April 05, 2012
Avid bass anglers know fishing fake frogs is one of the hottest techniques today for catching big bass. They disappear from tackle shop shelves as fast as the clerks stock them. The fishing industry has taken note, with new amphibian renditions of plastisol, rubber, and hard plastic.
They're fun to fish, producing topwater blow-ups from big bass. And they're effective, even for novices. Yet pro anglers have made names for themselves as frog experts, including Ish Monroe and Bobby Barrack of California and Dean Rojas of Arizona, each with frogs named in their honor.
I've been an avid frog fisherman since I lived in Massachusetts in the late 1970s and fished its many lilypad ponds. Not coincidentally, the first famous frog of the modern era, Bill Plummer's Superfrog, was crafted to lure lunker largemouths of the Bay State. He built prototypes in 1957 and that bait hit the market in 1960 after Harrison-Hoge Industries agreed to manufacture it. As a testament to its success, an updated version, the Superior Frog, continues as a top seller.
Superfrog and its successors were built of different sorts of foam that provided flotation and enough bulk to cast far. The soft body felt natural to a predator but the material was resistant to tearing, even under attack from pike and pickerel that love frogs almost as much as bass do.
The origins of Snag Proof Manufacturing also date to the late 1950s. After observing a boot mold being dipped into plastic to make a Totes overshoe, avid angler Harry Ehlers was inspired to make lures the same way. He started selling hollow baits in 1959 in Ohio, and two years later was in full production, with a weedless green frog the top seller.
The company has expanded greatly and offers many styles of frogs, under ownership of Harry Ehlers Jr and Connie Ehlers Fuller, producing more than a million lures annually for markets all over the world. Southern Lures' Scum Frog has Mississippi origins while Lloyd Tallent's Rat, another early hollow-body frog that was sold to Mann's Bait Company, was designed for thick Eurasian milfoil beds of Alabama's Lake Guntersville.
Frog Fishing Patterns
Vegemats: Weedgrowth changes the feeding strategies of bass. In weedless waters, bass hug structural elements or hold by wood or rock cover. With plentiful pelagic baitfish, they school to feed near offshore structure.
Thick vegetation makes bass more like ambush predators. They lurk by clumps or under mats, waiting for prey to move close enough to engulf. Shad avoid weedy waters, so sunfish, small perch, shiners, and crayfish replace them as fish prey. Amphibians supplement their diet and mice and birds are eaten if they're within range.
This feeding strategy makes frog baits effective. Anything vaguely lifelike that moves into the strike window is liable to be attacked. Objects moving on top of a vegemat can't be seen directly, but are prey for opportunistic bass.
In these conditions, bass tend to be territorial. While a particular weedbed may yield a number of strikes, rarely are two bass within 10 feet of each other. Within their microhabitat they seem to feel secure, repeatedly striking a lure, almost at boatside.
The biggest bass hold in the best spots, though it's difficult to read what's under a mass of moss. Brush, stumps, ditches, holes, and ridges attract bass as they do in weedless waters. Under dense weedmats, bass hold in water just a foot or two deep. But they also hold beneath mats of hydrilla or milfoil that grow in deep water. When suspended high in the water column, bass may strike frogs worked above.
Vegetation obscures cover and structure, so to find key spots, study maps to identify vegetation near fish-holding features like creek channels and bends, springs, discharge pipes, sunken islands, or stumpfields. Anglers use the term "weeds" loosely, but identification of species and knowledge of their characteristics improves frog fishing on unfamiliar waters. Plant species vary in preferred bottom type, depth, current, and water chemistry. Patches of one species within larger colonies of another represent an edge since stem and leaf characteristics differ and these are high-percentage areas.
Frogs Up a Creek: While frogs gained fame for working lilypad fields and matted vegetation, Ish Monroe doesn't hesitate to fish frogs where not a blade of grass exists. Toward the end of the 2011 Bassmaster Elite season, the tour visited two large, river-run impoundments where offshore, river-channel patterns typically prevail during summer — Lake Wheeler on the Tennessee River in Alabama and on the Arkansas River near Little Rock.
