Frogwater

"Froggie went a 'courting," and the fruits of his labor are wriggling and squiggling, flopping and hoping, in sloughs and backwaters across the country.

Field & Stream Online Editors

This is a real advantage for bass anglers willing to look beyond main-lake bottom structures and return to the roots of the sport. That's because the bug-eyed croaker swiped from a lily pad or snatched from the surface is fat and tasty and just slides right down with no hateful pinchers or bristling spines to impede digestion.

Late spring and summer are prime time for the angler armed with frog-imitation lures to flog thick shoreline cover. The shallows are flush during the warmwater months as the surviving spring hatches mature. Among the common true frogs are leopard frogs, green frogs, pig frogs, gopher frogs, crawfish frogs, and of course, bullfrogs. Most are 3 to 4 inches in body length, ideal prey for a mature bass leading with a big mouth.

The menu does not end with true frogs. Other tidbits include the many diminutive species of chorus frogs, cricket frogs, and tree frogs. Most are small, between 1 and 2 inches, but legitimate forage for 1- to 3-pound bass. On large water or small, aquatic vegetation and flooded brush within reasonable kicking reach of land can harbor frogs and tadpoles. (In case you flunked Zoology 101 while skipping class to go chunk in the nearest pond, the tadpole is the gilled juvenile or larval stage of the air-breathing frog.) During warm weather, cold-blooded amphibians are most active amid the long shadows of early and late day. The dog days of summer often see midnight rambling, as evidenced by moonlit choruses from sloughs and coves. These are the same periods when mature bass are most likely to forage shallow. See how it fits together?

This scheme is as old as skitter poles and Kentucky bluegrass reels, and the early pluggers in wooden johnboats relied heavily on the fondness of bass for frogs. A lazy paddle and a 3:1 ratio direct-drive reel worked because frogs in defined nooks and pockets move with lingering stops and starts that could be imitated with big surface plugs like the Arbogast Hula Popper, Jitterbug, Heddon Lucky 13, or Crazy Crawler. Pork chunks like the Uncle Josh Pork Frog No. 11-rigged on weedless hooks or behind weedless lures like the Johnson Silver Minnow spoon-were also popular. Not surprisingly, mottled patterns of green, yellow, and brown were top-tray choices.

Smaller Is Better
"Frog consciousness" lost momentum as large reservoirs and fast-lane bass boats shifted the emphasis to run-and-gun fishing across open water, where structures like points, humps, and creek channels are targeted with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and bottom-bumping plastics. The focus changed, but the backwaters still hold bass-and frogs.

Significantly, a $20,000 "tricked-out" bass boat is not necessary to reach this potential. Frogwater is within casting distance of cartoppers, canoes, float tubes, and wading shoes. Frog-imitation lures can score on any weed-rimmed reservoir, but they are especially effective on smaller lakes, the accessible backyard ponds that draw huge pressure by average anglers across the country.

The aforementioned classic frog-imitation lures remain solid choices, but a variety of newer, impressionistic offerings will draw strikes-even when intent is misdirected. The safety-pin spinnerbait is a fine example. The shoreline angler armed with, say, a Stanley Wedge spinnerbait probably is thinking baitfish all the way, but the flashing, fluttering combination of blades and skirt can easily be mistaken by a prowling bass for a kicking frog as the lure is stuttered and "waked" amid murky shallows.

Typically, the spinnerbait is chunked tight to the bank and retrieved out past clogs of vegetation-a track that favors a leopard frog over a threadfin shad. This is especially true with the elongated willowleaf blades and green-yellow-white skirts often used. When was the last time you saw a chartreuse shad with flashing gold legs in 2 feet of mossy water?

As a big bonus, thee snagless characteristic of the safety-pin concept allows the aggressive caster to go inside the belts of brush to reach the tight pockets that represent the 10X circles of prime frogwater.

Plug or Bug?
Frogs and scum go together, and working a mired surface is a traditional summer handicap. Various froglike soft plastics and hard-plastic spoons have evolved to cover this specialized drill, and the hot-weather angler is shorting his potential by not toting at least one or two of these lures. The Heddon Moss Boss, Mann's Swimmin' Frog, Strike King Grass Frog Jr., and Norman Weed Walker are fine examples.

These bulky, air-resistant payloads are not the most pleasant to cast, but they will reach where conventional surface lures with exposed hooks cannot travel. Also important, they can dawdle, froglike, in the "kill zone" without fouling amid moss and muck. Well, sometimes.

Smaller frogs are well matched by spinning-size plugs and fly-rod surface offerings such as bugs and poppers; indeed, the flyrodder rigged with a floating line and a "froggy" bug has the advantage of being able to selectively hit tight pockets without having to retrieve across fouling vegetation.

A heavy line or leader (at least 14- or 15-pound-test for casting, and 10- or 12-pound-test for spinning or fly-rod leader) is wise insurance against breaking off hooked bass in serious frogwater. The heavier line may add to the casting difficulty, but you do what you have to do-or risk losing the first good fish that hits.

With plug or bug, serving a frog imitation can be productive during the low water and thick vegetation of hot weather, but more than that, it is fun. Easing along a shadowed bank and working a surface lure across the hushed, thick stuff evokes a classic charm often lost on the open lake. Frogwater requires accurate casting and aggressive attitude, plus the patience for repeatedly clearing fouled hooks and lures-but the payoff can be a murderous topwater strike.

Of course, a bass coming up through a soggy shag carpet may miss a high-riding surface lure. Short strikes are frustratingly common, especially on upturned or snagless hooks, but you are reaching fish that otherwise would go unchallenged. A bombastic blowup followed by a "swing and a miss" is a heart-stopper, but try to drill a second cast right back to the spot. A bass in heavy cover is not easily spooked, and a prompt follow-up should draw aimed fire from the aggressive predator.

Remember, you have a real trump: Now as always, a big bass hates to see an easy frog get away.

Contacts
Heddon Lucky 13, Heddon Crazy Crawler, Heddon Moss Boss, Arbogast Hula Popper, Arbogast Jitterbug:
PRADCO, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 1587, Fort Smith, AR 72902; 800-422-3474;
www.lurenet.com.

**Strike King Grass Frog Jr.: **
Strike King, Dept. FS, 174 Hwy. 72 West, Collierville, TN 38017; 901-853-1455;
fax 901-853-7606.

Norman Weed Walker:
Norman Lure Company, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 580, Greenwood, AR 72936; 501-996-2125.

Mann's Swimmin' Frog:
Mann's Bait Company, Dept. FS, 1111 State Docks Rd., Eufaula, AL 36027; 800-841-8435;
fax 334-687-9511; http://mannsbait.com.

**Stanley Wedge Spinnerbait: **
Stanley Jigs, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 1327, Huntington, TX 75949; 409-876-5900; fax 409-876-3926;
www.stanleyjigs.com.

Johnson Silver Minnow:
Johnson Outdoors Inc., Pure Fishing, Dept. FS, 1900 18th Street, IA 51360; 877-777-3850;
fax 712-336-4354.

**Uncle Josh Pork Frog No. 11: **
Uncle Josh Bait Co., Dept. FS, P.O. Box 130, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538-0130; 920-563-2491; fax 920-563-8622;
www.unclejosh.com.-J.D.