Flipping ‘Foil 101 - Major League Fishing

Flipping ‘Foil 101

Breaking down how to find and catch bass in the jungle
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August 31, 2017 • Kyle Wood • Archives

When bass heads across the country think of flipping vegetation, most turn immediately to the idea of fishing heavy cover in California, Florida or Alabama. Certainly, those are prime locations to do so, but throughout the country – and especially in the Northern states – milfoil is the most common grass and one of the best types of habitat for bass.

Ask any tournament angler from the North, and you can bet they have a story about cashing in on a solid milfoil (or “foil,” as it is affectionately referred to) flipping bite at some point or another. It can be an intimidating and daunting task to do so, but the reward is oh so worth it.

FLW Tour pro Austin Felix grew up perfecting the art of flipping foil on Minnesota’s famed Lake Minnetonka where every year loads of largemouths set up in the jungle to gorge on panfish and crawfish. Felix was kind enough to share some insight on how to hunt down and catch milfoil-dwelling bass.


When to do it

Being that the Northern climate has a limited window for open water and weed growth, Felix believes you can cash in on this bite through the majority of the season.

“I put a flipping stick in my hand as soon as the largemouths get off the spawn,” says Felix. “Usually the milfoil is still growing at this point. The curlyleaf pondweed is taller and growing in the same areas, but the fish still want to be close to the milfoil. When the pondweed starts to die off in late June the grass can get slimy, but you can still catch fish out of it as long as the bottom isn’t slimy, too.

“I’ll flip foil through the fall until the water temperature is in the upper 40-degree range and still catch fish. You may have to go a little shallower, but they still use it. You’ll also get some of the dead milfoil starting to mat on the surface, and you can catch them out of that as well.”

So, basically, if you can find some milfoil growing, you can catch a bass from it. Felix says he’s had success catching fish in milfoil all over the Northern states, from Minnesota and Wisconsin all the way east to New York. While he’s never done it in the South, yet, he doesn’t doubt the effectiveness of it down there at all.

Felix does point out that some of the best days of the entire year to flip foil are hot, sunny and flat calm. In those conditions, the fish pull tight into the grass, which makes them easier pickings.


What to look for

Though large, matted milfoil beds might seem like prime targets, and they no doubt hold fish, Felix likes to take a different approach.

“I really like to fish the visible edge of the grass,” Felix explains. “Obviously, water color may change where that is, but I’d say 7 to 11 feet of water is usually about where I’m fishing. From the weedline to about 20 feet inside the grass is where I spend most of my time flipping to find schools.”

Felix prefers to flip the outer edge of the grass where some of it may top out at the surface, but not necessarily mat up. He says you can usually find larger numbers of fish schooled up in the deeper grass. It's not that you can’t find the same in shallower mats, but these areas allow fish to transition from shallow to deep or to establish residency throughout the summer.  

“If I’m on a lake I’ve never been to before, or in an area of a lake I’ve never fished, I’ll usually start on the biggest flat I can find and zigzag back and forth across it on the visible edge,” says the Eden Prairie, Minn., pro. “On Lake Minnetonka, for example, the fish school up really good, so I may make a pitch every 10 or 15 feet to cover water. If there isn’t as big of a population in the grass, then you need to slow down and really pick it apart.

“A good grass bed will have a few sweet spots. It may be a rock or two in the foil or a high spot or a point in the grass. You’ll learn these areas after you fish the same places a couple of times. It’s really hard to figure out these sweet spots without just fishing. Even with great mapping you need to rely on your own work to figure a lot of it out.”


Bait selection

Felix keeps his milfoil offerings fairly simple. When he plans to attack foil, he puts four rods on the deck and is good to go for the day. All of them are 7 1/2- to 8-foot, medium-heavy or heavy-action rods with 65-pound-test braid and a high-speed reel (7.1:1 or higher). Two of them will be rigged with 3/4-ounce flipping jigs like a Strike King Hack Attack Jig or Dirty Jigs Tour Level No-Jack Punchin’ Jig. The other two rods will be set up with Texas rigs, one with a 3/4-ounce weight and the other with a 1/2-ounce weight.

“I like to start with the 3/4-ounce weight when I’m searching and trying to cover water because a Texas rig just gets bit more than a jig,” says Felix. “Once I figure out where a school is I switch over to the 1/2-ounce weight and fish a little more thoroughly. I like to use the jig when I know where some fish are and I need to coax some more bites. With a Texas rig you can basically yo-yo it, but you can snap a jig and pop it to get a reaction strike out of some fish that weren’t willing to bite.”

On his Texas rig, Felix prefers an EWG-style hook over a straight shank because it does a better job holding hollow baits like a craw tube, which is one of his go-tos. He also uses beaver-style baits and craws from time to time. Personal preference can be the best guide when it comes to picking out baits, but generally you want ones that are compact and don’t have too many appendages to get hung in the grass. He also keeps it simple with colors, selecting green pumpkin or black and blue the majority of the time and letting water clarity be the deciding factor – green pumpkin in clear water and black and blue in dirtier water.

Having four flipping sticks rigged may be out of the question for some, but Felix is a firm believer in having as many rigged as you can. Oftentimes when you fire a school up and catch the first fish, if you can immediately flip back in you can catch the biggest bass in the school. Felix has had consistent flurries of up to a dozen or more bass in as many flips simply because he was ready for it.


How to fish foil

Certainly, this style of fishing can sometimes be like finding a needle in haystack, but Felix has a few pointers for tackling a foil flat to ensure better success.

“I like to run a HydroWave the first time I fish through an area,” he adds. “I think it helps to fire a school up that may be inactive. And staying off your trolling motor as much as you can really helps, too.

“I also like to start downwind of the direction I want to go so that when I catch one I don’t blow over the school. All you have to do is get back on the trolling motor, follow your trail on your GPS back to where you got bit and catch another.”

A good GPS/sonar combo is without a doubt a huge benefit for keeping tabs on how deep you are and where the weeds are growing, and for keeping waypoints of where the schools of bass are when you find them. Despite the benefit of technology, Felix still likes to have a good ol’ marker buoy with him.

“I always have a marker buoy with me when I flip foil to kick over the side when I catch one. It helps to not only mark the spot, but also gives you perspective as to where you’re at. Then you can get back next to it and mentally grid off the area and flip around to make sure you covered everything.”

Felix stresses that it’s important to be aware of where you are getting bit in the grass. Patterns can develop from day to day. One day they might be on the outer edge, the next way up on the shallowest spot. Note where you are getting bites, and it can help weed out some unproductive water for that day.

Another thing the young pro points out is to not get discouraged by the size of the fish you catch from a certain school. Just because they are 14-inchers today, doesn’t mean the next day the big girls in the school won’t fire. Plus, those fish are there for a reason, so even if they aren’t big it’ll clue you into a sweet spot that could be productive for years to come.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that they don’t go into the grass far enough,” Felix says. “Often the bass are just half a cast into the heavier grass from where they are fishing. No doubt it can be a tough way of fishing because even on a good lake you may not catch much on a given day of searching. It is tedious, but the reward of catching up to 30 bass from a spot is worth it.”