By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Brandon McMillan has plenty of experience deciphering between a good group of lily pads and an unproductive set. He has his Florida roots to thank for that. Knowing the difference between the two can be the difference between fishing miles of dead water or catching a 20-pound stringer or better.
Knowing Good from Bad
In Florida, it’s especially tricky when looking for good pads due to all of the siltation and dead weeds that sometimes can coat the bottom due to die-off and spraying. When largemouth fan out and make their nest, McMillan knows that a hard bottom with shells is a bonus as pad growth flourishes there.
“I like to key on isolated pads,” McMillan said. “A lot of times they get really thick and the fish might be in there but you can’t maneuver around them effectively. There are so many targets you could put your Power-Poles down and never hit the same pad for 2 hours. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Instead, McMillan prefers to fish clumps of pads spread out as they represent concise targets that spawning largemouth will relate to. As long as they have some water beneath them and there is a foot or more of visibility, McMillan is good to go.
As largemouth spawn and relate to the base of isolated pad stems, it’s imperative the bait falls right to the bottom and not hit the leaf or stem on the way down, McMillan says. It’s hard enough to catch these wary bass during the spawn – there’s no sense in spooking them.
“That’s the key to flipping, you have to make the right presentation,” McMillan added. “If I can pitch it in there and get it as close as I can and never make a ripple on the water, that is the perfect flip for me.”
McMillan doesn’t believe in rattles, scent, or low-vis clothing – all he’s concerned with is putting the bait in the right place.
“If you pay real close attention, when you flip in there you can see the pad kind of shake,” McMillan said. “They are laying so close to those roots, when they swim off or move, you could see the whole thing kind of tick.”
Once the pad shakes, he’s swinging on it because either he spooked or hooked the fish. There’s no need to double-check if it’s an actual fish because they might spit the bait.
“If you are flipping a 1 1/2- to 2-ounce sinker, that’s a lot of weight in their mouth, it must feel unnatural,” McMillan said.
When setting the hook, he’ll reel down and use a sweeping motion. Both of his G. Loomis flipping sticks are only a 4-power and lighter than most anglers use.
“I just want to let the rod load up and drive that hook into the fish’s mouth,” he added.
Surprisingly, McMillan has never owned a push pole. He’ll set his trolling motor on 30 percent max and creep along slowly. Because the pads act as suction cups to his boat in hot weather making it noisy to move around, he doesn’t bother with the push pole.
“I’d rather have Power-Poles than I would a trolling motor,” he said. “I’ve gotten so efficient with making long, accurate subtle flips that if I can ease up there and pole down, I can fish it from a greater distance away which I think always helps.”
McMillan’s bait choices are pretty simple when he’s fishing around pads in the spring. Here’s a rundown of what he throws:
> 7'6" or 7'11" heavy-action G. Loomis IMX flipping rods, Shimano Metanium XG casting reel, 60-pound Gamma Torque braided line. Texas-rigged Zoom Speed Craw, 10” Zoom Ol’ Monster Worm (black/blue or junebug), 1-oz. 4x4 jig with Zoom Big Salty trailer (black/blue).