Yet Monroe used a frog to score two of his best finishes of the year last June, a pair of 4th place showings that netted him $40,000 and a seat at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. "Most of the field focused on main river patterns at Wheeler," Monroe noted. "But each morning, I had a good frog bite, casting along undercut banks, overhanging trees and other wood and steeper dirt banks in small creeks. There was current and the fish were positioned near cover. As it warmed and the sun got high, I headed out to the river to fish ledges, but those frog fish anchored my catch."
While Monroe fished his namesake Snag Proof Ish's Phat Frog, Greg Hackney of Louisiana used Strike King's new KVD Sexy Frog in similar spots. He found bass bit the frog better when it was cloudy. When the sun got high, he resorted to flipping as bass moved into thicker wood cover. On the Arkansas River as well, Monroe fished a black Ish's Phat Frog in backwaters to fare well in this challenging event. "There, most of my bass came around wood and rock in less than a foot of water," he said. "You had to fish it slowly around any piece of cover. That's why a weedless frog worked better than a topwater plug."
Weedless frogs are among the most realistic surface baits in shape and action, and their ability to work next to snags and be skipped under overhanging trees and the like make them a great lure choice. I've caught lots of smallmouth bass by working them over shallow reefs and through bulrush beds as well.
Frog Array Today
Fake frogs are among the hottest lure categories in terms of innovation and new products. They've been successful on national tournament trails, and casual anglers love to fish them for their fun factor. They're favorites with antique lure collectors, too. In 1897, Charles R. Harris of Michigan patented the cork-bodied Harris Floating Cork Frog. And in 1905, the Rhodes Mechanical Swimming Frog came out. Made of hollow rubber, its legs would kick when it was twitched.
Hollow-body Frogs: After Dean Rojas worked with SPRO to design the Bronzeye Frog and used it to score tournament victories, this brand became a staple. It's now available in 3 sizes: model 65 at 5/8-ounce, 1/2-ounce Jr, and King Daddy, a 4½-inch 1-ounce bull of a frog. The company also offers two sizes of Bronzeye Pop, a popper-style frog.
Snag Proof's collection has grown with addition of the Guntersville Frog, named for Alabama frog tinkerers, with a pair of short legs instead of a skirt, each holding a rattle. Bobby's Perfect Buzz, named for Cal Delta frog ace Bobby Barrack, rigs a buzzbait blade ahead of the frog, which also contains a glass rattle. As with Ish's Phat Frog, it's built with Inner Tube Technology (ITT), with a separate tube for the hook and line-tie to keep water out of the body. Their menagerie now includes 24 baits, all built with Harry Ehlers' hollow-body concept.
In open areas, anglers find it effective to work a frog with a walk-the-dog motion. Rojas designed the Bronzeye for walking. Southern Lure's latest, the Scumdog Walker, has a keel to help it heel back and forth. This brings their frog offerings to a dozen. Their Bigfoot was the first to add buzzing feet to a frog, which allows it to work like a buzzbait or buzzfoot-frog, as well as a hollow-body frog.
Two major luremakers recently joined the frog festivities. Booyah's Pad Crasher is a lifelike rendition in green, yellow, and red-black. Keeled and narrow, it's built for easy walking, with round rubber skirt and ultra-sharp double hook. Strike Kings' KVD Sexy Frog is a broader bait with silicone skirt, and has a free-floating rattle. Its nose is sealed to keep water out and it comes in 10 colors.
A major Japanese company, Ever Green International, has moved into the U.S. market, utilizing the talents of pros Morizo Shimizu and Brett Hite. Their diverse line includes four hollow frogs — Popper Frog, Kicker Frog, and Skirted Frog, sporting a pair of lateral skirts extending from the frog's abdomen in addition to rear skirts. Darter Frog is unique, with a lip to make it dive, then float up.
At the 2010 ICAST Show, Livetarget took the ward for Best Soft Lure back to Canada, thanks to their realistically detailed Frog. Its popularity led to additional sizes and colors. Choose among 1/4-, 5/8-, and 3/4-ounce models in 8 colors. This frog is especially soft for easy hookups.
