My partners and I were throwing chartreuse buzz baits into the cover as far as we could, and we got a few good strikes on top. Still, in some spots, we could see about 8 more feet of good-looking water that we couldn't touch with those buzz baits. That was 8 feet of fish-holding water that we couldn't access, and it deeply annoyed us.
We all fiddled with some of the lures in our tackle boxes, and the three of us probably all gave a frog or a rat bait a brief look. It was weedless and maybe suitable for the situation, but that kind of lure is more of a novelty isn't it? It catches fishermen, right, not bass?
That was our thinking, and it probably cost us dearly.
Trophy bass are the sharpest of the group. That last 8 feet of structure-littered water probably held enough big bass to give us all night sweats if we could have seen them.
Standard tackle, the kind that most anglers call their confidence baits, is very limited in those confined areas.
Fortunately a few anglers have let the secret out on frogs. Guys like Dean Rojas, Ish Monroe and Bobby Barrack, all anglers from out West, have brought to light the effectiveness of frog lures in hot summer months. If you want to cover more surface area, see incredible topwater bites and land the bass of your dreams, then it is time to tie on a frog.
Here in Louisiana, there's no reason that frog baits should be overlooked. With the plethora of freshwater systems here, some with ample vegetation, some purely choked to death, weedless frogs open areas that are going to largely be avoided because they are just too thick. Students of bass fishing, though, will know that those untouched waters are going to hold the biggest bass around.
The beauty of frog baits is that by design, they are weedless. They are meant to go where real frogs go: over lily pads, on stumps, under boat docks, through reeds. Most baits are made of soft plastic material and one or two big hooks that are protected from snagging weeds by the body.
While real frogs may not be a bass's first choice for food, they are on the list, especially when the opportunity presents itself. Today's baits are made with more action, color and flash, and when they are tossed into some heavy cover where few dare toss lures, they trigger big strikes.
Unbeknownst to many, a frog bait evolution, or maybe revolution, has been occurring for close to 20 years now in California. In a land where bass have been reaching world-record proportions, some professionals have applied the frog to bring these monsters home.
Barrack is one of these leading authorities. The Snag Proof pro has basically mastered the tactical aspects of pitching frogs to the thickest, nastiest cover and heaving out big California lunkers. What was once a secret between Barrack and a few other California anglers is now out — weedless frogs catch big bass.
"The frog's main purpose," said Barrack, "is to help you fish heavy cover where there is not a lot of light penetration. I'm talking extreme heavy horizontal cover on the surface in roughly 3 feet of water or less."
Barrack has been instrumental in the development of the modern, weedless frog, and has helped drive the innovations by Snag Proof. What has evolved are some of the best on the market with one in particular that Barrack especially likes, the Snag Proof Bobby's Perfect Frog.
"Frogs are big-fish lures," he added. "These are for guys who are looking for really big fish. A bass is basically an overgrown bluegill. It likes the sun, and it likes shallow water.
"To catch these fish, you've got to be stealthy and put that frog where they are. Your casts are going to have to be longer to reach those places that big bass hang out. Good casting mechanics are probably the most-important factor in catching big bass."
The frog also works in open, structure-laden bodies of water.
"If you walk it like a Zara Spook, it walks like a Zara Spook," Barrack said. "This is especially important when you're throwing them around boat docks. You can fire a weedless frog under there, and it will bounce around like a basketball off of a goal.
"Because of this, I'd say we fish open water about 60 percent of the time with a frog. You think with a frog that you've got to throw into the heaviest goo, but 60 percent of the time we're throwing into soft cover, and by that I mean shade, in very restricted areas. It does work in the heavy stuff just as well, but we'll only use it there 40 percent of the time.
"I'm always looking for open-water pockets. We go looking for clearings that are surrounded by heavy vegetation. That's where you catch big fish. You toss that frog back in the heavy cover and work it out. Then it hits that open water pocket, and you make it work left and right. That's the most natural, most productive movement. It acts like a Spook, but not with all those barbs on treble hooks.
"You know, there's a reason that the Spook is probably the greatest topwater bait ever made. Here we can use that motion in thick cover and pockets.
"The unmolested fish are out in the heavy cover in 2 to 3 feet of water or less. For you to get them, you have to go past all of the obstructions in the way.
