These days, the word “epic” is used to describe everything from fast food to funny cat videos on YouTube. But in a perfect world, it’d be reserved as a superlative for Lord Byron’s work or a sky dive from outer space.
Or the promises of fall fishing. Especially fall frogging.
Tournament angler Rich Lindgren agrees. “Although a lot of anglers abandon frog fishing in fall to concentrate on main basin or offshore structure fish, the shallow frog bite can be epic.”
But timing is key. Lindgren says anglers should pay attention to nature’s signals that the frog bite is on, like a significant drop (10 degrees or more) in air and water temperature from late-summer conditions. In the Midwest, the first frost and subsequent, sustained cool weather can signify the annual migration of frog armies to soft-bottomed waters, where they burrow into the ink and hibernate for the winter.
“As cold nights get more frequent in fall, some fish will push up shallow. You not only have frogs entering the water in a lot of areas, but baitfish and bluegills move en masse into the same areas to feed on insects and other forage in warmer shallow waters,” says Lindgren. “For awhile in the fall the shallows turn into an all-you-can-eat buffet for bass.”
Although sometimes a frog is just a frog, Lindgren believes bass also identify the sound and movement of a scooting plastic frog for rising bluegills.
“I always glass shallow weedy areas with polarized lenses for any sign of darting panfish. You’ll also hear them sipping insects off the surface. As panfish begin rising in the water column as the day warms, bass aren’t usually far behind.”
Shallow, soft-bottom bays, coves and backwaters are high-probability fall frogging locations. Lindgren says a lot of the same areas that produce in summer will hold fall bass, whether lily pads, hydrilla, peppergrass or duckweed.
“I approach frog fishing large expanses of emergent vegetation much like I’d fish a crankbait over submergent weed flats. I want to get in as many longs casts as possible to maximize my time in the strike zone,” says Lindgren.
But he’ll also look to main lake areas with vegetation, especially areas near points and deep water that can attract roaming baitfish and panfish.
“I also like less concentrated vegetation with stuff hiding below: laydowns, stumps, transition areas of hard to soft bottom. Weed clumps also produce. In these areas fish see a lot of Senkos, jigs and creatures. But show them something different—like a frog—and sometimes it can really pay off.”
Lindgren admits that a lot of his tournament frogging time is spent doing something he learned from observing frog master Dean Rojas. “I’ll fish open water with frogs, areas around weed clumps and especially docks. Over the past couple years I’ve been astounded with the number of fish I can catch skipping frogs way underneath docks in fall.”
Lindgren’s favorite frog—the Nervous Walker 2.0 Frog from Evolve Bait Co.—is a relative newcomer to the topwater scene. As its name implies, the hollow body frog is built for walking, which Lindgren says “activates easily so even beginning or novice bass anglers can control it like a pro.”
“I like that it’s a little bit bigger and displaces more water than most frogs. It’s big enough to be a good meal for bass but not so big that fish don’t consider it. Plus, it’s probably the softest frog on the market. And as a tournament angler, I care more about hook-ups than if the bait is going to last me two years. I want fish in the boat. The Nervous Walker practically melts in their mouths.”
He adds that the silicone skirt tails are cut to a realistic 2- to 2.5 inches, which eliminates having to trim them prior to fishing. “They’re also knotted in the body so they don’t shift during hooksets or over time with hard fishing. Thanks to its super sticky hooks, I’ve maybe missed two fish all year. A lot of frogs that look good don’t collapse in a fish’s mouth. With the Nervous Walker, you usually stick the fish with both hooks.”
Lindgren says that when he’s fishing clear waters he’s more apt to think about the subtleties of color. Truth is, most hollow body frog bellies are white, so what a fish sees – when a fish sees the bottom – is either white or darkened by the sun or emergent weed cover. Still, when worked over open water or holes in grass, bass can key in on subtle color differences.
“I like that the Nervous Walker incorporates a broken-up belly pattern. While conventional wisdom says bright colors on bright days, dark colors on dark days, I’ll usually begin any frogging session with some variation of Leopard, depending on the coloration of frogs on that particular body of water. I usually move from the Leopard patterns to Ghost, which can produce on pressured, clear waters where I’m throwing open water pockets in grass. When I’m fishing stained water or mats I’m usually less concerned with color.”
At 5/8 ounce, he says the bait naturally casts a country mile and covers most situations for profile and size.
HOW TO WORK IT
Lindgren says fall fishing typically requires a slower retrieve than summer frogging. “Although every day is different, I typically use slow, creeping twitches with lots of pauses for fall fish. It’s a good starting point; you can always speed up.”
Depending on the cover fished, Lindgren is either walking or scooting the Nervous Walker. “If I’m fishing around trees, weed clumps, small pads or docks, I’m walking the bait. In matted vegetation or duckweed I’ll scoot it.”
