By Dan Wells
The water is warm and big bass are eating! Some of the most exciting fishing you could ever have is right in front of you, topwater frog fishing! With a little patience, confidence and the right equipment provided to you in this article, you will be ready for hand to hand combat with big fish, heavy cover, and shallow water.
First, you need the right tools for the job. When frog fishing, I use two different rod and reel combos, the first is a 7’ 6” heavy action rod that has a parabolic bend teamed with a high speed Quantum Energy PT reel spooled with 65 lb. Power Pro braid. The second combo is a 7’ 6” extra-heavy fast action rod with a Quantum Acurist 6:3 to 1 reel also spooled with 65 lb. Power Pro. The heavy action parabolic rod handles the bulk of my frog fishing. I use the parabolic slower action rod because my hook set tends to be very fast and aggressive. The slower and slightly lighter action of this rod compensates for my aggressive swing and allows fish to get the bait a little deeper into their mouths before the hookset. The heavy action rod is used for open water and moderate cover situations. The high speed Quantum reel is great for this rod because you can pick up the slack quickly and catch up to a fast moving post spawn female as she heads straight for you.
I use my 7’ 6” extra heavy rod for the “slop.” Here you will need all the power your rod can give you. Teamed with the 6:3 to 1 reel for a little extra power you will be able to set the hook and skip the fish across the mat or pin it to the canopy allowing you to go in and get her with your boat. I only use 65 lb. Power Pro braided line when frog fishing. I am not sponsored by Power Pro but I believe they make the best braid on the market. I have never lost a fish due to line failure with the frog and Power Pro line. Braided line is 100% necessary when fishing frogs. It’s super strong to deal with heavy cover and big fish and doesn’t stretch so you can easily drive the hooks home. I suggest keeping a black felt pen marker in your boat to color your line making it less visible. Use a razor blade to put a slice in the tip of the felt pen so that your braid will pull into it and you can run the marker up and down the line easier. I color 3 to 4 feet of above my frog with the marker. I have found that this camouflage effect gets me more bites.
The River-to-Sea: Bully Wa and Snag Proof frogs are my two favorite baits. I believe the Bully Wa is the closest thing to an “out of the box” frog but the colors offered by Snag Proof are a must have if you want to be fully prepared. There are two ways to set up your frogs depending on the cover you fish. When I open the box I determine if I will set it up for open water and moderate cover, or for fishing the cheese, hydrilla and other dense floating vegetation. Once I choose which type of cover the frog will be used in, I modify it and label it accordingly. I trim the rubber tails at a slight angle from the end of the legs up towards the body creating a feathering effect. Then I add small split shot and a few glass beads to the point so the frog will just barely sink below the surface. This helps the bait leave a better trail in the mat and it will help keep the bait down when a fish “blows” through the mat after it. If there is intense light out I will color the bottom of frog with a felt marker just enough to break up the bait’s silhouette. Ninety percent of the time I will throw a black frog on top of floating mats. This frog is ready for the slop.
Trimming the tails the same way for open water will help the frog “walk”. You can also add a couple beads to the inside of the body for sound. Some guys like to use small bells from a craft store. To increase my hook-up ratio I use a pair of pliers to bend each of the hooks up to clear the small humps in the back of the frog so the hooks will not foul into the body of the bait during a hook set. You must use care when doing this to keep the lure weedless. To add color or mimic bluegill or other forage I often add a few strands of white or orange round rubber to the tails using a needle to thread them. Finally, I get creative with felt pens on my open water frogs. I use several different colors when coloring the bottom of a frog to replicate forage and break up the silhouette of the frog. Most of natures’ frogs have spots and lines on their bellies, they are not simply green, brown or yellow.
