September 07, 2023
The term "perfect storm" describes a combination of things converging to create a unique event. Sometimes, the perfect storm produces a memorable fishing trip. Some years ago, the hot summer on Lake Amistad in Texas was interrupted by a tropical system whose rains trapped swarms of terrestrial insects in newly flooded desert brush.
This, in turn, attracted hordes of bluegills onto the shallow flats to pluck away the kicking insects falling from the brush. The final link in the food chain arrived shortly thereafter, as bass in the 3- to 5-pound class began feasting on pods of bluegills, as well as the hollow-body frogs my friends and I worked through the South Texas mesquite and prickly pear cactus.
The result was the best afternoon of topwater frog fishing I’ve ever encountered, with huge boils and violent explosions from bass throughout the day. While the sheer number of fish caught on frogs was unique to that trip, the explosive bites are quite typical when fishing a frog in the summer. It’s an addictive bite, making an angler hold out for just “one more strike” before putting down the frog rod.
Certain lures have a proclivity for attracting larger bass. Jigs, oversized swim baits and big spinnerbaits are known for drawing bigger bass due to their bulkier profiles. The hollow-body frog certainly falls within the category of "big fish" lures, too, with its stocky, compact body. Plus, the added profile of the skirted legs creates the illusion of a surface meal worthy of the energy expenditure to swallow it.
The artificial frog has been around in its basic form for a long time, dating back more than 120 years. For most of those years it has typically been relegated to being dragged across matted vegetation or surface moss. As anglers started realizing the potential of the compact, weedless design, manufacturers began focusing on upgrading that design—namely, improving the frog’s abbreviated side-to-side action and notoriously low hookup percentages. Deeper, V-shaped bellies and internal weighting now assist in initiating the walk-the-dog movement, while softer, more collapsible materials combine with heavy-duty hooks to provide better hook penetration.
In addition to the walking frog, design developments in recent years include popping frogs and frogs with kicking legs and spin-tails. Popping frogs, with their concave mouth design, provide added splash to the walking action and often get the nod when there’s a slight wind ripple. The surface commotion assists bass in locating the frog.
Frogs with paddled spin-tails or kicking legs are retrieved with a steady turning of the reel handle, like a buzzbait. The subtle "gurgle" these lure produce makes them an excellent choice when worked across shallow flats with sparse cover.
Yet another variation to the frog’s design is found in the assortment of available body sizes. With so many size options available today, it’s hard to say what may be "standard" regarding body length; however, 2 3/4 inches (not including the skirted legs or kicking appendages) is a common offering. Smaller frog bodies are not only shorter in length but also smaller in girth, providing a diminutive profile when matching smaller forage species. The larger 3-inch frog bodies are "big game" hunters, with their bulkier profile appealing to larger bass.
MORE THAN A FROG
Though the lure is classified as a "frog" offering, it can imitate any number of forage species, be it a wounded bluegill or shad or a struggling terrestrial. A variety of color options are available should you desire to match a specific forage type or simply enhance or reduce the visibility of the frog for varying water clarities. Color preferences differ by angler, with both black and white providing good contrast in stained water. More natural shades of yellow, brown and green are popular choices in clearer water.
Historically, topwater lures have been relegated to low-light conditions early or late in the day, or when there’s an abundance of cloud cover, as bass are more active and on the prowl in low light. Though these conditions are still ideal for topwater lures in open water, the frog has a unique ability to coax bass to the surface during periods of bright sun when worked through or in very close proximity to shady cover. In this sense, the weedless hollow-body frog’s ability to infiltrate thick, shallow cover is more akin to a weedless soft plastic worm than a traditional topwater equipped with treble hooks. The frog’s compact build and weedless design are unique among topwater lures.
There are three key places to focus on when searching out shallow summer bass with a hollow-body frog. These include but aren’t limited to woody cover, boat docks and shoreline vegetation.
