Get A Grip On Frog-Lure Fishing!

Specialized tactics could improve your bass-fishing by leaps and bounds. Take a page from the pros and use their techniques to catch lure-loving lunkers. (April 2008)

A frog lure's double-hook rig gives bass anglers an edge once the fish takes the bait.
Photo by Ray Rychnovsky.

Frog lures are gaining popularity after some big successes on the bass-tournament circuit. But amateur anglers need to learn to fish them right.

I've caught a number of bass on frog imitations, interviewed frog-fishing expert Bobby Barrack and fished frog lures with bass pro Don Payne and record-bass catcher Galen Jensen. Here's what they tell me is key to catching big fish with frogs.

BUILT TO CATCH
A frog is the lure to fish in heavy cover. It's particularly good when the surface of the water is matted with overgrowth.

Most frog lures are virtually weedless. The points of a large double hook curve up on each side of the frog's soft-plastic body. The frog has a small weight at the bottom near the back of the lure to keep it upright so that the hooks are up off the cover.

Its body extends slightly above the points of the hooks, and the lure slides over and through cover, keeping the hooks from catching on anything.

Its soft-plastic body is hollow and is easily compressed. When a bass bites down to capture it, the body collapses and the hooks are exposed to make a deep, solid hookset.

Once these large double hooks are embedded in the fish's jaw, they don't come out.

WHERE TO FISH FROGS
Shallow lakes or slow-flowing rivers are the best places. Also, lakes, farm ponds, river deltas all offer good opportunities to fish a frog.

Pitch it into the open spot in lily pads or hydrilla and get ready.

You only have one chance to make a good cast, said Barrack, a guide and bass pro who has won nine bass boats by fishing frogs in tournaments. That means don't miss the open spot and minimize your splash. If you miss, the bass will be alerted. Frogs don't fly away and then come back, and they'll know that yours isn't natural.

Big fish are smart and will avoid an unnatural bait or lure.

You probably will not find these shallow-water predator fish on an area of a lake with deep rock canyons that drop off quickly to deep water. Fish here aren't likely to take a surface lure. Likewise, fast-flowing rivers don't provide the meandering water for bass to hang out in and don't have the downed trees and vegetation found in backwaters that attract shallow bass.

But shallow lakes and stagnant backwaters in rivers that have lots of vegetation are the classic places to fish these lures.

The Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta is one of the West's premier bass fishing areas. Clear Lake, north of San Francisco, is shallow and has the vegetation that makes it a great bass lake, one of the best in the world -- and a great frogging lake.

Don Pedro Reservoir east of Modesto, Oregon's John Day River, Ten Mile Lakes and Umpqua River, and Washington's Bank Lake are among the many waters that have good frog fishing.

Small lakes and farm ponds everywhere are shallow, usually have frogs and are great places to fish a floating frog imitation.

While the classic frog water has lots of cover, Barrack said to fish open water as well -- he estimates that he catches 70 percent of his frog-caught fish in open waters. The shady side of a dock is a great place to fish them.

WHEN TO THROW A FROG
There is a misconception that frog-fishing is good only in the hot summer months. The very best times to fish this bait are July and August afternoons all the way to sunset. But in Northern California, pros say, it's also good from the beginning of March to the end of September.

Southern California lakes have a longer season. In Oregon and Washington, the best fishing is from April into September.

BASS YOU'LL WANT TO TARGET
Frogs are perfect for largemouth bass. These shallow-swimming fish are often found in water that is only 2 to 4 feet deep, and they know exactly what is happening on the surface.

Larger bass can engulf a decent-sized frog, and they have learned that their easiest meal often comes from the surface. When you tie on a frog, you're fishing for the largest bass you have ever caught, said Barrack.

But smallmouth and spotted bass will also take a frog lure.

When I grew up and learned to fly-fish, my first target was bass, using popper lures. I fished lakes, occasionally going for largemouths, but I mostly waded or floated rivers fishing for smallmouths. A frog-colored popper was a favorite.

When you cast frog imitations to shore, you attract smallmouth bass. Spotted bass go deeper, but surface lures of all types attract them when the water is warm and they are near the surface.

I once fished a green plastic frog with black spots in a fishing hole called the Tractor Pond in mid-October. Along with a submerged tractor, there are big bass in there. But after fishing for more than an hour, I grew pretty much convinced this was too late in the year for frogs to be effective.

As the sun was dipping low on the horizon, one of my casts went over the edge of a tree, and a limb caught the line. I popped the frog and the line over the limb so that it jumped forward and splashed back down into the water.

A big swirl greeted the lure as it hit the water, but it was still floating. I paused a moment then popped it forward again. This time, there was another big swirl, and the fish was pulling the line from the tree.

I reeled my conventional rotating-spool reel as fast as I could to take up the slack. Then I set the hook, but was sure I hadn't gotten a good hookset. I just hoped the heavy tension I was applying would finish burying the hooks into its jaw.

