Panfish in the Pads
By: Bob Bohland
This winter has me going a little stir-crazy, so I thought i would share some open water panfish tips.
Wide swaths of lily-pads, as far as the eye can see. For a bass guy, this can pretty close to heaven come summer/early fall, but for panfisherman all it normally amounts to is a dense jungle offering nothing but the ability to steal every jig in your arsenal and leave you pouting and heading for deeper water. There are ways to fish the pads, and they hold some amazing bluegills and crappies, but it takes a little bit of patience, the ability to improvise, and being ok with catching a few bass along the way.
I discovered this tactic more by sheer annoyance and curiosity than anything else. I was walking a Pad-Crasher through a lily-pad bed one day and was being harassed by consistent little smacks and swipes at my bait. Having a few panfish rods in the boat from earlier in the day, I had to make my way in further to find out what found my topwater so interesting. Going further into the pads with a little help from a push-pole I was astounded at the size of some of the panfish that were darting around under these pads. I quickly dipped my smaller panfish offering into a pocket and pulled out a good bluegill right away, I was so excited and surprised at this find that I fished the presentation for the rest of the weekend with much luck, refining the tactic as I went.
First things first you are gonna need at least two rods in your boat, a good baitcaster rigged up with some super-heavy line and a topwater frog or mouse, and a long panfish rod, (a fly-rod makes a great stand-in if you don’t have a long pannie rod) the longer the better. I prefer at least 7 feet, but there are telescoping rods from a variety of companies that extend to twenty feet. The longer your rod the easier it is to place your bait exactly where you want it and extract the fish once you have it hooked. Cast your bass topwater out across the pads and take notice of any pops and swirls you have, because that is where you will find the biggest panfish as they are not shy about attacking something big. Then pole or use your bowmount to get close to that spot and drop your bait in front of them, it’s that easy!
Don’t be afraid to use oversized jigs though, these fish just attacked a bait that is at least twice the size of any topwater you just had them take a swipe at, so don’t be shy. The problem with small jigs in this situation is you will often have smaller panfish on the fringes of these larger fish that will quickly dart in and grab anything they can fit in their mouths. I like to use a 1/32 oz jig with a 1 ¾” or 2” Lindy Watsit Grub in bright colors like “Orange/Chartreuse” and “Pink/White”. These larger panfish will travel in groups of at least 3 or 4 fish so when you get one big fish, probe that entire area for a few minutes before you move on, but often you will get the largest fish in the group within the first one or two caught before the little ones move in to join the frenzy.
In clear water, lily-pads can grow in depths of 5-6 feet of water or even more. So there is a lot more water under those pads than you may think. A good pair of polarized sunglasses will go a long way towards being able to spot the fish you want to target, as they are not always directly under the pads. Practice makes perfect with this presentation and the more you do it, the easier it will be to identify the size of the fish hiding in the pads.