On the Snag Proof I will swap the hook to premium EWG and I wrap the hook to make it a little stouter. The best way to exchange hooks on your frog is to tie your frog to a piece of heavy mono, a few feet long, and then slide the frog body off the hook and up the line. Once the hook is changed you can thread the body back over the hook and have a complete frog once again. After the hollow body is off after you’ve swapped hooks, take some 20 lb mono and wrap the two hook shanks together using small tight loops. Start at the eye and work down to the bend. Finish it off with a few overhand knots and a drop of super glue. This will get all the hook-shank flex out so when you set the hook real hard, the hook won’t bend and you will get a positive hook-set. When rigging a Snag Proof frog for the floating mats, use soldering wire to tie the hooks together, this adds weight and eliminates flex at the same time. Frog colors I always have with me are cicadae, sparrow, red/black, the wild bull frog, mink, and Bobby’s perfect white. Nothing against “Tweety”, but think of how many fisherman you see with that same color tied on one of their rods. I will generally have three different colors on for different conditions to see what color they’re eating best. I use scent on my frogs, it will leave a scent trail in the water and acts as a lubricant so when a big fish eats the frog, it slides inside the fish’s mouth when setting the hook, this allows for better hook penetration.
Now that we have the right rods, reels and frogs, let’s talk about the right “frog water”. Cheese mats are easy to see and fish but what makes a good mat is hard to see! A good mat has deep water nearby and a good food source within. Depth is always relative, at the north end of Clear Lake, a two foot drop somewhere near the mat is good, in the Delta, look for a mat near a primary ledge that often lines the levees. You will have to train your eyes to see baitfish because your electronics are useless in shallow water with heavy cover. Listen for the sucking sounds bluegill make under a mat and for schools of bait nearby, these are “live areas” that have bass.
A weed mat is a living thing, activity will often peak in the middle of the day when the sun is high. The mats give off oxygen and provide shade as it grows, this is why you will get a greater number of better bites through a mat from mid-day till early evening while the mat is active and full of life. Always look for duck weed (small thin mats of little red leaves), hippie grass and hydrilla as bass use these weeds as much as “cheese mats”.
Open water is the most over-looked aspect of frog fishing. These baits catch giant bass in small tulle pockets, from between weed lines and the bank which is also known as the buffer zone, from trees, brush and docks. My best froggin’ days have been in these open pockets near heavy cover. Again, I look for a small depth change to give the fish comfort and areas that are alive with bait fish and other wildlife. These are the fertile areas bass like to live in and ambush prey from. Fish the tule points and small pockets near theses places; the biggest fish get the best cover in these areas. One of the best locations within these tules is one where there is a single log in the back of the pocket near a point that has a little depth or current. BINGO-Big fish!
During the post-spawn period vertical cover is important. This is one place where big females, recovering from the spawn, can simply move up to feed and then back down for shelter. One good example is, let’s say, a two foot in diameter tule clump five feet away from the main tule-berm in three or four feet of water. That fish has a place to suspend when ambushing food with a retreat at the base of the clump for shelter. Bass tend to recover from the spawn suspended near areas that are shallow and filled with bluegill and other baitfish, this makes the frog a perfect bait!
Any body of water that has heavy cover will produce frog fish. Many reservoirs have floating debris mats, flooded willows and other brush, small weed patches or algae blooms. All of these types of cover will hold fish. Even bridge pilings and bluff walls on Shasta and Oroville will give up frog fish. In many lakes during low water and during the fall draw-down, old timber lines will come out of the water creating great frog opportunities.
There are a couple ways to work a frog. The “nose-bob” is a fast retrieve where the frog’s nose will just bob up and down while being retrieved back to the boat. After the frog has settled from the cast, point your rod tip down towards the water and begin a medium-speed retrieve, twitching the rod tip lightly on tight line while being careful not to put slack back in the line between twitches. This works well when the fish are active. I will often throw in a stop and go, nose bob the frog for 3 feet and pause for a couple seconds, if the fish are aggressive they will eat the frog while its moving, If they’re sluggish they will eat the frog as it pauses.
