You know it’s coming; but the heart-pounding anticipation of watching a topwater frog traverse its perilous course takes us to the roller coaster’s peak and positions us for the sharpest shot of pure adrenalin in all of fishing. Is this the cast? Is someone watching, waiting, preparing to unleash epic savagery?
Cue the “Jaws” music.
I’ve had 10 fish days, I’ve had one fish days. I’ve seen first-shot bites and times where each attack cost 20 casts. Across the board, there’s one common thread: frogging for bass never — never — gets old.
You can, however, kill your game through faulty judgement or errant action. Minding these points will keep you on track to the unequaled thrill ride we call frog fishing.
1. Punch Through Cover
Placing a faux frog where true amphibians go to die may seem random, but California pro Brent Ehrler knows better. Maximizing his time means looking for anomalies like points, gaps, random wood cover and isolated patches of pads or reeds. Equally important, Ehrler notes, is spotting the right thickness in those weed patches.
“I think the fish bite way better around duckweed, but the key is finding areas that have open water under the duck weed,” says Ehrler. “You’ll throw the frog out there across a combination of grass and duckweed and you can tell the frog is not penetrating through the grass. You’re not going to get a bite there because there’s no water (directly) under that canopy of duckweed.
“In one cast, you’ll see your frog coming across an area where the duckweed’s a different color, or you’ll notice that the frog is pushing more water. That means there’s less grass underneath, which gives more opportunity for those fish to be swimming underneath. Those fish need to be able to swim underneath so they can track the frog and find it.”
Ideal cover is a broad expanse of matted grass blanketed by duckweed. Windblown duckweed filling the dips and pockets along a grass mat’s perimeter is frog gold. Bass often have trouble punching through dense cover, but they’ll follow the sound and vibration out to the edge and blast their prey the moment it hops into the thinner cover.
Slow It Down: Ehrler admits he often has to force himself to slow down and make tighter casts over grass mats and pad fields. A fish in open water will swim to an appealing display, while tempting fish in cover means pulling a bait right over their head. Think rifle versus shotgun.
Identify Depth Changes: Ribbons of open water, or lighter covering that winds into the back of a pocket are fish highways, so give them lots of attention.
Play The Wind: Take note of how the water moves amid adjacent mats. Wind-blown current passing through these isolated avenues creates natural ambush spots, similar to the mouths of creeks and pond drains where tidal bass position for the falling water feast. Cast upwind, bring your bait with the flow (fast retrieve to manage slack) and expect bites on the corners.
Find the Food: Florida stick Drew Cook notes that a chorus of bream popping aquatic insects indicates a forage-laden grass mat — in other words, a bass magnet. Likewise, herons and egrets balancing on a mat’s edges are looking for the same baitfish that bass eat. Consider this another good sign.
2. Tweak Your Frog
Most frogs arrive ready for action, but savvy anglers typically alter their baits for optimum performance.
Lose The Leg: The standard multi-filament leg style simulates a kicking/swimming motion in open water, but a full set of legs can be overkill, if not a liability, by extending the bait’s profile too far past the hooks. Ehrler finds that trimming the legs of his Spro Bronzeye even with the bait’s top edge gives him a good balance, while Wisconsin pro Devin Tiegen trims one set of legs a half inch shorter to create uneven drag for a more exaggerated walking motion.
Over heavy mats and dense pads, Cook may trim his frogs legs within an inch of the body or he may remove them entirely. A stumpy, or legless frog may seem incomplete, but there’s a clear strategy here.
“A lot of times, bass in heavy cover will just get a frog’s legs in their mouth and you won’t get a hook set,” Cook said. “If you trim the legs close or go without any legs, that shrinks the bait’s profile and makes the fish more likely to target the body.”
Watch Your Weights: Cook knows that squeezing BB’s or buckshot into his frog’s body (through the hook hole) not only adds an enticing rattle, but also deepens the bait’s impression. This addresses a common mistake: skimming a lighter frog across a mat undetected.
“In thicker mats, I want a heavier frog so it makes a deeper impact in the mat,” Cook said. “This helps the fish find the frog.”
Worth noting: The traditional narrow-nosed walking frog is the common choice for all but open water, as it more smoothly navigates through cover; whereas a popping frog’s concave face creates the disturbance needed to alert distant fish.
That said, poppers can benefit your heavy cover presentations with more of a surging motion that resembles a big frog bellying his way through cover. The exception is an eel grass mat, were those long, tough blades typically bog down a popper.
Hook Tweaks: Tight profiles work best in heavy cover, while bending a frog’s hook points slightly up and outward increases your open water hook-up potential. Also, tightly cinching the frog’s double hook shanks with braided line prevents the flexing that can lead to dislodging.
3. Go Crazy
Grass/weed mats probably account for the most consistent frog action, but widen your target list to include skipping under overhanging trees and docks, probing laydown pockets and imitating prey falling from storm drains. Note, also, that the scour hole in front of a dormant drain pipe often holds one big territorial bass, so give it a shot.
