tactic that you need to put on your resume.
Bass fishermen will beef up their tackle when venturing into the pads, using heavy flipping rods and 20-, 30- and even 40-pound braided line to haul lunkers out of the tangle of vegetation. It's kind of hard to fish a 1/32nd-ounce jig on that setup for crappie, though, so you have to scale back and use more finesse. You have to be careful, though, because 4-pound line is no match for the stem of a lily pad once you hook it, so like a lot of panfish fishing, you have to be ready to sacrifice some tackle to the fishing gods.
If you move up to 6-pound line, and use a light-wire hook, you may be able to pull free. I never go higher than that, but some thin braided lines may allow you to.
The thing about fishing lily pads at this time of the year, is you don't have to be silent or stealth, you can fish at an arms length from the boat and not scare the fish. An extendable crappie pole may come in handy when pad fishing, as you can reach out to all those pockets within a 12-foot distance, but pitching close range also works. You just have to be careful when you retrieve your jig not to catch a lily pad leaf or stem.
When the fish are on fire, it doesn't seem to matter what you drop down to them, but I've had success with a white bladed 1/8-ounce jig (Road Runner style) and a 1-inch Charlie Brewer Slider grub in a chartreuse color. I have to give a shout out to Scott Hitchcock, who hooked me up with some of his hand-made jigs. The light wire, short shank and small gap works well for panfish. Wide-gap jigs ware great for smallmouth fishing in rivers, but less gap helps you catch more of those small-mouthed bluegills and doesn't affect your crappie hookups.
Swimming it where you can through the pads makes the blade spin and the tail dance, but vertical jigging over the side of the boat will also attract bites.
While depth at times doesn't seem to matter, you'll have the most success in fields of lily pads with at least 4-feet of water. Even better if the pads are related to deep water. Any where in that water column you could get a bite, including right at the surface. When the fishing is slow, work close to the stems. If it's real slow, try live minnows or waxworms.
And, don't be surprised if you get a bonus bass, or on lakes with walleye and saugeye, a toothy biter. That's when you wish you wound have bigger tackle, but if it's panfish you're after, light line and small jigs will pay off in the long run.
It's not a fool-proof fishing tactic. It takes practice, trial and error, boat control and feel. But, when it all comes together, you'll be thankful you now know lily pads are not just for bass.
Outdoor Editor Art Holden can be reached at 330-287-1650.
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