Walking the frog is a little more difficult, but it is the best action to give a frog. It is very important to keep your tip down and pointed towards the water directly in front of you, as if you were rippin’. The rod action is very similar to that of working a spook though subtler. Make small sharp twitches with your rod tip and throw slack back towards the frog between twitches. Putting slack back in the line between twitches is important because it allows the frog time to turn from side to side. The small, sharp rod tip movement is also important as you can overpower the frog by using big aggressive twitches. Every frog is different and requires a slightly lighter or harder twitch to walk, just play with it till you get it right.
Play with the different retrieves until you get a feel of what the bass want. Use the nose bob when covering water fast. Use the “walk the frog” when targeting specific areas and trying to keep the frog in the strike zone for longer periods of time.
The timing of the hook set is critical. You will hear a lot of guys talking about waiting until you feel the weight of the fish to swing. I disagree with this, as you will end up missing fish. The only time I will pause to feel a fish is when fishing very thick mats, evaluate the strike and set the hook accordingly. If a fish blows up on the bait in an open pocket and is very aggressive, set the hook immediately. There is a ninety percent chance that the fish has the bait deep in its mouth based upon how aggressively it hit the bait. Fish in the four to ten pound range will rarely miss the bait, if they decide to exert the energy to eat, they make sure they get something for it. If you wait to feel the fish, there’s a good chance it will have already spit out the bait or be in the process of spitting out the bait, and you will barely skin hook them. A big fish can inhale and exhale the bait in less than one second. When a fish just rolls on the frog I try to visually see the frog and determine if it has the bait or not. When a fish misses the bait I throw in a follow up bait. I use a senko if the fish was sluggish and just rolled on the frog. If the fish was aggressive and missed, I throw my frog right back to her. These shallow fish are hot and ready to fight, don’t give them a chance to spit the bait and be gone. Evaluate the strike and swing accordingly and don’t stop reeling till the fish is in the net.
Casting is key! Short accurate casts catch more fish than long casts with a big splash. Be sure to present your frog quietly into the water and always be prepared, a lot of these fish will eat your frog as soon as it touches the water. Be ready for this and make sure to engage your reel immediately so you can set the hook as soon as that fish eats the frog. Try practicing roll casts and pitching in your back yard.
Rod positioning is critical. Always keep your tip pointed at the water directly in front of you, about 4 to 8 inches off the water. The rod positing is important for the action you are giving the frog as well as allowing a good position for a powerful hook set. Never get caught with your rod to the side of your body or pointed up when a fish hits, you will not be able to set the hooks and will miss a lot of fish. Practice engaging your reel quickly and immediately getting the rod into the right position as soon as the frog hits water.
The last thing to remember is boat positioning. Since you are usually in shallow water it is important to be stealthy with the trolling motor. Set your trolling motor to a slow constant pace whenever possible instead starting and stopping the motor as you fish. Move your boat parallel to the cover, this will keep the frog in the strike zone longer. I keep my boat five feet off the tulle wall or whatever I’m fishing and I use quartering casts or pitches into the small pockets. I often move my boat under docks rather than going around them so that I keep my bait in the strike zone as long as possible. I also like to trim my motor up and out of the water so it doesn’t bang into anything. This also keeps the fish from seeing the flash that the prop puts off while spinning under the trolling motor’s power.
Throwing frogs can be rewarding both for numbers and for big fish. Giant bags get caught in tournaments each year using frogs and lots of money is made with them. Some good advice is to take the swim bait attitude: you may not get many bites, but maybe the right bites to win. You will have put in the time and gain confidence in the frog but it will payoff for those who stick with it. This is a great tournament technique because you only need five bites to win. Next time you’re throwing the frog use these tips and I promise they will help you put a few more fish in the tank! Always remember that confidence is everything. Think outside of the box and do what works for you. My way of fishing or any other way a pro fishes may not be right for you, these are simply guide lines. Fundamentals that you can tweak or twist in a way that works best for you! Stop at the Bait Barn and pick up some Snag Proof frogs and some River to Sea frogs along with heavy braided line and go have some fun!