“The year’s at the spring,
The days at the morn,
The mornings at seven,
The pad-stems dew pearled.
“The blackbirds are fussing,
The gators are sunning,
Bass are hitting topwater,
All’s right with the world.”
My apologies to Robert Browning for the misuse of his poem about such a pastoral scene, but lily pads, aka lotus, and a myriad of other blooming flora do tend to sparkle under the summer morning sun.
If Browning had been a modern angler instead of a poet, and if a black bass had exploded on his critter bait as he swam it among the pads, he might have chosen his words differently.
A topwater bite in the pads can have such an impact on man.
Every bass angler has an opinion about lily pads. Some want to see them banished; others want to see them preserved. No matter your stand on the pretty aquatic flora, there’s no denying that June’s sun beating down on pads can be a magical time for bass anglers.
KA-Sploosh! “Fish on.”
Grass patches serve much the same function as pads, furnishing cover for baitfish and other bass prey. Being more open, grass allows a wider variety of lures to be fished. Topwater baits, jigs and plastic baits all do well, as do buzzbaits and plastic frogs.
Bass are comfort-seeking creatures, just as we and all other living things. During Mississippi summers, the bass will move shallow late in the day and feed shallow through the night. And as water heats and cools during the day, they will seek shelter under the huge leaves of the water lily. And why not? Shad, bream, lizards, snakes and crawfish also like the pads for protection from predators.
As every angler knows, where there is bait, there will be bass.
Plastic frog can be a Hoot
There is probably no greater authority on the frog bait than Mississippi’s own Hoot Gibson of Philadelphia. As my daddy would say, Gibson has forgotten more about frog fishing than most of us will know in a lifetime.
Not only is he an esteemed weed, grass and pad angler, Gibson invented the Scum Frog, a bait made in Columbus and distributed by Southern Lure Company for more than 30 years. Gibson has retired as a competitive fisherman and operates a tackle shop in the Philly, but retirement hasn’t slowed his bass passion.
“There was a time when the frog was sort of a novelty lure anglers fished but didn’t take seriously,” Gibson said. “Today, everybody has one tied on and close at hand, ready to cast. It has changed from a specialty lure to a go-to bait.”
Mississippi baseball legend Dizzy Dean always said, “If ya done it, it ain’t bragging.” That fits Gibson when he wields the Scum Frog.
Aside from a few minor changes to improve the materials used in the manufacture of the Scum Frog, there has been little change in the original model over the past 30 years.
“I use it because it works; it’s as simple as that,” Gibson said. “There are 21 colors now, but I still use the original the most. It can be fished in grass, pads around structure … anywhere and will get bitten. I guess it sounds like advertising, but you can buy two Scum fFogs for about the same you’d pay for one of some of the other guy’s.”
Gibson starts fishing in the back of pockets or coves and works out to the points, using a slow retrieve then speeding it up as if the bait is trying to escape a predator fish. He suggests getting the bait as far back against the bank as possible, trying to imitate a frog just jumping off the bank into the water. Landing on a pad is an added bonus.
Using braided line or monofilament in the 17- to 20-pound range, keep the rod tip high enough to send a few vibrations to the bait as it rests. Ease the bait to the edge of the pad and swim it to the next pad, repeating the performance. If a bass is there, this slow, natural frog action will usually entice a bite.
“Frogs don’t swim for the fun of it; the more commotion they make, the better the chance they will be eaten,” Gibson said. “Where you have pads or matted grass, allow the frog to spend a little time in one place. Shake your rod tip just enough to make the bait put off some vibration. Then slip it along from that place to another. If a bass is targeting that bait it will hit it at its first opportunity. If there is a hit and a miss, scoot the bait faster to another stop.”
Gibson likes to fish Neshoba County Lake because a large part of the lake has a broken mat of vegetation. There are open pockets where the bass will hammer the bait when it gets close. Largemouths over 10 pounds have become common at this state lake, but it is far from the only lake in the state with good cover for frog fishing.
Common pads and plants
“The three most-common species of water plants are American lotus, white water lily, and watershield,” said Jerry Brown, a fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Barnett Reservoir has all three, plus a few others. Elvis Presley Lake near Tupelo has a lot American lotus in the upper end and has a good population of bass. Lakes with a good cover and structure also include Kemper County Lake, Calling Panther Lake and Lake Columbia. Lake Perry and Bogue Homa Lake also have good vegetation for topwater fishing.”
Most of the plants are well rooted in the lakebed, so they don’t drift like water hyacinths. That allows shad and other baitfish to seek sanctuary amongst the roots and stems, so, naturally, that’s where the bass are going to hang out. As water temperatures rise, bass will seek refuge from the sun under the pads as well, especially if the cover is near deeper, cooler water.
“Water hyacinths are free-floating and can cause a lot of problems,” Brown said. “They will block channels and disguise obstacles such as logs or stumps. They are also about impossible to fish, but I have no doubt some gamefish will hide under them.”
Follow the moon
Ronnie Farlow lives on the Barnett Reservoir and fishes for bass at every opportunity. He hits the pads when the summer sun draws the fish to shade, and he uses a variety of baits, including frogs, lizards, crawfish and worms.
“There are a dozen ways to fish the pads, and all of them will result in strikes,” Farlow said. “That’s where I always start, but sometimes the color or pattern needs adjustment. I think every bass angler will tell you to fish lighter-colored bait on sunny days and darker bait on cloudy days.”
Farlow has another couple of recommendations for pad-pounding bass fishermen. One is to follow the Solunar tables and fish on those days with peak movement. These are most often when the moon is overhead or underfoot.
“I know a lot of people don’t believe in the moon phase having an impact on the bite, but I know it does,” Farlow said. “The other thing is to try to fish on a south or southeast wind. At least on The Rez.”
Farlow uses 15-pound Trilene 100-Percent Fluorocarbon for open water and 50-pound braid when horsing big bass from the heavier grass and pads. The fluorocarbon comes in handy when fishing the edges of the pads near deeper water. If bass aren’t taking the topwater offerings, try throwing a spinnerbait around the edges, working from shallow to deep, especially where fallen trees or other structure may be seen on the depth finder.
“Slow fishing is best in the pads,” Farlow said. “The water is in the low to mid-80s by this time of year, and shad are getting under the pads. Bass are in a post-spawn pattern and will often be found where pads are near deeper water, like a cut, a creek or a channel. I’ll start in the pads with a variety of baits and work my way out to deeper water. Work structure from several directions before moving on to a new place.”
Lily pads are fish magnets, but they are only as useful to the angler as access allows.
Consider June as a month of rest for fish; the stress of spawning is over, the food sources are probably at a near peak and the water is warm. Pads offer a respite from the heat, a good food source and a bit more dissolved oxygen in the water. Shad, bream, crayfish, worms, and more are under the pads working to stay out of another critter’s mouth. But what good is such environment if an angler can’t get his or her bait into play?
The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District in conjunction with the MDWFP, has undertaken efforts to limit the spread of surface vegetation over the past several years. The goal is to eradicate non-native species — hyacinth, hydrilla, alligator weed and others — and only spray the pads and other native plants when needed to protect water access. If all goes according to plan, it will be a win-win for both fisherman and fish.
There is no rocket science involved in vegetation fishing, but seeing a big bass blast off on a frog in the pads can be a wonderful, awe-inspiring, poetry-producing event.
And, in that moment, all is right with the world.