By Dan Wells -
It’s post spawn and early summer. The water is warm and big bass are eating often. Some of the most exciting fishing you could ever have is right in front
of you. Top water frog fishing! With a little patience, the right equipment and some confidence, provide to you in this article, you will be ready for hand to hand combat with big fish, heavy cover, and shallow water.
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 almost a parabolic bend teamed with a high speed quantum energy pt and 65 lb. Power Pro. The second rod 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 allows for a much higher hook up ratio. The rod compensates for my aggressive swing and allows fish to get the bait a little deeper into their mouth. When using the extra heavy rod, I’ve experienced setting the hook in open water on a three pound bass and jerking so hard it pulls the fish out of the water causing my line to get slack and me to lose the fish. The heavy action rod is used for open water and moderate cover situations. The high speed quantum is great for this rod. It’s designed so 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; I just believe they make the best braid on the market. I have never lost a fish due to line failure using the frog with the Power Pro line. The big braided line is 100% necessary when fishing frog. It is super strong to deal with heavy cover, big fish, and does not stretch so you can drive the hooks home. I suggest keeping at least two big black felt pen markers in the boat to color your line to make the line less visible to bass in the water. 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 gets me a few more bites by allowing for better camouflage in the water.
The River to Sea Bully Wa and Snag Proof are my two favorite hollow bodied frogs. I believe the Bully Wa is the closest thing to a ready “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 intend to 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 very dense floating vegetation. Make sure you label your frogs accordingly once you have determined where they will be used when fishing. After I determine their use I will then modify them as I see fit. First I trim the rubber tails at a slight angle from the end of the legs up towards the body creating a feathering effect. Next I will add small split shots 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 frogs 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. In order to increase my hook up ratio I use a pair of good pliers to bend each one of the hooks up to clear the small humps in the back of the frog. I do this so the hooks will not foul into the body of the bait during a hook set. However, you must be careful when doing this that you do not make the bait fully non weedless. To add color and help 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 trough. Finally I tend to get creative with felt pens on my open water frogs. I use several different colors when coloring the bottom of a frog to look like different forms of forage and to break up the silhouette the frog puts off. Most of Mother Nature’s frogs have spots and different styles of lines on their bellies. They are not just green, brown, or yellow.
The only difference between how I rig a River to Sea frog opposed to a Snag Proof frog is with the Snag Proof I will swap the hook to premium EWG, if it does not already have one, 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 and you have swapped hooks, take some 20lb 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 “shank flex” out, so when you set the hook real hard the hook doesn’t bend and you get a positive hook set. When rigging a snag proof frog for the floating mats, swap the twenty pound mono for soldering wire. This adds weight and eliminates “shank flex” at the same time. Play with the amount of soldering wire until you get the weight right. The 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 and to feel the fish out to see what color they are eating the best. I also use scent on my frogs, yes I said scent. It will leave a scent trail in the water and acts as a lubricant so that when a big fish eats the frog it slides easier inside the fish’s mouth when setting the hook. This allows for better hook penetration.
Now we have the right rods, reels, and frogs. Let’s get down and dirty with what to look for.
The cheese mats are easy to see and fish, what separates a good mat from a bad mat is hard to see! A good mat has deep water nearby and a good food source within. Depth is always relative; in the north end of Clear Lake a two foot drop somewhere close to the mat will do the job, 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 small sucking sounds Bluegill often make under a mat, as well as schools of bait roaming nearby. These are “live areas” that have bait and bass.
A weed mat is a living thing
The mat will often become most active in the middle of the day when the sun is high, the mats give off oxygen and provide more 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. Bass use these weeds as much, if not more, than normal “cheese mats”.
Open water is the most over looked aspect of frog fishing. These baits catch giant bass in small tulle pockets, between weed lines and the bank or also known as the buffer zone, trees, brush and the underside of docks. My very 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 look for areas that are alive with bait fish and other wildlife. These are fertile areas bass like to live in and ambush prey from. Fish the tulle points and small pockets near theses places; the biggest fish get the best cover in these areas. One of the best locations within these tulles 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 very 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 tulle clump about five feet out away from the main tulle berm in three to four feet of deeper water. That fish has a place to suspend and recover while being able to ambush food then quickly retreat down to 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 it easier to catch them on a frog.
