- Hollow-bodied frogs draw bites from bass in thick cover even during the hottest weeks of the season
- Find fine froggin’ areas on natural lakes, reservoirs, ponds, strip pits, backwaters, development lakes and more
- Tackle match-ups and frog selection improve hook-up ratio
By Mike Pehanich
Sure, bass fishing in Illinois can get iffy during the August doldrums, but big fish are still there for the frogmen of summer!
Illinois waters have met the dreaded Dog Days. That’s the excuse many anglers use to binge-watch Netflix series in an air-conditioned family room and ponder the coming football season rather than try their luck with doldrums bass. But for those willing to contend with the elements and buck their lethargy, August can produce some surprisingly good catches. And you don’t necessarily have to plumb deep water for structure-oriented bass to cash in on the action!
Some shallow water bass are there for the taking all through late summer on most bass waters. Many sit unmolested and far from a fish hook for weeks on end by hiding in dense, impenetrable cover where few lures can travel – with the exception of members of the faux frog family!
And, just to dump more cold water on any lingering “too-hot-for-bass” sentiments, I harken back to the Nories Frogfest events that I covered and competed in a few years ago. The bass on the Chattahoochee River tournament waters — Eufaula and Seminole — had no problem rising to the occasion during that hot and steamy month of August. In fact, many 6- to 9-pound largemouth came to weigh-in. And if you think Illinois is hot and steamy in August, spend some time on those Alabama/Georgia/Florida boundary waters!
Hollow-bodied frogs were designed to ride across the roof of the matted vegetation and pad beds that house summer bass. Their dual-hook configuration creates a cradle for the frog body. Designed and weighted to ride with the hook points up and tucked tight to the plastic, artificial frogs amaze and delight with their ability to travel snag-free through the jungle.
I took my faux frogs out for a doldrums test run two weeks ago on a central Illinois strip mine lake with water temperatures already well into the 80s. The fake amphibians did not disappoint. Fishing a duckweed-lined strip pit with a Jackall Iobee frog, I watched the moss fly on a number of explosive strikes. More importantly, I managed to convert nearly all those strikes into landed fish.
Frog fish almost anywhere
Part of the beauty of this late season frog fishing is that you can catch bass frequently from the most unassuming of waters.
I find fish ready to gulp a frog on Illinois waters from the Wisconsin state line to the Ohio River.
Fishing with angling buddy Ken Frank on a small housing development lake, we enjoyed exciting and, at times, even frantic froggin’ action in and around nasty vegetation that grew to the surface. One largemouth literally knocked my Nories NF 60 frog nearly two feet into the air. But that was just the beginning of the high-flying act. The bass followed the bait through the air in an arcing leap and somehow nailed that frog on the way down! A short time later, Ken took a five-pound-plus bass — his largest frog bass to date — on another Nories NF 60.
Natural lakes nearly always feature bays and flats with emergent vegetation, pads, matted aquatic vegetation and other prime areas for frogging.
Scout out the back bays and creek arms of reservoirs as well as thick beds of milfoil and other thick-growing vegetation on main lake flats.
Farm ponds and golf course water hazards are prime froggin’ waters, too. (Get permission to fish first.)
I’ve chronicled some of my best frogging days in central Illinois before including outings with Chef Todd Kent on strip mines and Illinois River backwaters. Fertile strip mine lakes, quarries and draw pits with emergent vegetation like cattails and reeds or with overhanging trees and deadfall can be prime locations for frogging.
The key on all of these waters is to find suitable habitat – usually lily pads, matted jungles of dense aquatic growth, duck weed or brush cover — and to cast your frog into the most inviting locations within that stretch or patch of habitat. Target edges and pockets and unusual mixes of cover such as stumps or transitions from one type of aquatic plant to another. As matted vegetation begins to decay later in the season, target any “cheesy” area marking decay. Bass position themselves in the hollows they create.