The fish swam away, but came toward the surface. I got a good view of it and estimated it at about 4 pounds. But I'd never know for sure because the hooks finally pulled out.

Still, it only goes to show that fish can be caught on frogs late in the year, after most people quit usin

g them.

TECHNIQUES
Longtime bass pro Don Payne's favorite frogging water is a narrow ribbon next to a shore that's covered in moss and weeds. He casts to the open water and start "walking the frog" on the open water.

Walking The Frog
"When your frog gets to the edge of the cover, you want the frog to move mostly sideways back and forth," Payne said, casting onto a lake to show how he makes the quick, short snap of the end of the rod.

The lure moves mostly laterally. These are short rips, moving the lure only a few inches at a time. That keeps the lure in the strike zone as long as possible.

When you are fishing heavy cover, Payne said, the frog is on the top of the mat, but the fish knows it is there and may try to bust through the moss.

Sometimes a bass will leave little "hills" in the cover where it tried to charge through the canopy. When the frog gets to thin cover, get ready. That bass is going to explode onto the frog.

When water temperature is cool, fish the frog slowly. When it warms, speed up your retrieve.

Everyone seems to have a slightly different way to fish a frog. When I fished with Galen Jensen -- who caught the largest bass ever recorded from the California Delta -- we cast frogs into the tules. We looked for lanes in the tules where the frog would be in open water for part of the time. Jensen walked his frog in the typical side-to-side motion through these lanes.

In mid-afternoon, we started fishing with spinners, but changed back to frogs as the sun began to sink low on the horizon. We caught a few bass on frogs, although we also caught them on spinnerbaits, too.

Don't think mornings or evenings are the only time to catch fish with frogs. Bass tournament anglers catch fish with frogs all day. During the warmer part of the day, bass will seek out shade. Look for those shady spots to use frogs or other surface lures during the day.

Pitching A Frog
With frogs, pitching is a particularly good technique. The lure lands on the water with a minimum amount of surface disturbance. The low-swinging cast of pitching drops the lure gently on the water.

A 15-yard cast will cover most of the spots you want to fish, and a 20- to 30-yard cast covers almost every situation.

"Throw the frog back into heavy cover, weeds, overhanging branches, behind downed trees," said Barrack.

You could also walk it along the edge of hydrilla. Pitching it under docks or into tules is also a good place to put it.

"Be ready for an explosion," said Barrack. He picks up the rod with a frog tied on whenever he wants to catch big bass.

TACKLE
Frogs are virtually weedless, so you can fish them in heavy cover. You may need to pull a big fish out of a brushpile, so use very heavy tackle and strong line. Use a heavy or medium-heavy 7- to 8-foot long rod and a reliable conventional revolving-spool reel.

The reel must have a good drag, and it must be set tight. Most spinning reels don't have the oomph needed to pull a big bass out of heavy cover.

The long rod helps make long pitches. It also takes up line quickly so you could get a good hookset. This is especially important when the bass swims toward you on the pick-up, as they often do. The heavy rod helps with the hookset, too, but also gives you the backbone to pull a large bass from the heavy cover.

"I'll break off large bass on the hookset if I drop down to 30-pound-test line," said Barrack. "So I spool up with 50-pound-test Spectra line."

Other knowledgeable anglers drop down to a still-hefty 30-pound line, while some bump it up to 65-pound-test line. But they all use Spectra line.

Monofilament line gives too much, and it won't allow you to get the required solid hookset. You need to try to cross the fish's eyes on the hookset. Monofilament won't give that to you.

These lures have large double hooks that get a lot of purchase in a fish's jaw. You can really manhandle it out of heavy cover then, but it requires a good jerk to drive the hook in past the barbs.

Use dark-colored line to match the stained water where you find bass. Galen Jensen showed me how he marks the last 6 feet of the Spectra with a black felt-tip marker to reduce its visibility. A dark green or other dark-colored line is a good hue to keep visibility low in typically stained bass water.

AIN'T EASY BEING GREEN
Frogs' natural color is green or dark brown. They may have various colors on their underside, but brighter-color plastic frogs seem to work better than natural colors. White or yellow are also good colors.

Some frogs have spots on their backs, but the fish never sees them. The color on the bottom is what's important. One angler I talked with dots the belly of the frog with colored Sharpie marker.

Most soft-bait manufacturers make frog imitations. The dominant ones in the West are the ones with the double hook around the body. Snag Proof makes a Pro Series Tournament Frog as well as Bobby's Perfect Frog, which is Bobby Barrack's modification with their thighs cut off.

Some anglers prefer a lure made by SPRO. Mann's also makes good frog lures.

The normal weight of these lures is about a half ounce, but a large one may weigh 1 ounce. The smallest ones weigh 3/8 of an ounce.

Learn how to fish a frog lure, and your catch of large bass can take off. Fish in the obvious places like heavy cover, but also cast it into open water and along docks. You will find these lures to be very versatile.

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