A man holding a 41 inch Male French River Spring Muskie with post spawn marks on its body.

In the Thick of It: Navigating Weedy Waters for Muskies

Imagine standing at the water’s edge, surrounded by lush green weeds that sway gently in the breeze. The air is crisp, and the sun casts dappled shadows on the surface. You know that beneath those thick mats of vegetation lies a hidden predator — the elusive muskellunge.

As you launch your boat, the scent of fresh growth fills the air. Your heart races with anticipation. Will today be the day you unlock the secrets of their weedy sanctuaries? The muskie, with its torpedo-like body and rows of sharp needle-like teeth, is revered for its tenacity and elusiveness by anglers. It’s a creature of mystery, lurking in the depths, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

In this article, we’ll explore the tactics, gear, and mindset needed to conquer the weedy battlegrounds and connect with these ancient fish. From learning how to read the weedlines to mastering your retrieve, we’ll leave no stone unturned. So, grab your rod, don your polarized sunglasses, and let’s sneak into the green maze — it’s time to chase muskies among the weeds!

How to Find Muskie Weedlines

For Muskie fishing – especially in the spring and fall – weedlines will be your best friend for finding their hunting grounds. So, what are their favourite freshwater weeds?

A man holding a 41 inch Male French River Spring Muskie with post spawn marks on its body.
Dave Klapkee with a dandy 41 inch French River Muskie caught between the weeds. Photo Credit: Richard Forsythe

Emergent Weeds

Emergent weeds in rivers or backwater bays are among one of the three types of weed structure Muskies love. Emergent weeds are some of the first weed growth around shorelines which provides food and oxygen for fish. They are the weeds that grow above the surface of the water.

Types of emergent weeds in the French River are:

  • Bulrush (Reed) – A type of grasslike plant in the sedge family bearing solitary or much-clustered spikelets. They grow in wetland locations like lakes, marshes, and ponds on hard sandy shorelines. Bulrush comes in two types, soft stem and hard stem. Soft stem Bulrush typically grows 4 to 6 feet (121 to 183 centimetres) tall while hard stem bulrush can grow 6 to 15 feet (183 to 457 centimetres) tall.
    • Fun fact: their stems were used to weave furniture and baskets. Bulrushes can also help combat water pollution, filtering toxic metals and microorganisms.
  • Common Rush (Soft Rush) – another wetland perennial grass found in bogs, marshes, and swamps. They are often found in clumps with cylindrical stems growing up to 4 feet (120 centimetres) tall and have no leaves. Their stems branch out near the top, with each one holding 30 to 100 small greenish-brown flowers.
    • Fun fact: Europeans, used to make “Rushlights” a cheap alternative to candles by soaking the pith (spongy white plant tissue) in grease.
  • Pickerelweed – is a pretty and hardy flowering lavender-blue wetland grass which also attracts various pollinators. Pickerelweeds tolerate fluctuating water levels up to 20 inches (50.8 centimetres) of flooding that grow to 4 feet (121 centimetres) tall.
    • Fun fact: Young Pickerelweed leafstalks can be eaten raw (after removing the unripe fruits) or cooked. Their seeds are edible raw and can be ground into grain like wheat.

Submergent Weeds

While fishing emergent weeds for Muskie in the early season can be a good choice, a better one is to look for submergent weeds. Submergent weeds are freshwater vegetation that is partially or totally underwater. Almost all freshwater species of fish love submergent weeds for various reasons yet the best ones found in muskie waters are Cabbage weeds and Coontail.

Both will attract and hold the most fish as they cast shade within the water column. These submergent weeds help reduce the water temperature and provide baitfish and panfish with a break from the harsh midday sun which guarantees local Muskies and Pike a stable food supply.

Let’s discuss the differences between the two submergent weed types below!

