Frogs -- The Bait Bass Can't Ignore
October 04, 2010
Largemouth bass, ferocious predators, will eat whatever moves on top of matted weeds or other aquatic plants. That spells success for those who fish with fake amphibians.
Among bass anglers, there's a major misconception about fishing frog patterns. Many anglers believe that there must be frogs living in the reservoir, natural lake or pond for a frog-style bait to be effective. Others think you need to have mats, weeds or moss to fish a frog.
None of those are true.
"When you put a frog on the mat, bass don't know if it's a mouse, a baitfish flipping around or a black bird. A lot of times, the frog imitates a number of things, not just a frog," says professional bass angler Gary Dobyns, the all-time leading money winner in the West. "I've seen water snakes eaten when they are on top of a mat. Bass are ferocious predators. They just eat whatever moves on top of that mat and figure out what it is later. Half the time they don't know what it is. Twice, I've seen bass try to eat full-grown coots. They didn't get them, but they sure tried."
Depending on weather and water temperature, frogs can be effective all year. May, however, is the traditional start of the frog season. Frogs can be effective from May through the fall in most waters in the western United States. Regardless of the water's structure, most lakes, reservoirs, ponds, sloughs, backwaters, natural lakes and rivers in the West harbor a place for frog fishing. In fact, there isn't a place in the West where a properly fished frog bait won't catch bass.
"You can throw frogs on any lake, period, and they'll catch fish," says Dobyns. "I've caught my frog fish in Lake Mead, Lake Powell, Lake Oroville and in the Columbia River -- places where you don't have grass. You can catch frog fish anywhere."
Every serious bass angler knows that frogs can be effective anywhere grass is found. But Dobyns' biggest secret is fishing frogs in areas devoid of greenery. For example, while few anglers fish pollen slicks with frogs, Dobyns wins tournaments by targeting them.
Floating pollen is common in most Western waters. Dobyns looks for areas where a breeze pushes pollen into a pocket or along the shoreline.
"Fishing frogs on a pollen line is my best-kept secret," he said, fully knowing his words would soon be printed. "If you fish a frog on top of the pollen scum line, you can catch a boatload of bass. The bass hardly ever see frogs, so they are easy to fool. They're sitting right underneath the scum line of pollen. It's like a mat. They get right underneath it. There's shade and no light penetration, so you always have bass there."
And because no one else knows those fish are there, Dobyns is busy catching fish other anglers simply overlook. "It's a secret. No one does it."
Many bass pros seek out specific water to throw frogs, but Dobyns is a little more flexible. He commonly casts frogs into open water where most folks wouldn't think of fishing them. "You can throw a frog in some places that you can't throw anything else. A frog won't snag, so you can throw it anywhere," says Dobyns, who tosses frogs on 65-pound Power Pro. "Braided line is very important. You don't want any stretch. With braid, you get good, solid hookups. You want to be able to power the fish out of the mat."
Mats aren't the only place where frogs are effective. Anglers can find success pitching frogs into debris pockets of wood, grass, pollen slicks, tules and any heavy-matted vegetation. On the contrary, many pros have made a living pitching frogs in open water.
"I like throwing them to the bank," says Art Berry, former Bassmaster champion. "You need to be able to cast the frog to where the water meets the bank. The key is getting the frog as shallow as possible. Everybody knows that frogs live close to the shore. The bass pin them against the bank. You want to throw to the bank, whether there are trees, grass, moss or overhanging branches on the bank."
The point is that you don't have to find grass to enjoy success.
"Most of the frog-fish I catch are not caught underneath the mat. They're caught around brush, trees and in open water around grass," Berry said. "They'll probably eat the frog in the spot where you didn't think you would ever get bit."
On the other hand, time of day can affect results. Weather can also be a determining factor in frog-fishing success. Many anglers see catch rates increase toward midday and late afternoon. This is because typically, the water is warmer during this time and bass are in covered areas. Dobyns finds the best action with frogs occurs on hot, clear, calm days.
"I think the hot is a given. It makes the fish get in the shade, which most of the time is going to be underneath the mats. Clear is because it will put them in specific spots. If it's an overcast day they don't need the cover, but if it's bright and sunny they need to hunt any cover they can over the top of their heads," added Dobyns. "Calm -- well, I've always believed that topwater baits drive fish crazy in calm water. I like fishing frogs in calm water. I'll throw them in wind, but ask what my perfect situation is, and it's flat."
HOW TO FISH A FROG
Knowing how to fish a frog is a science, not something that comes overnight. As with all techniques, the more you employ it, the more confidence you'll have when fishing it.
"People wonder why a bass short-strikes a frog. It's because often the angler isn't fishing it right or the frog isn't swimming right," Berry added. "You need to get the frog to be able to walk. Most guys don't know how to walk a frog and they don't have the right gear when they fish them."
By "gear," Berry means line, rod and reel.
"You don't want to go have an out-of-the-package frog tied on mono line," he said.
However, you do want to learn how to train a frog to glide flawlessly through the water. Simply skirting a frog along the surface will generate strikes, but if you make sure the frog swims to its potential, you'll increase strikes. Berry points his rod tip down, rather than up, and employs short strokes, perhaps four to five inches.
"I just imagine that there's a needle on the end of my rod and there's a balloon. I don't want to pop the balloon. When I move the tip of the rod, I do so just enough to touch the balloon, but not pop it. It's just like if you were working a Zara Spook," he explained. "You don't want to pull and pull the frog through the water because it won't
swim right. You want the frog to stay in one spot as long as you can. You have to make the frog walk on slack line."
