A primer on pad fishing
I took this typical pond bass on a floating frog cast to a tree-shaded hole in lily pads on a bright afternoon. (Bill May photo)

Fishing fields of lily pads, spatterdock and other surface vegetation for largemouth bass, pickerel, bowfin and snakeheads in the tidal Potomac, Susquehanna and other rivers and Delmarva ponds has been the favorite style of fishing for me and my fishing buddies in the last few years.

Here are a few things we’ve learned.


It’s a short list: for conventional tackle use floating frogs like Live Target Frog or Booyah Pad Crasher Jr., swimming frogs like Jak’s Buzz Frog Pro or Charlie’s Worms’ Hoppin Frog and large and small paddletail flukes like Zoom Swimming Super Flukes in regular and junior sizes.

For flyfishing, we like hair frogs with mono weed guards. Natural colors work, but, odd as it sounds, white, or at least white-bellied versions, often work better.

Sharpen all hooks and you’ll find you hookup ratios improve. Most floating frogs come equipped with double hooks. We rig flukes and swimming frogs with 2/0 to 4/0 hooks, slightly offset with mashed down the barbs, and attached to the plastics using screw locks.

The points should be laid in the grooves and/or very slightly embedded in the tops of the bodies.


We use mostly medium or medium heavy-rods with 15- to 20-pound braided line. For waters with only bass of the above species, lures can be attached directly to braid with a Palomar Knot. For toothy species, we use a “bite leader” a section of 20 to 40-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon at least a foot long. An Albright Knot is best for attaching it to the braid; tie on the lure with a 100% Loop Knot for line up to 20-pound test, a Homer Rhode Loop Knot for heavier line.

For flyfishing, use a 9-foot rod, at least 8-weight, with a floating line and level, 8-foot, 30-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader. Use the 100% Loop Knot to attach the fly.


Cover can include lily pads, spatterdock, grass/weeds/moss of various kinds and especially duckwort mats. Many local ponds and rivers provide such cover. Some places allow fishing from shore. I always target multi-cover places like tree-shaded areas with fallen trees or stumps and pads or duckwort. Big fish can be found in less than a foot of water in such places.


Fish the “magic times.” In all these waters magic times are first light, before the sun is round on the horizon and the last hour of daylight. In tidal waters the above species are usually more active the last few hours of the outgoing tide and the first few of the incoming tide. Bass, especially, often cruise the edges of cover in these low light times.

Joe Bruce caught this big pickerel on a fluke and wrestled it from deep in a pad field that same day.
Joe Bruce caught this big pickerel on a fluke and wrestled it from deep in a pad field that same day. (Bill May photo)

Overcast days can prolong activity though pickerel and snakeheads are usually not active with riffled surface waters.

But since fish are sheltered from light (and surface riffles) by the weeds and pads, where the waters are cooler, afternoons can also see active feeding.

Working the Cover

In magic times, begin by working the edges of the cover; gamefish will be lurking or cruising there. Sometimes you can spot them or see movement in the water or cover. Cast into and onto the cover and retrieve the lure out along the edge. The “one foot in, one foot out” mantra of guide, Mike Starrett, is a useful formula.

During magic times there may be opportunities to fish spinnerbaits or standard topwater lures in open areas.

When working fields of cover, retrieve the lure over the top, then let it flutter down into a hole, retrieve, then resume working the top. With a floating lure, pause and give a few twitches before resuming the retrieve.

Generally you’ll want to position your boat downwind or down current of the area fished, so you don’t drift over the target and can tighten the line to set the hook when you strike.

Hooking and Playing

Accept the fact that you’ll miss hookups, typically an average of half with some days better and some days worse. Explosive strikes are exciting and typical of snakeheads and bowfin, while slashing strikes are more typical of pickerel. Bass may hit in any of these ways, but often bigger ones quietly inhale the lure.

In any case, steel yourself to pause and feel the fish before tightening the line and setting the hook. Hit especially hard for snakeheads.

The trick now is getting the fish out of cover. Your odds are better with fish hitting at the edges; try to horse them into open water. But often fish burrow into the weeds and pads, and you have to go in after them.

Trying to drag in fish and a pile of weeds and pads usually pulls out the hook. So use the tedious process of keeping the line out of the cover, moving to the fish, reeling in, clearing the weeds, then repeating.

Take your time. Here’s where a heaver leader can pay off. When you get to the fish, which will still be full of fight, grab the last bit of line and leader. With bass, you can pull in the fish and use your thumb in the lower lip to left it in.

Toothier species can be more difficult, so a Boga Grip or similar gripper or a small lip gaff can be used or you can grab the fish under the belly and lift the fish. All these techniques are harder with the iron-awed and larger snakeheads.

This is just a primer.

I suggest viewing internet sites for more details on hook sharpening and attaching to the plastics and on the knots mentioned above.