Cabbage Weeds

However, the prime Muskie freshwater vegetation they prefer is “Cabbage weed”, sometimes referred to as “Pond weed”, or “Muskie Weed”. Cabbage weeds are a type of submergent weeds that have long and slender stalks with large flat oval-shaped leaves scattered around their stem. They also start to flower in June and will continue to produce flowers until September according to Francis Rose and Clare O’Reilly in their book “Wild Flower Key (2006) pgs. 491–492”.

Example of a young Cabbage Weed on the side of the boat.
Early spring growth of a young French River Cabbage Weed.

What’s important to know about Cabbage weed is their resilience to the current which Muskies and many other species of freshwater fish prefer, except Largemouth Bass who only tolerate it. Cabbage beds are typically found growing in a wide range of freshwater habitats including lakes, rivers, streams, and large ponds. These weeds are some of the easiest types of submergent weeds to fish in since they are less dense and allow your lure to swim between the stems.


Another submergent weedline type to target for Muskie is Coontail. Also known as Hornwort, grow long thin steams reaching heights of 3 to 10 feet (1 – 3 meters) surrounded by feathery-bushy green-brown leaves, which looks like a raccoon’s tail underwater. They can be found in bays, lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

Coontail weedbed mixed with some Lilly pads and other freshwater vegetation
Primarily a Coontail weedbed with a mix of other freshwater vegetation that can be found on the French River.

Coontail weeds are less robust than Cabbage weeds, but their beds grow more densely and still provide Muskie and other freshwater fish cover. Coontail also prefers to grow in calm or slow-moving water bodies that contain lots of organic nutrients in the water column.

The downside of fishing weedbeds and weedlines with Coontail as mentioned is its density and increased chances of fouling hooks. In the spring and early summer season, you may be able to fish deeper into the bed when it’s less thick but most anglers will stick to fishing the edges to attract Muskies out of hiding.

How to Fish Weedlines for Muskie?

Now that we know the types of freshwater vegetation that are of interest to us and Muskie, we have to discuss tactics and gear selection.

Muskie Lures for Weeds and Structure

Muskie lures are normally larger than most other freshwater baits and can be highly personal to each angler’s fishing style and preference (e.g. casting vs trolling). Yet, they can still be easily classified just like Bass lures. The most common types of Muskie lures are:

  • Spinnerbaits
  • Jerkbaits
  • Topwater


Spinnerbaits are a classic choice for Muskie fishing and normally come in two variants, In-line Spinnerbaits and Tandem Spinnerbaits. Perhaps the most famous example and one that most Muskie anglers have in their tackle box is a Bucktail (In-Line Spinnerbait). They’re remarkably versatile as they can be cast or trolled with and come in a large variety of colours and blades.

Handmade Tandem and In-line Spinnerbaits Available in the Bear's Den Lodge Tackle Shop.
Handmade Tandem Spinnerbaits & Bucktails available at the Bear’s Den Lodge Tackle Shop.

Bucktails typically fall into two categories: lures with a single spinner blade, and lures with two tandem blades. Both presentations can be fished fast or slow. The Bucktail blade’s style and size will affect the lure’s retrieval speed and its action. Often anglers describe certain blade types as having a larger “thump” as it spins and vibrates around the lure.

Long, slender Willow Leaf blades work best with faster retrieves and displace the least amount of water, producing more flash but less thump. Meanwhile, Colorado blades have a wider rounded profile with a deep cup that creates a larger thump, retrieves slower, and displaces more water.

Spinnerbaits with Willow Leaf blades are often used in areas with sparse weed coverage and shallower water allowing you the opportunity to search an area quickly. However, I prefer fishing with Colorado blades since the French River tends to be dense with structure and thick weedbeds.

A good tactic to presenting any type of Spinnerbait is to vary your retrieve. In the spring and fall when waters are cooler, you will have to reel in slower. You can also cause a rising and falling action with the lure by switching side-to-side as you reel in the spinnerbait. I often crank two to five times on one side before switching to the other with a slight jerk to help keep the blades spinning.