On some lakes, even “habitat” becomes optional. I’ve fished a number of small lakes and ponds where bass holding tight to bank or sea wall will take a frog placed right against the shoreline or even eased into the water from the bank.
Frog retrieves vary in speed, style and cadence. Try to develop at least two basic retrieves:
1) a chugging/lunging stylethat imitates a frog working his way through the grass, and
2) a back-and-forth walking stylethat enables you to work the frog enticingly in open water or, better yet, keep a struggling frog in front of the bass’s face in a hole or pocket within a grass bed.
As a general rule, I fish a frog relatively quickly to cover water and find fish but slow my retrieve if I draw a strike or see other signs of active fish. Over time, however, you will learn to interpret the fish’s “sign” language and dial in quickly on what frog retrieve the bass want.
Tackle and timing
Tackle and timing are key! Employ a rod with muscle and backbone but with a tip soft enough to allow you to work the lure – and the fish to grab and hold on – before a mighty “heave-ho” hookset.
As for line, braid is the only way to go. Mine generally ranges from 50- to 65-pound test. Braid of that measure is strong enough to drive a hook home in thick cover and drag 10 pounds-plus of vegetation and fat bass to boat.
Avoid the temptation to strike at the first sign of surface commotion. Often a bass will miss the bait entirely on its first swipe or merely pull the lure down by its skirted legs. It often needs a second gulp to get the bait securely into its mouth.
Make sure the bass has hold of the frog before you set the hook. Consider that moss and vegetation and water will hit the air before the bass has the lure in its mouth. The temptation to strike immediately can be overwhelming, but control your nerves and wait for evidence that the fish has taken the frog before you pull the trigger.
Still, I don’t recommend the “Count to three” or “Count to 10” advice that many fishermen suggest. The chances of the fish either rejecting the faux frog or taking it down dangerously into its gills and gullet are just too great for me to recommend the practice.
My approach requires some practice and experience, but the rule is simple. When the frog disappears, drop the rod tip and reel just enough to feel some sign of the fish’s presence. Then set the hook. Hard!
Frogs come in a lot of tantalizing colors these days. No doubt, you will develop your favorites, but the only critical decision to make here is to have a mix of light-bellied frogs and dark-bellied frogs. Keep in mind that the fish rarely sees more than half the frog at any given time, and the view is from below. Often the view of the lure is filtered by matted vegetation that masks everything but the frog’s profile.
I divide my frog colors into three categories: 1) conventional green patterns, 2) other white or light-bellied baits, and 3) brown, black and other dark bellied baits. If I have at least one frog from each category with me on a good “froggin’” day, I am confident at least one of them will catch bass.
Up the hook-ups
Missed strikes and lost fish can make frog fishing one of the most frustrating of angling pursuits. That’s why frog fishermen are on a never-ending quest to improve their hook-up ratio.
I outlined some bare tackle basics earlier. While more and more anglers have caught on to the importance of rod, reel and line selection to frog fishing success, many still don’t realize that the type of frog they use matters, too.
Many good frogs have hit the market in recent years, but I’ve found my best hook-up ratio comes by far when I am using the Nories NF 60and Jackall Iobee frogs. Their Japanese creators clearly factored “improving hook-ups” into their design task. Both are premium-priced lures, but well worth the investment.
Among more popularly priced frogs, the Booyah Pad Crasher delivers a high percentage of hook-ups. If you like to modify your frogs by placing BBs in the body cavity for better frog visibility in really thick slop, you may feel more comfortable doing so with this economical but quite effective frog.
Note: The Nories NF60 had almost disappeared from the American market in recent years, but Munenori Kajiwara, owner of Japan Import Tackle (https://www.japanimporttackle.com) in Wheaton, Illinois, informs me that Nories is bringing back the NF 60 this coming month and that he will be well-stocked for the late summer/fall frogging season and 2019. Lee’s Bait & Tackle (www.leesglobaltackle.com; phone 847-593-6424) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, will be among Illinois dealers carrying these and other baits in the Nories line.