Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Best5Zach's Basics to Frog Fishing

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First off, I don't want anyone to take this the wrong way. I'm not a pro. I never will be. And I'll never claim to be a good fisherman. I have my strengths and my weaknesses and I am not going to try and convince you that froggin' is one of either of those. 

I have a good friend of mine that is getting into fishing and has spent his first few trips on Guntersville.  After our last tournament, he wanted to know the how, when, and where associated with our 5 fish limit.  We caught almost all of our fish in our last tournament on frogs and my friend was very curious and excited to learn to frog fish. As I started to talk it, I realized that it was a little more in depth to explain than I had time for, yet wasn't as complicated as many make it. You can read about our last tournament and see the vid here:

Up until that day, Josh and I had coached him up while playing softball. I have done my best to get him some cheap plastics from PTL that I have had success with since I get such a deep discount on them. However, plastics can be a particularly daunting technique from July and later on Guntersville because of the grass. Newbies will struggle with plastics for a few reasons. Chiefly among those reasons are: it's hard to feel bites when you are constantly "haulin' grass" AND "haulin' grass" can be tiring.

These are just a few of the technical reasons that frog fishing becomes paramount in the summertime on grassy lakes. 

Of course, frog fishing is also a favorite to fisherman because of the excitement it provides from of the devastating blow ups.

But, there are many other reasons that many people don't usually consider.

Chiefly among those reasons why I like frog fishing are: 
  • Ability to cast incredible distances
  • Ability to cover water quickly
  • Ability to eliminate many of the variable associated with sub-surface fishing (depth, fall rate, subtle presentation, etc)
  • Ability to get repeat strikes (the fish may miss the bait, or you miss the fish, but you can convince the fish to come back for another hit)
  • Ability to cast to specific areas based on visual clues
  • Slightly more impervious than other topwater grass techniques
This isn't to say that frogs are the only technique that will work, just the easiest. As the last bullet alluded to, there are others. One of my favorites can be found in this article:

Yet, there are some drawbacks to frog fishing in grassy lakes. Hook up ratio is usually exceedingly inefficient. I would venture a guess that the average fisherman will hover around a 30% hook up ratio. The bass have an inherent advantage on the fisherman with their ability to get in the grass and "bulldog" you. That is, to use the grass to take the tension off of them and allow them to shake the hooks.  

Again, I am no pro at frog fishing. It is simply a technique that is a tool to me. There are many fishermen who use this technique far more than I could ever use it...to the point of exclusivity. These guys will read this article and will undoubtedly see it as a very crude representation on a very fine-tuned technique. But, that's why I am going to entitle it "Basics." This is meant to be an 098 course....you know....intro to college math. I am not going to get into a ton of specifics on each aspect of it because 1) I'm not a pro and I am still learning 2)I don't believe in absolutes, ESPECIALLY with fishing.

There are a few subsections to address: equipment, bait selection, targeting and retrieve, hookset and finishing

This one is actually pretty easy. Starting with a rod: a 7" length to 7"6 is my preferred length. Length contributes to the physics of the cast. It creates a longer moment arm, which means more force at the release of the bait. Translation: the bait goes farther. Additionally, on the opposite end of the cast,  the length will help you with the force needed to set the hook, get the bait on top, and hoist it in. I like as balanced rod, but I do not like long handles. I have short T-Red arms and a long handle will constantly bump into my ribs or my forearm as I retrieve the bait. On hook sets, I can bruise my ribs up if the handle is too long. A heavy power is the bare minimum. If you ca, get an extra heavy, do so. If you do it right, you will be setting the hook after the fish is aready back in the water and in the grass, so you will need a super stiff rod to deliver the hook set needed. Additionally, you will have to haul that fish back to the top with your hook set and drag it in, sometimes with 15 pounds of grass. So, you need a rod that can deliver every ounce of energy you put into it. No flex. If I can get a rod with microguides, I will. This will drastically enhance your accuracy of your casts. One of my very favorites for the money is the H20 XPRESS Ethos rod, which is the house brand from Academy. It has every bit of the things I have listed and has it under $100. You can read my review here:

Product Review for Academy Sports H2O XPRESS Ethos Rods

Everybody has their own favorite brand for everything and reels are no exception. The basics for selecting reels for frogging are that you want a reel with extreme casting ability, as quick a ratio as you can get (to get ahead of the fish) while not sacrificing gear breakage from the higher ratio. Those higher ratios can have gear breakage because of the mechanical advantage. You want a reel which you can really tighten down that drag You REALLY don't want a reel that needs constant work with breaks and line tension, as I have found on some brands like Lews. I really like the Shimano Citica D and E models. The 6.3:1 ratio is about the perfect balance between quickness and reliability. I have only worn out one carbon drag after years and years and hundreds of frog fish. Most importantly, to me, is that the reel holds settings extremely well. Other than adjusting for some really nasty headwinds, I don't have to work on the settings....ever. The brakes have been set since I initially set it up. I don't have to thumb this reel. You may have your own brand, and that's fine, but reel setup is critical. Again, you want to be able to make consistent long casts, have a gearset that allows you to get ahead of the fish without breaking, have a drag that puts up with the hooksets and 20 pounds of grass, and can cast the same despite the conditions. 

Like the reels, lines are usually preference based. You must use braid in the grass, period. Not only do you need the strength to fish the grass, but the braid cuts through the grass, which is just as important. You want a brand that lives up to your desired performance requirements. You just need to find the medium between strength and line diameter. The higher the strength, the higher the diameter. The higher diameter doesn't cast as well and you can't get as much on the spool. I like the Suffix 832 braid in 50 pound test. I have never broken off with it, I can safely use it all year (trimming where needed, of course), and the small diameter lets me pack a lot on my reel. 

Bait Selection
Again, this is a preference based can of worms. So, I will just tell yall what I told my buddy. I have had the most experience with only two brands of frogs. That doesn't mean I haven't tried more, because I have. There are just the two that I have gravitated towards: Spro and Snagproof.  

The size of the frog doesn't really interest me. Again, I am no pro and so I don't have experience to say otherwise. The larger frogs may weigh more and allow you to cast further in windless days, but any wind will cause your bait to drift during cast. The smaller frogs won't experience such drift, though they may not go QUITE as far. But, I can compensate easily enough. I want the frog to go where I want it to go. 

The brighter the day, the darker the frog I am going to throw. As good as companies have become at mimicking forage, we still don't know what fish really want. The more sun there is, the better the fish can see what they are about to attack....or pass up on. They won't know if they are seeing a baits shadow or the bait itself when it's dark. I'd rather leave it to ambiguity. Conversely, the darker the skies, the lighter the color. I might even go pretty wild on frog selection. I am thinking primarily of an all white bait, or one of Snagproof's "tweetie", a half white, half yellow bait. 

As far as the color combinations, there may be some merit if you are fishing them in open water, where the fish can see the sides...but....and this is important....take a look at each and every frog from the underside. The sides and top will have all the detail, but the underneath is almost always a uniform color. Ironically, this is all the fish see in grass, anyway. So, you don't need a black frog with every combination of spots. Just pick one and go. Even in the scenario where you are fishing open water, the sides and top of the bait is never in the water (unless you weight it down, which is more of a 201 course), so I still caution about filling up box after box of frogs. 

The most important thing I told my friend involved the selection of frogs between these two different companies. As a beginner, his hook up ratio was going to be poor. He could offset that by using Snagproof, which is a softer plastic and a design that compresses in the fishes mouth very easily. However, the Snagproof doesn't last very long.....5-10 fish is usually a max for me. After that, the frog can rip or simply sink because of all the holes that the bait's hooks have put into it. Additionally, I don't think that the Snagproof makes you a better fisherman. Catching fish is catching fish, but the lessons you can learn from using the following brand can, and will, pay dividends in your games. 

Spro, on the other hand, is harder for a novice to use. The plastic is tougher and doesn't compress nearly as easily. Due to that, a beginners hook up ratio can be nonexistent. However, it is a much more hearty bait. I don't think I have ever had to toss one from overuse. Because the plastic is thicker, it is more buoyant and it will float, even filled with water. The hooks on the Spro are superior to the Snagproofs, however. The are passivated and won't rust and are also a much heavier gauge wire. Lastly, the hookset skill you learn while using a Spro can be monumental in other areas. With a Spro, you will have to be a lot more patient upon the strike. That will carry over elsewhere in your game. 

