It twitches a little, then throbs a little more.
You manipulate it gently, but firmly, building a consistent rhythm.
The pressure builds up.
And then it builds some more. It’s almost unbearable.
Finally, an explosion, liquids flying everywhere, and a simultaneous feeling of release and excitement.
Yes, there is (almost) nothing better than a big bass crushing a hollow-bodied topwater frog through a heavy mat of vegetation, flying out of the water and pulling your braid tight. You didn’t know that you had a special purpose until the first one, but once you’ve experienced that frogasmic feeling, you want to do it again and again and again.
The problem is that sometimes you have to rebuild your strength before the next round. I mean, there are days when you can do back-to-backs, even get it done five times consecutively, but they’re few and far between. Still, lots of anglers chase that high even when it’s not forthcoming. Sometimes it pays off with the right five (or more) bites, but sometimes you go home with an empty livewell, fishing’s version of blue balls.
There are lots of pro anglers who are willing to take that chance. They’re thrill-seekers, willing to hero-or-zero every tournament, pushing all chips to the center of the table on our little green friend because when they win, they win big, and it happens enough to keep them engaged. They’ll glue a frog stick in their hands from start to finish, and when the stars line up it’s a gloriously mind-bending rush of dopamine. When it doesn’t—well, they’re convinced that tomorrow is another day. To pick up a spinning rod and try to eke out five swimmers would be a betrayal of that code.
For decades, topwater frogging was a highly situational deal—only around heavy vegetation, only when the water was fairly warm and shallow and not dirty. Arizona pro Dean Rojas upset that apple cart around 2004, when he nearly won the Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Wylie by skipping a Boze Sumo Frog into and around just about every sort of cover except grass. The lightbulb went on for lots of anglers that the same things that made Kermit sexy in vegetation also makes him highly desirable in many other scenarios, including open water. Plus, it’s weedless, skips like a mofo, and resembles a wide range of both terrestrial and aquatic creatures. It’s not necessarily easy to get dialed in, but once you get that first bite it is quite possible to get stuck on that channel permanently.
Brandon Palaniuk, the 2017 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, a three-time B.A.S.S. winner and veteran of nine Bassmaster Classics, loves the hell out of frogging, but he’s not willing to die on his sword to chase that next bite. He knows that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and if you want big trophies and consistency, you need to know when to put the sucker down.
“The biggest determining factor for me about when to stick with a frog is my understanding of the fish and their environment,” he said. “How many bites am I getting and what kind of cover are they in? You’ll land more fish around open water and under docks or around trees versus targeting grass mat fish. In open water, you can get away with fewer bites, seven or eight a day. If you’re talking thick, heavy, matted vegetation fish, seven or eight bites is a lot riskier. A lot of times they don’t commit or there’s so much grass around that it’s hard to hook them.”
He’s talked to his counterparts who consider froggy their ride-or-die, but still said he can’t live and die by it. “It’s a situational thing. Sometimes I’ll fish a popper and a frog side-by-side, and when they’re in a certain mood they’ll definitely prefer one over the other, but you don’t always know which one it will be.”
When he’s more dialed in on the frog, it’s still probably not the only rod on his deck. He’ll complement it with a heavy flipping stick, a creature bait and a big tungsten weight. “I’ll frog the holes and the open areas and punch the heavy stuff.”
Not surprisingly, Palaniuk the opportunist is a frog bigamist, or rather a polygamist. He’s got boxes full of amphibians with him on the road, ready to deploy them in search of big bass. He’s particularly partial to the models made by Terminator: The Popping Frog, The Walking Frog, and The Walking Frog Junior. He likes to pop when he needs to call the fish from a distance, or when it’s dark or they’re deeper. He’ll employ the Walking Frog Junior when it’s “slick calm and real shallow.” What he likes about the walking Terminator design is that it’s narrower at the front than other models, which he believes leads to better hook penetration. He most often fishes it on a 7’3” medium-heavy stick, paired with a 7.1:1 gear ratio and 50 lb. test Seaguar Flippin’ Braid.
Even with the perfect set-up you’re going to miss some fish—and many times it’s because they simply don’t get the bait. When that happens, Palaniuk goes through a flow chart of factors to determine if it’s angler error or some other factor at play.
“The first thing I do is identify how they’re eating the bait,” he explained. “Are they exploding on it? Are they sucking it in? Then I analyze my hook set. If they explode in heavy cover, a lot of times they just miss the bait. Fish that roll on it tend to get it, but you still need to be careful that they’re not just getting the legs. That’s why guys on grass lakes like Guntersville trim the legs down to tiny, little stubby legs, maybe an inch or an inch and a half long.”
He said that frog color is his next factor to examine. “It’s not white and red versus white and blue. Pretty much all I throw are white, black, and green pumpkin. I don’t get that concerned about what’s on top but I pay close attention to the bottom color, which is almost always white, black, green, or yellow.”
If they’re not adequately deep-throating the frog in heavy grass, another step he’ll take is to add BBs or rattles to the inside of his lure. Not only does this create noise to call fish from a distance, but the added weight also forces the lure down into the mat, making it easier for a bass to track.
Still not getting the hookups you expected? Tweak the double hooks slightly outward—not to the point that they consistently grab grass and other cover—but you’ll be surprised how big a difference a few degrees can make.
And if you have a partner in the boat, commit to throwing different frogs, different colors, or using different cadences. Often even a slight difference creates a big result in your catch rate. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to go flogging—or rather, frogging—with that special someone.