The frog is not only for the Delta and Clear Lake. Any body of water that has heavy cover will produce frog fish. Many times in reservoirs you can find floating debris mats, flooded willows, and other brush, small weed patches or algae blooms. All these different 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 a low water year and during the fall draw down old timber lines will come out of the water creating great frog opportunities.
Bringing Kermit to life
There are two regular ways to work a frog. “Walking the frog” and the “nose bob”. 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. This retrieve is very simple. 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 each twitch. This is a good retrieve when the fish are very active. I will often use this retrieve with a stop and go action. Nose bob the frog for 3 feet and pause for a couple seconds, if the fish are in a very aggressive mood they will eat the frog while it’s moving. If they are a little sluggish they will eat when the frog is in a paused state. This is a great retrieve for covering lots of water to find active fish.
Walking the frog is a little more difficult to do, but I do believe that day in and day out 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, almost like you were rippin. The rod action is very similar to that of working a spook only with a little more subtlety. Make small sharp twitches with your rod tip and throw slack back towards the frog in between twitches. Putting slack back in the line between twitches is very important because it will allow the frog time to turn from side to side. If you do not put slack back in the line, the frog will just come towards you kind of doing the nose bob. Using the small sharp rod tip movement is also important. You can overpower the frog by using big aggressive twitches like you would with a spook. Every frog will be a little different and require a slightly lighter or harder twitch to walk properly, just keep playing with it till you find just the right amount of twitch for that frog.
While throwing the frog on top of mats I will use the “nose bob” retrieve only in short bursts, usually about 6 inches to a foot and try to “walk the frog” through any open pocket I can get my frog to come across. While retrieving the frog on top of mats try to make the nose of the frog make a slapping noise, this can usually be done with the “nose bob” retrieve. If done correctly you will hear a little smack every time you make that twitch and the frog moves forward. This just makes a little noise so the bass can hone in on it.
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 mechanics of frog fishing
You will always hear anglers talk about how they lost a big fish using the frog, or about how many fish they missed. Practicing good mechanics will put a lot of those missed fish in the boat.
The first thing is the rod and reel you pick. As I said earlier, I use a slightly lighter action rod because of my hook set. If you have a fast aggressive hook set you should use a similar rod. Now is the time to be honest with yourself, if you have a slower less aggressive hook set, then use the heavier action fast rod to compensate for your hook set while fishing open water. When using a frog, it is necessary to set the hook hard in order to bury the hooks and get the bass moving away from the cover. Using these rod tips will help with a lot of the missed fish.
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; you will end up missing several 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. What I mean by this is 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 extra energy, they make sure that they get something for it. If you were to wait to feel the fish, there’s a good chance it will have already spit out the bait, or will be in the process of spitting out the bait, and you will barely skin hook the fish. 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 firing a long cast and making a huge 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. These two casts I’ve found to be the most effective for shallow water targets.
I use a double Palomar knot for all my frog fishing. I believe this is the strongest knot out there! The only difference between a double Palomar and a regular Palomar is doubling the line up while tying it. Normally you would go through the eye of the hook the back through making the loop for the over hand knot, with the double Palomar you would go through the eye once, back through and repeat this step one more time so your line has been quadrupled before actually tying the knot. This is a painstaking process and does use more line than normal; however this knot will not break no matter how hard you set the hook. Leave about a quarter inch of tag line off the knot after tying it. Braid will continue to cinch itself down even after a couple hook sets, if you trim the excess braid right at the knot it will cinch up when setting the hook and slip out of its self resulting in a lost fish.
Rod positioning is very 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 penetrate the hooks and miss almost every fish. Practice engaging your reel quickly and immediately getting the rod into the right position as soon as the frog hits water. Practice until it becomes second nature so you are never caught off guard.
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 of all the clunking noise associated with starting and stopping the motor. Moving your boat parallel to whatever cover your fishing is another key aspect of boat positioning. This will keep the bait in the strike zone much longer. I tend to keep my boat five feet off the tulle wall or whatever I happen to be fishing, and I use quartering casts or pitch 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 very rewarding for numbers and big fish. Giant bags get caught in tournaments every year with frogs and lots of money is made with them. Some good advice is to take the swim bait attitude, not many bites, but 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 a tournament.
The next time you’re throwing the frog remember these tips and I promise they will help you put a few more fish in the tank! Always remember that confidence is everything and bass fishing is seventy percent mental. 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!