You may have guessed that I lean more towards the Spros, which is true. That doesn't mean that I won't throw a Snagproof. Truth be told, Spro doesn't have a light colored lure I like. And, if I am missing hooksets, I will tie a Snagproof on in a hurry. 

Many people augment their baits. Again, that's something for another day. I will say that setting your baits in the front window of your car for a week is one of the best things you can do. Soften up that plastic! Additionally, I like to trim my silicone tails so I shorten the bait overall. I want to pull the fish as far forward on the bait as I can. 

Targeting and Retrieve
Again, a wide-ranging topic that I won't go more than skin deep into. Every lake is different. Some lakes are best to target cover. Guntersville isn't that way, for me at least. Here are some very simple things I do.

I avoid drag lines, places where someone has caught a frog fish already (usually that day). I target dips and curves in the grass lines. I will spend a ton of time around transitions between two different grass types or stages of growth.  I concentrate on blow up holes where a fish has surfaced. 

Around those blow up holes, or even irregular openings from stumps, I will loiter the frog. Many times I will use the reel to twitch the bait in place. This is a great thing to do around those areas where you know fish are or have been....but also the perfect thing to do after a miss.

Speaking of misses....they are going to happen and happen often. After the initial strike, never automatically set the hook. Wait until you feel the fish. Make sure the bait doesn't bob to the surface. I know it's hard to do....but you have to. The worst thing you can do is either jerk the bait out of the fishes mouth or pull it out of the strike zone if the fish missed it. The latter happens a lot more than the former. After all, the fish is attacking a bait on the surface of the grass. But, after it's strike, it has created a blow hole. If you are patient and smart, you have left your bait in the perfect spot! Give it a twitch and watch the fish come back. I would venture a guess that 25% of misses will have a follow up strike, if played correctly. 

There is no answer to retrieve speed and cadence. Fish want something different each and everyday. However, I find that the best way to get a hit is to quit paying attention. Seriously, stay with me. Most of us will vary speed and we might vary cadence....occasionally. But, when we aren't getting bites, we will go into autopilot. That's when I get a ton of my strikes. Why? I think it's because even my irregular cadence isn't irregular enough on tough days. It isn't what a frog would really do. However, as I look at an eagle flying or I start talking, I am being for sporadic with the retrieve, which is a lot closer to what a real frog would do. Basically, fishermen are insane. We will do the same thing over and over all day without a change in result. Mix it up. Deadstick that frog. Throw on the brakes randomly. Burn it across the grass. Just do something different. 

Hookset and Finishing
This one is easy. I kinda hinted at it above. It is imperative that you wait until you don't see the frog resurface AND you feel the weight of the fish. If either of these things don't happen, just sit. The fish (or maybe another fish adjacent) will likely come back. 

Now, when you DO have these two qualifiers.....HIT 'EM HARD. Seriously. You can't hookset hard enough...unless you fall overboard or break your rod. I am not a huge proponent of monster hooksets, but it is important to know that you aren't just setting the hook into the fish. You are fighting all that grass between you and the fish.

Perhaps the most important part of the hard hookset is to get the fish on top of the grass. You will lose most every time if you let the fish get back in the grass after a strike. Not only does it give the fish the ability to pop those hooks loose, but it may get buried up so tight that you can't get to it at all. 

Finishing a hookset is just as important. Many fisherman allow a slight moment of slack after a hookset. The pressure of the moment seems to be off after they know they have the hooks in the fish. However, a great hookset can easily be outdone by allowing the fish back in the grass. You have to perform what we call "surfing." Get the fish on top with a brutal hook set and immediately hit the turbo button on your retrieve (that's a game term) and keep that fish on top.  We call it surfing because the fish skates on top of the water. Not only does this prevent the fish from getting into the grass, but also keeps the fishes head up. That keeps tension on the hooks and prevents the fish from being able to shake its head. 

Again, don't take this article the wrong way. I don't expect it to educate guys who have been doing this for 20 years. I'm certainly not trying to sound like an authority on the subject. There isn't much here in the way of techniques, just the basics. But, I hope that it gets people started down the path of a very versatile and fun technique.