He says the beauty of the Nervous Walker is how easily he can control its action. “Put your rod tip down at four or five o’clock and bounce the bait, putting slack in your line, much like working a Spook. This is where a little softer rod tip can make all the difference. The Nervous Walker does the rest.”
But many bass anglers consider scooting closer to how frogs actually behave. “Anywhere there’s open water a frog will move in a linear path, legs kicking behind, propelling it forward, not in a zig zag. By holding your rod at 10 or 11 o’clock and shaking your rod as you crank, stop, crank, stop, the frog’s head will bob in a pretty natural manner that will get bit.”
INCREASE HOOK UPS
We’ve all been in the situation where bass blow up on hollow-body frogs but seldom connect. Lindgren says this is when changing color can sometimes make the difference. “If bass are short striking, rolling or popping, try switching colors. Sometimes it’s enough to get ‘em to eat.”
When it comes to hook ups, some anglers will count as many as three or four seconds before setting the hook. Yet, with the soft-bodied Nervous Walker, Lindgren says counting ‘one-thousand-one’ under his breath is typically enough time to cinch the deal. “That’s what’s great about its soft body. You can command hooksets without the agonizing wait. The tendency is to hesitate too long, which gives the bass the opportunity to spit the bait.”
He adds that if a bass “slurps” the bait, it typically means the fish is bigger, calling for an immediate hookset. “Sometimes the smallest fish make the biggest splash. It’s a simple slurp followed a tightening line that’s most exciting and means quality fish.”
Lindgren adds: “Don’t set the hook at a bad angle. Take the time to position yourself facing the bait, legs spread shoulder distance, and then cross their eyes. You can’t set the hook too hard with heavy braid.”
Unlike other bass techniques that are more forgiving of mismatched rods, reels and line, frogging demands very specific gear. Like grandpa used to say, you’ve got to pick the right tool for the job.
At minimum, a 7- to 8-foot casting stick with a solid backbone, soft tip and heavy braid is required to winch fish out some pretty gnarly situations. A high gear ratio baitcaster reel, something in the 7.0:1 and above category makes cranking fish out of harm’s way faster and easier.
Lindgren keeps two frogging set-ups at the ready at all times throughout the season. His go-to set-up is an 8-foot Dobyns 805 Flip/Punch rod with a high-geared Shimano Curado or Citica. “This is the set-up I use for mats and big weed expanses. I want to make long casts to get to fish a good distance from the boat. The 8 footer excels for that, and provides me with enough leverage to get them out.”
Another solid performer along these lines is the 7’11” St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass Flippin’ rod matched with the new Shimano Chronarch CI4+ in 7.6:1 gear ratio with 32 inches of line pickup per turn. With its new X-Ship technology, the new Chronarch has added power and smoother cranking, which can be a real asset for power fishing frogs.
Lindgren’s “number two” set-up for froggin’ banks, trees and skipping under docks is a 7’ to 7’ 3” medium to heavy power rod with fast to extremely fast action like the Dobyns CW 735C Coalition Weapon Series rod. “A slightly shorter rod allows me to roll cast and allows more accuracy for skipping frogs under docks and under overhanging trees. The soft tip also helps me walk or scoot, whatever I choose to do.”
And while rods and reels are both important, the Achilles heel of any frogging arsenal is line choice. Lindgren: “I don’t use anything smaller than 50 pound braid, typically opting for 65-pound. I’m a big fan of Sunline FX2, which has alternated dark green and blue coloring, eliminating the need to Sharpie your line near the bait for camouflage. It’s strong, round and seldom digs into the spool. Plus, the color doesn’t wear off.”
To ensure a fail-safe connection of braid to bait, Lindgren uses a Palomar knot dotted with a dab of Superglue.
As most froggers painfully know, there will be times when a fish blows up on a frog a half dozen times—and even after color changes, nothing connects. Lindgren’s solution? Follow-up baits.
“It’s been my experience that if I get a repeat striker and can’t connect, they’ll hit a soft plastic if you get back in there quick enough,” says Lindgren.
Thus, he always keeps a couple extra rods on deck during frogging sorties, specifically rigged with tactical soft plastics.
“The same company that makes the Nervous Walker has a creature called the Kompak Craw that really excels as a punch bait. Rigged Texas-style with a ½ ounce tungsten weight, I can fire it right back into a hole and often draw aggression bites after missed frog blow-ups.”
He rigs a second follow-up rod with a large swimbait called the DarkStar rigged on a 3/16-ounce 6/0 VMC keel-weighted EWG hook. “I can slide the DarkStar through the same stuff I fish the frog and it’s tail thumps through open water areas. I also use it to fish the edges of grass mats, lily pads and over lay downs if the frog action subsides. It fishes fast and draws a lot of strikes, especially if the bass are more keyed into feeding on baitfish or bluegills.”