Easier said than done! But with practice, the technique can be perfected. By not pulling the frog, you're allowing it to remain in the strike zone for longer periods of time, thus giving bass more time to grab it.
BIG BASS, LITTLE BASS
Many anglers perceive frogs as big-fish baits. However, they're often surprised when barely legal bass grab half-ounce frogs, proving that bass of all ages and sizes are keen on eating frogs.
"I've caught non-keepers that eat frogs, but usually you catch at least keepers," Dobyns said, pointing out that Kent Brown once caught a five-fish limit of 5-pound bass on frogs while fishing the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta.
On the contrary, a frog can be one of the most effective big-fish baits. "I think a frog is by far the best big-fish bait that's ever been made, other than fishing a swimbait," Dobyns said. "You'll catch way more fish on frogs than swimbaits. I've won more money on a frog than any other bait."
Choosing a frog can be a chore. Aisles at sporting good stores and tackle shops offer dozens of brands of frogs. Nevertheless, many that appeal to the eye aren't effective in the water. Some anglers say that it's a personal preference as to which frog they fish with. Others pay attention to the chemistry and construction of the frog.
SELECTING FROG BAITS
"It boils down to your personal favorite with some frogs. The thing that I want a frog to do is, I want a frog to be able to walk," Dobyns said. "I want to be able to work my rod tip and get the frog to walk side to side, like you would a Zara Spook. I want to be able to work it across the mat, and when I hit open water, I want to be able to walk it to another mat. Many times I fish frogs in open water. I think I probably catch 75 percent of my frog-fish in open water."
Nearly every major bass tackle manufacturer designs frogs. Some are more effective than others, however.
"What do I think the best frog on the market is? I think the best is Dean Rojas' Spro frog. What makes this frog the best is, it's very easy to walk. And the hook position on the bait enables you to catch almost 100 percent of the fish that strike," says Dobyns, who casts frogs with a Powell 735C Frog Rod and a Daiwa TDA high-speed reel. "With some of the frogs out there, you may only catch 20 percent of the fish that bite because the hook is too far down on the body. This is because they just have a poor design. But with the Spro frog, the hook is in the perfect position and it's 100 percent weedless."
Having the frog glide fluently in the water is vital, but there are other factors to consider, too. Frogs come in several sizes, ranging from a quarter-ounce to nearly an ounce.
"I throw one size and that's it," says Dobyns, who throws only half-ounce frogs. "I think it's a perfect size. It's not too big to catch smaller fish, but big enough to catch big fish."
Berry takes frog fishing to another level, though, and goes so far as to actually count the strands of rubber used to create each leg. He believes that there are very few quality frogs on the market. "The biggest thing for someone new to frog fishing is that they need to know that most frogs you buy at the store aren't worth a damn," Berry said. "There are no good out-of-the-package frogs, no frog that you can buy that will work great out of the package."
Berry says frogs come standard with 20 strands of rubber in each leg. But for an imitation frog to swim properly, he says it can only have 10 to 12 strands of rubber on each side. "What I do is cut the strands off the frog so there are only 10 to 12. You want to cut the legs up near the base. You want to leave just a hair, maybe a quarter-inch before they go to the base of the frog," he says.
ADD SOME COLOR
Berry isn't done yet. Next, he takes a hand file and files the round weight in the rear of the frog, saying it's imperative to file it completely flat.
"You can't use a power tool to file it down because the lead gets too hot and you melt the plastic on the frog, which can cause the weight to fall out. You want to make sure the weight is flat so it's paper-thin," he added.
Berry then moves to step three, which consists of taking two Sharpie pens and drawing roughly 20 to 25 small dots on the bellies and the sides of the frog. Berry recommends laying it down on cardboard and putting its legs together. Then he adds a varied pattern of colored dots every quarter-inch, using combinations of white, black, green and yellow.
"When you use a Sharpie pen on the frog, the frog will look really pretty right off the bat. But the ink bleeds into the rubber after a couple of days, and the tiny dots become bigger and bigger," Berry said. "That's OK, this is what you want it to do. The key is coloring the rubber itself. Any frogs you see in water will have lots of dots on their bellies."
LET'S GET REAL
Berry also colors the weight black and the eyelid (where your line ties to) black as well.
"It can only be black. You want your line to be black because black doesn't show up as good in the water and it doesn't come off your line. If you use a frog that has a shiny eyelid and a fish sees that, they aren't going to eat it. Come on! They know that's not a real frog," added Berry.
"There are key things that a lot of people miss out on. Most of the frogs that are on the shelves don't look real and by doing these little things, you can make your frog look real and ensure that it'll swim like a frog."
Berry credits Andre Moore, owner of Reaction Innovations, for most of his frog-fishing secrets.
"I feel like my frog will out-fish any frog on the market because of these adjustments," Berry said. "A lot of people get mad at me because I give all my secrets away, but this is something that anyone can do. I'm into promoting the sport of bass fishing, and if people follow these simple things we've discussed, they'll catch more fish. It's taken my whole life to learn this. An average guy can go into the tackle store and do this. You can make the frog look real."
What seems odd though, is that if this method works so well, why hasn't a company made a frog that has all these qualities? "Because I haven't told anybody yet," Berry said. "There are a few people that do this already, but most guys don't know about this."
They do now!
Dobyns and Berry use Power Pro braided line religiously. They both go as far as saying that if you aren't using 65-pound braided line, you shouldn't fish frog baits at all. Neither uses monofilament line when fishing frogs. "There's no stretch and the abrasion resistance is incredible. The key thing is the distance you can cast with a frog on braid. You can catch it a country mile," Berry sai