lily pads

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When you go pitching a bait into heavy vegetation like this, you’re not going to land every fish you hook.

Over this past year, I have found more bass than ever while practicing for tournaments. Outside of one tournament when I was waiting for my new boat to be delivered and didn’t get to practice, Missy and I have done a great job locating bass. However, there have been a few events where we were unable to follow through.

Finding fish is good. Feeling them hit is better. But if you don’t land any fish, it doesn’t count. On three separate tournaments this year, we have been in bass that could have won us the tournament. While we could get them to eat, they always seemed to find a way to elude us as we worked them to the boat.

Now in our defense, we do have a high-risk, high-reward style of fishing. We love to get into heavy cover and yank ‘em out. Unfortunately, when you fish this way, you’ll lose some bass.

Looking back on the three occasions where we simply blew it, I would guess that we missed a total of 45 bass. The last tournament we fished in was on the Winter Haven chain. By 8 a.m., we had already lost eight fish we estimated at 22 to 25 pounds all together in just one little area. We didn’t put a single fish in the boat. That’s not very good.

In all of these events, one thing remained the same: We were fishing in the pads, and some of them were pretty thick. Whether we were flipping the edges, flipping baits to a secondary row of pads, or running swimbaits over and through the pads, we lost every bass that hit. On the upside of that whole experience, we were getting bit, and they were definitely quality bass — which we unfortunately got to see before they spit the hook.

It’s one thing to go out and catch a limit of bass. It’s truly another to go out and put yourself in a position to catch some sizable bass every time you go out. For the most part, we have been blessed with that scenario over the past 12 months. While execution in tough conditions is a challenge, it can also lead to some very fun and rewarding days on the water.

We’ve been using more or less the same baits over this time period, but we’ve refined how and where we are using them. We run Gambler Big EZ swimbaits and senkos in varying sizes and colors. We have gotten the most bites on the senkos while using the bigger, fatter baits, mostly in the 6-inch range. Our color chocies are black with blue fleck and junebug.

I also think a big part of the trick is using monofilament line on the senkos. You have to be more careful pulling fish out of the lily pads than if you were fishing braid, but we seemed to draw more bites using good old mono.

On the other hand, the swimbaits are consistent producers with braid. As far back into the pads as I cast that bait, it’s a must to use braided line — and even with braid, you don’t always get them out. See results from our tournament in August to prove that fact.

While we have missed our fair share of bass in the past 12 months, we have been blessed with a pretty good track record: Three victories, one third-place finish and two top-five finishes, plus in four tournaments we had the big bass for the day. That’s not too shabby, even in a club where we run only about 25 boats per tournament.

So don’t be afraid to go in and risk losing a bass or two. Ultimately, it’s always more fun to get bit than it is to not get bit at all. I’d be willing to bet you hang more than you miss. Lord knows we have, so we take the good and tolerate the bad.

I hope everyone has a very safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend out on the water.

Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.

Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.

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