KNOCK ON WOOD
Shallow wood cover exists in varying forms, including laydowns, stumps, salt cedars and different types of shallow buck brush. Seek out knee-deep shoreline pockets or stretches of gradually tapering banks with scattered wood cover, as opposed to vast expanses of shoreline with dense cover. The isolated cover will better concentrate the fish and increase your odds of connecting with a bass.
All three of the previously discussed frog designs shine around wood. Land the frog near the shoreline (or on it when possible), then direct the frog into the shade of the wood cover, either by walking it, popping it or with a steady retrieve in the case of frogs equipped with spin-tails. Allow the walking or popping frog to linger within the shade before continuing your retrieve. However, bass in extremely shallow water typically don’t wrestle with the decision to eat should the frog waddle into its territory. When given the opportunity, bump and glance your frog off woody cover to shake things up below. On occasion, when possible, mend the line into the tops of bushes to direct the retrieve through the cover.
Steeper banks with overhanging shoreline cover that form deep pockets of shade can also be ideal for late-summer bass. A well-placed walking frog can perfectly imitate a small bird or terrestrial creature that has fallen from the limbs above.
WHAT’S UP, DOCK?
When fishing frogs near docks, focus on the shallow side nearest the shoreline with your various designs. If narrow walkways leading to the shoreline are present, the narrow band of shade they cast is worth exploring. The frog is perhaps one of the easier lures to skip across the surface. If clearance allows, skip a spin-tail frog under the backside of a dock as far back into the shade as possible and work the lure "blindly" as you listen for the explosion. Look for docks with a distinguishing characteristic: one that’s set apart from others, one located on a shoreline point or a dock near deeper water, for example.
Shallow aquatic vegetation comes in various forms across Southern waters, with lily pads, cattails, duckweed, eelgrass and pondweed being common. Bass favor having a line of sight when attacking forage; therefore, direct a walking or popping frog around holes or creases in shallow surface mats. Sparse vegetation is a great place for the added commotion from the popping or spin-tail frog. Direct the retrieve toward thicker stalks and strands that grow in bucket-sized “clumps,” which concentrate bass around the isolated shade.
With lily pads, smaller clusters of pads will concentrate the bass better than large, uniform pad fields. When fishing reeds and cattails, focus your efforts with a walking frog around any stalks that lay horizontally on the surface, which provide better overhead shade than those standing upright.
Most hollow-body frog presentations are straightforward. Short twitches of the rod tip impart the enticing walk-the-dog motion on the surface with a walking or popping frog. Unlike walking baits with treble hooks that have a wider gliding motion resulting from longer strokes of the rod tip, the compact frog needs only short, subtle twitches, with the tip pointed toward the water, to impart the side-to-side action.
Effectively extracting bass from thick, shallow cover requires specialized gear made for heavy lifting. Longer rod lengths of 7 feet 3 inches to 7 feet 10 inches assist with moving more line on the hookset, critical for driving the hooks home on long-distance casts. Rods classified as “heavy” to “extra-heavy” offer the necessary power to assist with the hookset, as well as leveraging a heavy bass from a sloppy tangle.
Larger baitcasting reels in the 200 size with wide spools can better handle the torque of pulling a big fish toward you. Plus, they have the capacity to handle the long casts often required in fishing a frog. Faster gear ratios of at least 7:1 are helpful for quickly getting the lure back to the boat once the frog clears the cover.
Line choice is limited to braid, as the lack of stretch is yet another required component for driving home the big hook points. Braid also tends to float on the surface and won’t inhibit the action of the frog by sinking beneath the water’s surface. Go heavy when spooling up braided line, with 50- to 65-pound braid being a good place to start.
Because strikes on frogs are often dramatic, you must learn to resist the urge to set the hook too quickly. Setting the hook lightning fast snatches the frog from the bass before you have a chance to hook up.
The key to hooking and landing fish is to wait to feel the tension of the bass on the line before setting the hook. When you do connect with the bass, set the hook aggressively and immediately crank several turns on the reel handle. The reward is the excitement of wrestling with a heavy bass in shallow cover with the added satisfaction of seeing it all unfold on the surface. It just might be the best "bite" in bass fishing.