Lure designer Joe Renosky adds JR's Super Frog to his Renosky Lures lineup. This versatile bait, available in 2 sizes, allows anglers to choose among 3 styles of feet. The first option is a standard silicone skirt that produces the best walking action. Select instead a set of frog feet for a more realistic look, as the feet kick when the lure's twitched. Finally, buzz feet churn the surface as it's retrieved.
Jackall Lures adds Iobee, a frog built to fish as is — no tinkering. It's balanced to cast well and perform a walking cadence. It sits level on the surface to create more vibration as it moves over mats or open water.
Hard-body Frogs: Livetarget's Walking Frog series includes 2 sizes and 4 colors. This lure imitates a frog on top with legs extended behind, tapered to walk back and forth with a twitching retrieve. With a nod to their 50th anniversary, Rebel adds Frog-R, a chubbier 2½-inch topwater walker with bulging eyes and a loud rattle.
Veteran tinkerer Larry Dahlberg worked for years to design a frog that would float at rest, then dive below the surface, as frogs do when approached. Using a solid, streamlined body and realistic legs and webbed feet of stretchy Elaztech, River2Sea's Dahlberg Diver Frog meets these objectives, getting down about 2 feet, before nosing up for a breath. Check the video on the company website to appreciate its action. A unique face shield deflects vegetation from its massive worm-style hook. A smaller 50 size (2 inches) joins the original 2½-inch model 60.
At Revere Maxx-Fishing, Matthew Fenstermaker makes nothing but frogs. Busting onto the scene with the Rock Star Frog, a surface bait with a rear prop, he's added deep-diving Maxx-Rev DT, a jointed 5-incher that floats at rest but executes a fast dive when retrieved. Maxx-Pop is a jointed 5-inch popper style with legs extended behind. A feather and mylar tail adds further flash. Rex-Rip FW has a 3-inch hard-plastic body with a pair of offset-shank hooks mounted at the rear. Rig each with a grub or buzz-tail worm for an action package that comes through thick grass.
Looking just like a live amphibian, Evolve's Species Frog and Pulse Frog have hard floating bodies with bulging eyes and warty skin. A short, custom-cut silicone skirt adds action, while the bait's armed with a weedless double hook. It sits low in the water to tempt bites, but scoots off when twitched, thanks to a flat, planing head. Four finishes match wood, green, and leopard frogs.
Soft-plastic Frogs: This category took off in 2005 when anglers discovered how bass attacked Zoom's Horny Toad reeled steadily over grass mats. Rigged Texas-style, they swim over thick gunk while the legs create a surface disturbance. Many versions have come along, with differing shape and leg design.
Stanley's popular Ribbit has new "Ribbit Core" colors, providing a bloodline appearance through the body and legs. If you're missing fish, try Stanley's 4/0 Double Take Hook, available with or without weight on the shank. It also keeps frogs swimming top side up.
Taking advantage of the supple action, buoyancy, and durability of ElaZtech, Z-Man added HardlegZ Elite, a paddle-style frog. Gene Larew redesigned the Three-Legged Frog to incorporate the paddle-style feet of their popular Salt Flick'r, increasing the kicking action of its 3 appendages. Yum's new Money Frog borrows the flapping design of the Money Craw to create surface commotion with this broad 3¾-inch bait. The Pond Frog from Flat Bottom Baits is a finesse frog, with a small body and a pair of hinged legs to kick softly as the bait's worked along the surface or below.
Capt. Ken's Designer Frog is foam, giving it a natural, spongy feel and a tougher consistency to withstand strikes. The original version had a Kahle-style hook that passed through an eye at the frog's nose, allowing it freedom of movement in the manner of a Banjo Minnow. Its replaceable rubber legs, bent to create lifelike action, are pinned to the frog's rear with a special pin. The latest version includes four styles of legs to produce different actions, ranging from subtle to aggressive.
As I worked on this article, In-Fisherman staff members couldn't resist admiring and playing with the array of new frogs that cluttered my desk. Like you, they can't wait for frog time this spring.