"These fish are the prime members of the species. These fish aren't dumb. I'm not talking about catching those fish that are on the edges of cover that chase balled-up shad. We're going after the one that's looking to eat something the size of your hand. She knows her job is to grow as big as she can in the shortest amount of time, so that's why she's going to be selective in her feeding.
"Where is the most strategic place for her? In shallow, panfish-filled waters, in a place where she can expend the least amount of energy and then return to her shady spot."
When structure and heavy vegetation are the variables that determine whether or not a fish will be landed, the oddsmakers opt for big sticks and cord to yank bass out of the muck.
Barrack uses a Lamiglas XFT 797 when fishing heavy cover, and in open water, he employs the Lamiglas XFT 806. The line he uses is no less than 50- to 65-pound-test Spiderwire.
Barrack believes the braided line revolution was the key to the resurgence of frog baits.
"In 1989, we were playing with the frog a lot. We were fishing shallow water with a lot of vegetation, and we were intrigued by the size of the fish we saw that were after the frog. We figured right there that if we could catch them and land them, we'd never get beat in tournaments.
"We started using 20-pound mono with these frogs and we just couldn't always keep pressure on them well enough to land them. But in 1993, Randy Dearman started winning tournaments with Spiderwire. Spiderwire changed everything."
With the line and rod issues resolved, Barrack and his California contemporaries started landing big bass.
"By the summer of 1996, we finally got it right and we won eight tournaments. Then a few guys started watching us, looking for what it was that we were throwing. It was one of those things where they didn't think we were cheating, they knew we were cheating. Soon though, everyone caught on, and it blew up from there.
"Now, when there's a tournament on the California Delta or Clear Lake between May and September, the guy in front will have one or two frog sticks and the guy in back is going to have one or two frog sticks. It's as faithful now as a spinner or jig."
The last piece of gear that offers the best chance at landing the big one is the reel. Barrack believes proper speed of retrieve is vital.
"The most important part of the whole package is having a high-speed reel. I use the Abu Garcia Torno with the 6.3:1 gear ratio. You need this entire powerful combination because when that big girl strikes, it's like catching a green bolt of lightning. She's fighting for life in only 3 feet of water. She's going to use 100 percent of her stacked-up energy. She's going to make two hard surges, and you have to be tight on her for either one. She may turn right, she may turn left, she may run away or she may come right at you. Either way, you have to keep tension. If you lose tension, chances are you'll lose her."
Careful casting of this power assortment is also crucial.
"If you can double or triple your casting distance with this heavy gear and do it so your presentation is real natural and on target, you've put the odds in your favor," Barrack said. "Casting accuracy and mechanics are so important. If you come in sloppy, she'll recognize it. You need to be able to cast far and on target, feather the spool for a soft landing and let it plop into the little holes there in the back of the pocket. It's all about mechanics. Mechanics are probably more important than lure selection."
And Barrack would know. His hours on the water with a frog tied on have proven it. Frog baits have helped him land 26 fish over 10 pounds, four of which were over 12 and his largest weighed in at 13.5-pounds. He has also held the top spot in numerous tournaments, the most recent being the November 2004 Nor-Cal Bass/100 Percent Bass Pro Championship, in which he took home a fully rigged boat.
His Snag Proof Bobby's Perfect Frog helped him take home the prize and wow the audience with a 7-pound fish on each day of competition.
In his career, though, for every heart-stopping big fish there were even more heart-breaking misses. That is the nature of the frog. Other baits could catch more fish, but he opts for a lure that catches the biggest.
"A frog is the kind of bait that will make or break you," Barrack said. "It will make you because you'll see yourself winning with a big fish at the weigh-in. It will break you because landing a big ol' bass is tough with a frog. You'll get to see how big that fish was before it threw the bait.
"It can wreck you mentally. You see the fish that you could have weighed in and won with. But that's when the really good fishermen settle down, regroup, get their composure and go after them again, especially in a tournament.
"Sticking with it is the key. In my career here in California, I've won 10 boats with frogs, and I've had at least 10 slip through my fingers because I lost fish that could have won."
So tie on a frog bait and tackle that grass- and stump-filled body of water that you have always avoided. Play with it all day, every day and let your heart get broken. Soon, with time, effort and learned discipline, a frog could help you catch the fish of a lifetime. That's worth the price of a few broken hearts.