Jerkbait lures are also popular for Muskie fishing as they mimic the appearance of a wounded baitfish. The Jerkbait’s action relies on the angler’s ability to impart movement by sharply pulling, twitching, or jerking the rod during retrieval. There are many types of Muskie Jerkbaits with different retrieval styles based on their shape and base material. Most often, Muskie anglers will classify them as sinking or suspending baits.

While there are a lot of great choices, one of my favourite Jerkbaits for fishing Muskie weedbeds are Suicks.

A Suick after a hard won Muskie fight.
A Suick after a hard won fight with a 53 inch French River Muskie. Hooks were cut to protect fish, read the full story here.

A nine-inch Suick can often be a great choice for fishing the edges of the weedbeds and weedlines in the French River since the wooden bait naturally wants to float. The retrieval is also simpler to learn as it’s a series of small downward jerks and pauses as the Suick dives and floats. The more you jerk down on the rod the deeper the lure will dive allowing you some control to follow points, drop-offs and ridges around various weedlines. Suicks also require little maintenance but occasionally may have to straighten and bend the metal tail to readjust the action after a fight.

A decent alternative is the soft plastic Bull Dawg. They can be straight-cranked, jerked, twitched, or even trolled. Since a Bull Dawg is a heavier lure, it makes casting larger distances easier and allows you an opportunity to cast against the wind in some instances. However, being a heavier solid body lure your best option fishing with this bait is to stick to deeper water where the weedline meets drop-offs. If the waters are deep enough, you can also float in the middle of the weedbed and cast back into deepwater allowing the bait to swim back into the weeds.


Topwater Muskie lures are designed to float and create surface disturbances to attract Muskies. Here are the different types of actions they can exhibit:

  • Poppers: These lures create a popping sound as they splash when jerked, mimicking the noise of prey like frogs or injured fish on the water’s surface.
  • Prop Baits: Equipped with one or more propellers, these lures churn the water and produce a bubbling trail, either in a continuous crank or sometimes stop-and-go retrieval.
  • Walking Baits: Also known as “walk-the-dog” lures, they glide side-to-side when retrieved with a rhythmic downward twitching motion as you continuously reel in the line, simulating a swimming action.
  • Buzzbaits: These have spinning blades that buzz across the surface, creating vibrations and a visible wake to draw a muskie’s attention.

Each type of lure action can be effective depending on the conditions and the behaviour of the muskies. It’s recommended to use Topwater lures during early morning or late evening when the water is calmer, especially in the summer and early fall. The only downside about Topwater lures for Muskie fishing can be presentation at the side of the boat as they are more difficult to figure eight. I recommend instead larger circular motions for retrieval to spot following Muskies or large Pike when using topwater lures.


As discussed, being in the thick of weedlines fishing for Muskies can be both challenging and highly rewarding. From this article, you should have a better understanding of how to identify prime Muskie weeds from undesired freshwater vegetation.

48 inch Muskie caught in the French River Delta off a weedbed in deep water.
Joe Barefoot, M.B. with a 48 inch Fall French River Muskie.

Having a wide selection of lures will allow you to diversify your tactics of either fishing in the weeds or along the edges as Muskies love structure. While there are other topics to discuss such as the behaviour of Muskies, the final advice I can give within this article is to find your natural rhythm when casting Muskie lures. They’re not as easy as tossing Bass lures but some of those same principles apply as you learn your lures. The more convincing you can make your lures present when fishing structure, the more willing Muskies will strike!

Article by Joe Barefoot, M.B., Outdoor Writer and Nationally Published Author & Photographer. A member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association of Canada


Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Bulrush. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/plant/bulrush

Wikimedia Foundation. (2024, June 16). Juncus effusus. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juncus_effusus

North Carolina State University. (n.d.). Pontederia cordata. Pontederia cordata (Pickerelweed, Pickerel Weed) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/pontederia-cordata/

Twilley, R. R., Stevenson, J. C., & Boynton, W. R. (n.d.). (PDF) assessing water quality with submersed aquatic vegetation. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235938503_Assessing_Water_Quality_with_Submersed_Aquatic_Vegetation