The art of fishing milfoil - from a pro
Mike Norris Outdoors - July 11, 2003

I recently had an opportunity to fish Pewaukee Lake, a 2,500 mesotrophic lake located approximately one hour west of Milwaukee. The lake is noted for its largemouth bass and muskie populations, with walleye developing as a secondary fishery.

Pewaukee Lake contains huge expanses of milfoil, a thick weed that provides excellent shelter for the lake's bass population. Though this weed may be popular with its bass, it's the curse of many fishermen who constantly battle latching onto the weed when casting artificial lures.

Knowing there's an answer to any fishing situation one may face, I asked Kevin VanDam, the three-time Bass Angler of the Year and 2001 BassMasters Classic Champion, for advice on how to successfully catch bass when fishing weeds.

"Most of it depends on the time of the year," said VanDam. "The summer is when most anglers have the toughest time fishing milfoil because the weeds are topped out and matted on the surface. It can be tough fishing if you don't know what you're doing."

VanDam told me the great thing about milfoil is it's the best vegetation to fish for largemouth bass because of the way it grows. On the surface it has a thick canopy and looks like a pure wall of weeds, but underneath there are open holes and caverns in which bass can roam in and out.

"In some lakes milfoil grows sparse and in others it's real think and matted," VanDam said. "It's best to drop something in those holes and for me, the very best thing to do is to pitch a jig right through the thickest milfoil and yo-yo the jig up and down."

VanDam uses a heavy jig because he wants something that sinks fast to trigger a reaction bite. According to this bass superstar, if you fish something slower, it gives the bass too much time to think about it.

VanDam wants something punching down through the weeds like a bowling ball and says the bass will bite a jig 90 percent of the time on the initial fall.
"Let the jig hit the bottom on slack line, then tighten the line and shake the jig once or twice. If I don't get a bite I'll pull the jig back up and pitch it into another hole," he said.

"I use half to one-ounce rubber skirted jigs, but usually my best size is a three quarter ounce jig," said VanDam. "If the vegetation is sparse I'll downsize to a half-ounce jig."

In clear-water lakes where VanDam can see down a couple feet or more he'll use a shade of watermelon or green pumpkin colored jig. In stained water with visibility of only six inches to a foot, he'll go with a black/blue or black/chartreuse jig with a plastic trailer combo.

"It's a heavy tackle technique where I use a big rod, big line and big bait," he said.

VanDam fishes with fluorocarbon line anytime he fishes with a jig or a worm. "It's real sensitive and low in stretch," he said, stating he prefers Bass Pro Shops' XPS 20-pound test fluorocarbon line. "I'll fish it on a seven and one-half foot flipping stick," he said.

VanDam added that the key to successfully fishing a jig in weeds is to let the jig fall all the way to the bottom with slack line and without any tension on it. He then closely watches his line. If his depth finder tells him he's in eight feet and the jig stops falling after four seconds, he'll instinctively set the hook.

"The bites can be real subtle," VanDam said. "Most of the time on the weed bite, you just pick it up and it's going to be heavy."

VanDam said when he finally does get a bite, he pays real close attention to exactly what was happening and where he was at on the structure. There are always patterns within the patterns which he easily recognizes.

"Rocks, wood and stumps mixed in with the weeds are real bass magnets," said VanDam. "Anytime I find that the mix I know I'm in a key spot."

When moving to the outside edge of the weedline VanDam pretty much continues to pitch the jig. As he moves his boat along the grass line edge, he's got his polarized glasses on and is looking for subtle openings in the weeds. He likes to keep his pitches to around 30 feet or so.

"It's really important to have three or four rods rigged and ready to go," said VanDam. "Once you find a spot that holds a bass, there could be several in the area. Catch one and get another lure back into that spot. You may catch 10 bass in 10 pitches of the jig."

Outdoors with Mike Norris is heard every Thursday from 3-4 p.m. on AM1280 WBIG. Mike Norris can be reached at