Think of a hollow-bodied frog.
Made for fishing across heavy cover, this soft, hollow-bodied, double-hook design has become a favorite for anglers targeting larger-than-average-sized bass across the country. There is something about the bulbous shape and skirted tails trailing behind that seems to draw the ire of bass around cover. Quite often, it is the big ones that respond.
The "frog" has largely been pigeonholed as a lure for matted grass or algae. Drive around many lakes from June through September and any stretch of topped-out grass or moss will have numerous “tracks” or trails across it from anglers dragging their weedless offering across the top in search of strikes. A track with an opening, and a larger trough on the other side means that an angler successfully drew a strike and drug a bass from its lair.
For native Californian and longtime professional angler Ish Monroe, that scene has been a staple of his career. Monroe has won more money, more events and had more famous moments on a frog than just about anyone in professional fishing. The nine-time national tournament winner said anglers who only use the frog that time of the year are missing out.
"A frog is a great big-fish lure just about any time the fish are shallow," said Monroe. "In fact, one of my favorite times of the year to throw a frog is around the spawn; I catch some of my better frog fish on it then."
A FROG IN THE SPAWN?
Monroe said that he elicits a befuddled look frequently when he mentions frog fishing in the spawn. However, when he explains his rationale for employing the tactic when sight-fishing is the typical approach, he sees people respond.
"Sight-fishing is a great technique, but it takes a lot of time in tournaments," Monroe said. "The goal in a tournament is to catch the heaviest weight and, to do that, a frog lets me cover a lot of water and present the right profile to the right fish."
Monroe believes that the female bass—the ones he wants to target—react to a frog around and in the spawn for several reasons. One: because fish need energy to develop eggs and endure the rigors of spawning. Another is the need to be protective of the nest, the eggs or the fry if they’ve hatched. The other reason, Monroe believes, is simply out of the annoying fact that the lure is there.
"Those mommas need to grow and protect those babies," said Monroe. "They strike the frog because they see it as a good food source, and because they want to protect their babies from something that will eat them."
WHERE TO LOOK
To find the best water for frogging in the spawn, Monroe simply looks for prime spawning areas.
"I head straight to the backs of creeks and pockets in the spring, and look for hard bottom areas that fish will spawn in," Monroe said. "I want the water to have a little depth to it, but not so deep that the fish are not threatened by a lure sitting on top of the water above them."
As he scours those coves, he looks for targets that bass will set up beds next to. They may be stumps, boulders, laydown trees, docks, old tires or even grass beds.
"I like to fish the frog around targets because it helps me present the lure in a way that almost surprises them," he said. "If something appears over top of them, and it presents a threat; that’s when strikes occur."
PRESENTATION AND RETRIEVE
Monroe said it is imperative to make stealthy presentations and keep the lure in the vicinity of the fish as long as possible.
"It’s very important that your presentations don’t spook the fish," he said. "It’s also really important to keep the frog in the strike zone so that the fish have time to get angry and respond.”
Monroe likes to get close enough to targets to make underhand roll casts or underhand pitch casts toward them. The most crucial part of the cast is to avoid splashing the lure hard on the water.
"I want to feather the cast so that it lays on the water subtly," he said. "If I can’t make a soft landing on the water, I’ll sometimes pitch the frog on the bank and bring it into the water; the lure has to land softly."
Once ready, Monroe employs a subtle twitching on his rod tip to work the lure in a side-to-side, walk-the-dog-type action. The object is to get the lure to spin on its axis, moving forward only slightly as he does it.
"I want to keep a little slack in the line so that the nose of the lure moves back and forth," he said. "I want to make the lure move as many times as possible over the nest before I pull it out to make the next cast."
Monroe’s efficiency comes from the fact that he retrieves the lure slowly, but fishes fast.
"I move down the bank and make casts as quickly as possible, but I still fish the lure in the strike zone slowly,” he said. “If the nest is 4 feet off the bank next to a tree, and I’m 40 feet from the target, I don’t need to work the lure all the way back to the boat. That wastes too much time. I will work the lure only about two feet past the target, and then reel up quickly and make the next cast."
He said frogs have a reputation for losing fish, but that it is largely the fault of the angler.
"Anglers lose fish on a frog because of their hookset primarily," said Monroe. "The hooks are on top of the lure, so when I get a strike, I want to swing my rod as close to vertically as possible. I’ve seen a large increase in hook-to-land ratios because of it; I get both hooks in their mouth, not just one on the side."
EXAMPLES OF SPAWN FROGGING
Monroe said a hollow-bodied topwater frog has played a role in several of his major springtime wins, both nationally and regionally around his home in California.
"I’ve won a Redman [now BFL] on Clear Lake by fishing a frog in the spring for bedding fish, and when I won the first Elite Series event on lake Amistad, I caught a fish over 6 pounds on it each day—including a 9-pounder that really helped," he said.
"I really like sight-fishing and have a whole bag of tricks for catching spawning bass off the bed. But if I can get them to eat a frog, I’d rather do that, and then fish for individual spawners as I need to.
"I’ve built a whole career on power fishing and a frog has been a major part of that," he said. "It’s a huge advantage in tournaments for much of the year, but, in the spawn, it can be the difference between a limit and a big bag—I pick it up every chance I get."
Being apart of Team Daiwa gives Monroe the chance to work with the engineers to build equipment specifically tailored to his techniques. For frogging, Monroe designed a 7-foot, 4-inch heavy-action Tatula Elite Ish Monroe Frog Rod tailor made to his approach.
"It’s got a light tip action that allows me to gently place the lure, but the kind of backbone needed to punch the hooks through their heavily boned mouths," he said. "It has a handle [that] is long enough to cast with two hands, but short enough to not get in the way. Truthfully, it’s the perfect open-water frog rod."
For a reel, Monroe said the 7.1:1 Daiwa Tatula Elite Casting Reel is the perfect combination of power and speed.
"I want to use the speed to catch up to a fish on the hookset and retrieve the lure quickly between casts, but I need the power to fight the fish. A 6.3:1 is too slow and the 8.1:1 doesn’t have enough power; the 7.1:1 is the perfect speed."
He spools the reel with 65-pound-test Maxima braided line because it gives him great castability and strength to land the fish.
His lure of choice is his signature River2Sea Ish Monroe Phat Mat Daddy Frog. He designed the frog to sit lower in the water to make a big presence; it’s sealed so it doesn’t take on water and has custom River2Sea hooks to penetrate and hold. He selects his white, "Iced" color pattern for clean water, the black "Snipe" pattern for dark conditions or stained water and "Firebelly" anytime he is trying to mimic bluegill.