Snap It Up: Learn to walk a frog in place by twitching it on a slack line. Give it a short snap, pause a second, snap again. Repeat this cadence and your frog noses side to side with minimal forward motion for a taunting display that pushes lookers over the edge.
Work The Current: Whether it’s river current or a concentrated outfall like a storm drain, let the moving water pin your frog against a weed edge and just give it little twitches. Bass instinctively patrol borders in hopes of picking off exactly what you’re imitating.
Read Next: Fish a Frog for Late-Summer Bass
Splash It Up: This is not bed fishing, so don’t sweat the heavy splash down. You obviously need to minimize boat noise and keep from blowing out a spot with sudden trolling motor surges. However, plopping a bait onto a mat, or into open water is precisely the head turner you need. Why? Because real frogs are not exactly graceful.
Case in point: I recently fired a frog toward the shady gap beneath the trunk of a large laydown. A misjudged cast ricocheted off the tree, bounced into the water and disappeared in a violent boil. Bass are watchers who live each moment prepared to capitalize on every feeding opportunity — like frogs darting from a laydown.
4. Timing Is Everything
Missing a frog bite is frustrating, but the game’s not necessarily over. In fact, fanning a pitch often red lines this batter’s motivation. Fueling that fire, a bass in cover often has several neighbors eager to snap at the same meal. Supply-and-demand — it’s the frog fisherman’s ally.
“When they show themselves, they’ll bite again,” Ehrler said. “If one bites it and you jerk and miss, keep an eye on where he bit, throw it right past that spot and work it really slow into that blow-up area. The fish will almost always come back.
“One thing to consider is that braided line slapping the water over that blow-up hole can spook the fish. I’ll cast past the spot, stop my cast before it hits the water and hold it with a tight line. This way, my line is going straight to my frog and then I slowly lower that line onto the water without spooking the fish.”
Work The Scum: Take a cue from previous visitors. A mat with “frog tracks” — long lines cut into the surface scum — means the spot was good enough to attract attention, while blow-up holes or drag marks where a caught fish plowed across the mat increase the appeal.
The catch-22 pits the allure of a promising spot with the potential of wasting time on spent fish. The key is gauging the clues. Do the tracks, holes or drag marks look fresh? Are the edges clean or have they started to fill in and fragment? The latter means the spot has likely settled enough for Round 2.
There Are Always More: Never assume the commotion of hauling a bass from the mat will stymie that particular area. Cook and I recently fished a 10-foot-wide grass mat honey hole that yielded seven solid fish out of 15 bites. Okay, he caught five of them, but the point stands — when the bite is on, a sweet spot, like the lightly covered lagoon tucked behind an isolated strip of pads, will be packed with opportunistic fish aggressively competing for each meal.
My biggest fish with Cook smoked the frog and let go when I snatched too soon. The bait flew across that small patch of pads and the second it landed, another blow up — maybe the same fish, maybe a competitor — frothed the water and loaded my rod.
Let It Rest: If peppering a likely spot from different angles fails to draw that follow-up strike, fish on, give the fish time to settle and return 30 mins later. Bass have short memories and big appetites.
5. Rip Lips Right
Most anglers know they need a 7-foot, 4-inch to 7-6 heavy power, fast action rod for long casts with significant negotiating power and 50- to 65-pound-test braided line for cutting through vegetation and winching a big fish out of heavy cover. But don’t overlook these technique principles.
Get Down and Dirty: I’ve been guilty of frogging with the rod tip up to better negotiate the bait over around stuff, but western pro Cliff Pirchcorrected my form with two key points: 1. Keeping the rod tip down keeps maximum pressure on the frog and that means more matt impression and water displacement. 2. A downward rod tip has the maximum range of motion for that eye-crossing hook set.
Line It Up: Ehrler knows that wind and/or his boat’s forward motion can create a bow in his line and greatly reduce his frog walking and hook setting motion. His fix — raise the rod tip, gather slack until his line runs straight the bait, then resume the proper downward posture.
Read Next: 10 Best Topwater Lures for Bass Fishing
Control the Emotion: A frog bite’s typically sudden fury tends to rattle us into a premature hook set. Water explodes, the mind yells “Yank!”, but often what you saw was the fish pushing weeds and not actually engulfing the bait — not yet. Hard truth: The requisite discipline to hold your fire for a couple of seconds until the fish comes tight only comes through doing it wrong.
Play ‘Til the Whistle: It’s not just a football notion, so don’t give up on a grass-bogged fish. It feels silly hauling in a pile of weeds with no certainty your fish is still hooked; but bass tend to freeze when wrapped in salad, so either swing the whole wad aboard, or pick your fish from the grass hat.
Just be sure it’s a bass before getting fingers too close. Pike commonly blast frogs in northern waters and you don’t want to mistakenly lip one of those finger slicers.