Across Florida, thick weed mats, lily pads and floating vegetation dominate the vast majority of freshwater venues. This presents the ideal scenario as big bass often seek heavy cover in the form of aquatic vegetation to escape temperature extremes, ambush prey, and protect themselves from predation. While many anglers fish around the outskirts of heavy cover with a wide variety of artificials, you should know that the biggest bass hunker deep down in the thickest vegetation. And while flourishing flora makes many bass almost unreachable, there is one specialty bait that can lure Ol’ Mossback from her vegetative lair unlike any other.
For the ultimate salad seducer look no further than fake frogs. These tailless amphibians combine the heart-throbbing excitement of topwater baits, with the fish-finding abilities of buzzbaits and the weedless advantages of Texas rigged soft plastics. Rich in protein and abundant in Florida, frogs comprise a significant forage base for largemouth bass. Big bucketmouths see the silhouette against the sky and slobber to attack them. “Frogs are one of the primary forage species for bass,” says Lonnie Stanley, a 5-time Bassmaster Classic veteran and legendary lure designer. “If a bass could order its food off a menu it would likely pick crawfish first, frogs second and shad or bream third.”
While frogs certainly provide sufficient nutrition, another reason they are appealing to bass is due to the fact that during spawning season frogs are a clear threat to bass eggs and fry.
While frogs certainly provide sufficient nutrition, another reason they are appealing to bass is due to the fact that during spawning season frogs are a clear threat to bass eggs and fry. It is during this time of the year when big bass will strike your frog not only out of hunger, but also out of defense.
When it comes to artificial frogs the selection process can be quite daunting. Some frogs float, some pop on the surface, and some sink. In addition, some are injection molded soft plastics outfitted with trailing legs and feet, while others feature string-like appendages and hollow body cavities. Whatever the flavor, few lures can reach bass in heavy cover like artificial frogs.
When fishing a soft plastic frog most anglers insert a 3/0 to 6/0 wide gap offset hook directly into the body. Some anglers use keel-weighted hooks for added castability, but these tend to hang up in thick vegetation. With the hook inserted into the plastic Texas style, these lifelike temptations easily hop across matted grass tops, pads or other heavy cover. “A soft plastic frog is like a buzzbait that you can throw anywhere in the middle of the thickest vegetation,” said Shaw Grigsby, a professional bass angler and television host from Gainesville, FL.
“A regular buzzbait would hang up on every cast. The legs on a soft plastic frog sputter and anytime it hits a pocket of clear water, it makes a commotion,” Grigsby continued. “I rig a frog just like I would a Texas rigged worm,” Grigsby explained. “I use a screw-lock hook to secure the hook to the head of the bait and thrust the hook point into the body. I’ve even used frogs as jig trailers, but my favorite way is just to throw it out weightless and reel it across the surface. Even on a steady retrieve, I twitch it a bit just to give it a little different action.”
When fishing a floating frog in heavy cover, simply hold the rod tip high and crank the reel enough to make the legs and feet sputter across the surface. Anglers can also use the hop-and-pop method almost like working a conventional topwater bait. Let it sit on the surface for a few moments and then pop it vigorously. The commotion simulates a live frog jumping across the surface. In sporadic cover, try the stop-sink-go approach with a non-floating frog. Cast to a likely spot and let it remain motionless. Depending upon hook size and cover thickness, it might sink slowly. Pull it a couple feet and let it rest again. Let it sink a foot or two in open pockets before crawling it over lily pads or grass. On pads, you want to let it sit momentarily. Then ease it off the edge to sink into another pocket.
Bass sometimes erupt through cover to clobber an artificial frog—engulfing weeds and all! Resist the temptation to set the hook too quickly. Feel for the fish on the line first. If a bass explodes on a frog but misses, stop reeling. Let the frog sit still and give it a subtle twitch every few seconds. Frequently, bass come back to demolish it.
“The hardest thing about fishing frogs is not reacting to a strike immediately,” says Terry Scroggins, a professional bass angler from San Mateo, FL. “Give the fish a split-second to get the bait in its mouth before setting the hook.”
Another area where artificial frogs shine is near shallow banks. This is a frog’s natural habitat, so it makes perfect sense that bass will be lingering in the shadows. Toss your enticement to where the water meets the bank and try to work the shallowest depths possible.
Both Scroggins and Grigsby recommend using braided line on fairly heavy tackle to battle monster bass in thick cover. Not only stronger, braid may actually cut through vegetation where monofilament or fluorocarbon could wedge into the pads, allowing a bass to throw the hook. You’ll also want a 7-foot heavy action rod with a fast tip and a reel with a 6.3:1 gear ratio loaded with 65lb. braid.
In Florida, anglers can tempt bass with frogs practically all year long, except following the most severe cold fronts. Most Florida lakes contain pockets of thick vegetation while some look like one giant weed mat. If you aren’t sure where to start, thickly vegetated and loaded with monster largemouth, Lake Okeechobee is an excellent venue to toss a frog. Other worthy alternatives include the St. Johns River and associated waters, Lakes Kissimmee and Tohopekaliga in the Kissimmee chain, Istokpoga, Orange Lake and Rodman Reservoir.
“Throwing a frog is a tremendous way to fish in Florida throughout the year,” Grigsby said. “It’s a very simple bait to fish, but it’s a bait that can produce really big fish. It comes through cover so easily, I can throw it anywhere. Bass come out from under the lily pads or grass beds to eat it, which is extremely exciting. Plus, I don’t know of any bass lake in Florida where frogs wouldn’t work.”
An artificial frog looks and feels like natural forage to bass, and while many anglers fish the grassy edges with a variety of lures, frogs go straight to the lair of the bucketmouth beast.