Bass anglers are visual creatures. We like blinking metal flake on our boats. We like crankbaits that push the limits of the color wheel. And we like throwing to targets that we can see.

That's why I was so impressed when Kenny Churchill idled into Cane Creek on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson. My eyes immediately told me that Cane Creek is what I would call a target-rich environment.

The co-owner of Performance Outboards wanted to show me how to fish the winter remnants of lily pad flats that carpet Ross Barnett Reservoir during the summer.

The only evidence that they were ever there was thousands and thousands of pad stems contrasted against a foggy horizon that blurred the line between water and sky.

For as far as my eyes could see, brown lily pad stems stretched 2 to 3 feet above the water's surface. I like throwing at targets I can see, but what I was looking at was more targets than I could ever imagine fishing.

"We've got more pads this year than there have been in years past," Churchill said as he dropped his trolling motor into the glassy water. "Mostly because of the mild winter. We haven't had a harsh cold spell, and there's been no ice on the stems to make them hard and brittle."

According to Churchill, brittle pad stems are more at risk of breaking under the pressure of wind and waves. And when pad stems break, they fall below the water in a labyrinth of criss-crossed stems leaving only little stubs behind.

Although there are some areas up the river where the pad stems have succumbed to high water and the constricted pressure of boat wakes, Churchill indicated that there are more pad stems standing from Horseshoe on down than he can remember.

"They won't stay like this, though," Churchill continued as he started randomly casting a spinnerbait among the standing pad stems. "When guys get out here and start fishing them, you'll see whole pad fields go away from the boat traffic with boats idling in and out. You'll see trails going through them, and they just go away."

Because there are so many this year, Churchill expects that there will be some exceptional bass fishing around the pad stems on through March and even into April right up to when the pads start greening up.

While working his way toward the back of Cane Creek, Churchill made known that one of his keys to fishing lily pad stems is that he doesn't focus so much on the stems as he does the bottom under them.

Churchill won a BFL bass tournament on Ross Barnett a few years ago this same time of year fishing wood surrounded by lily pad stems on the edges of drop-offs.

"That's the key," he said. "If you can get pad stems close to 3 or 4 feet, that's going to be your first hook-up.

"There are so many targets to throw at in the pad stems that you have to focus more on the bottom contours than you do the stems themselves."

Although he keeps a close eye on his bow-mounted depth finder that reads right below his trolling motor, Churchill pointed to a cluster of stumps in front of us and explained that clusters of wood like this one usually mean a high spot of some kind.

"You get around stuff like that, you can be sure you're getting around something that's going to be shallow," he said. "The pad stems can also give you another visual about the depth. Look for areas where a thick group of pad stems starts to thin out - a gradual drop off, or spots where there is a sudden, hard pad line, a steep drop off."

Although pad-stem flats look much the same above the water, there is something out there that's different under the water. You don't see it, but it's there.

Whether he finds depth changes with his depth finder or visual indicators, Churchill says he can usually find a low spot out in a pad-stem field that years ago might have been a run-off or a ditch.

Years of experience fishing the Ross Barnett lily pad stems have taught Churchill that simplicity is often the best policy, and that's why he's narrowed his pad-stem lure selection to three tried-and-true baits.

"I want to throw a spinnerbait first off," he said. "A spinnerbait has an exposed hook, and it doesn't hang up really bad. And if I do get a bite on it, the success rate of hooking a bass on a spinnerbait is pretty high."

Second to the spinnerbait is a Texas-rigged Brush Hog. Churchill admittedly doesn't prefer to turn to the soft plastic, but he realizes that it's the better choice during a slow bite or when things start to thicken up.

"When I get around a bunch of criss-crossers is when I mainly pick up the Brush Hog," he said. "When the stems eventually fall over and start lying all over the top of each other, it's hard to throw anything but plastic."

Churchill's third staple lure is a floating Rat-L-Trap. He sometimes picks it up if he gets into a lull with his spinnerbait or soft plastic, but his primary technique is to fish the Trap as he moves from one high-percentage spot to another.

"Especially if I'm in a hurry," Churchill added. "I want to keep throwing something, and the Rat-L-Trap fits that bill.

"I look at it that I may get lucky and pick up a fish that I wouldn't have otherwise caught if I was moving from one spot to another and eating a sandwich rather than fishing."

One neat thing about throwing a Trap that Churchill has experienced first-hand when fishing the Ross Barnett lily pad stems is that he can sometimes throw a Trap and not get bit, but his partner in the back of the boat throwing a spinnerbait or soft plastic starts whacking them.

To make sure we were being as efficient as possible, Churchill fished a Brush Hog while I threw a Mr. Hooty spinnerbait. I thought the water looked a little muddy because I could only see my bait about 8 inches below the surface.

"Shoot, this is clear," Churchill shot back. "In fact, I would rather it be a little muddier. For me, it can't get too muddy to fish pad stems. Muddy water holds a little more water temperature, and from what I can tell, I think bass get shallower in muddy water."

Churchill went on to explain that bass normally like to get under something when the sun is beating strongly, but that muddy water gives them a little more sense of security to suspend right under the surface even under a bright sky.

As for Ross Barnett, Churchill pointed out that the southeast side, or the Rankin side, of the reservoir has more pad-stem flats than the Natchez Trace side of the lake. Perhaps it's because the river runs toward the Trace side.

"Look for something that's off the moving water channel," Churchill advised. "I want a protected area that's going to warm up. If you can find a pocket with pad stems, and it's time for them to start coming in, they're going to first go into areas that stay warmer."

In other words, the pad-stem flats out in more open water are at the mercy of elements that can push the water temperature down. Those in the pockets out of the wind and current tend to be a little more consistent this time of year.

"They'll move from the current back and forth based on the water temperature," Churchill said. "But I wouldn't fish those stems that have current just blowing through them. I don't catch them in those kinds of places too much this time of year unless there's a row of stumps or something for the bass to get behind."

So if you're the kind of bass angler who is more comfortable fishing cover you can see rather than structure you can't see, perhaps it's time to carve a weekend out of your schedule to head to Ross Barnett this month.

Just don't go too crazy casting at all the pad stems you can see above the water. Read the pad stems, stumps and your electronics to find the subtle places where bass will gang up within all those acres and acres of lily pad stems.

The pad-stem flats at Ross Barnett Reservoir are definitely target-rich environments, but all those stems are just the icing on the cake.