Fun With Frogs and Rats
Fun With Frogs and Rats
By Reed Montgomery
The soft plastic frog was engulfed the instant it landed in the thick patch of aquatic weeds. The sound was deafening. The explosion was enough to send the seasoned angler diving into his tackle box for his heart pills. Such is the world of fishing with frog and rat imitations.
Where there are aquatic weeds there are bass. Anything that hops, runs, swims or slithers within grasp is unknowingly the day's next meal.... for the bass lurking below. As we all know frogs live in and around the water's edge. At any time they can enter the water splashing, kicking, swimming and hopping all about. All this commotion (not to mention their incessant croaking) alerts all to their presence, especially BIG bass. Small rodents, such as mice and rats venture near the water's edge during their travels, scurrying to-and -fro, unaware of the bass below eyeballing their every move. These furry little creatures often share the same shallow water territory with these bank-hopping frogs. Both are in grave danger anytime they swim the waters edge or stumble into the shallows.
Both species of these creatures can be found anywhere there is water. However, fishing with frog and rat imitations is not limited to fishing only aquatic weeds. Bass will nail these little creatures around every piece of shoreline cover imaginable. I have caught huge bass skipping frogs up under piers and boathouses, throwing far back under shady, overhanging bushes, casting frogs and rats up in culverts, under bridges and far back up in feeder creeks and small streams. All these techniques are deadly, especially during the middle of the day, when shade is a BIG factor. These are bass of all species and sizes that will explode on these little bank-running imitations anytime and anywhere. Still, the really huge bass usually are caught from the weeds.
Targeting the endless variety of aquatic weeds that grow throughout the United States (in the thousands of ponds, lakes and rivers) can involve fishing a variety of different types of frog and rat lures. Several different lure brands, colors, shapes and sizes may be needed before you discover the bass’s preference for the day. Always have an assortment of various models and colors on hand to experiment with.
Whether your fishing a huge reservoir's main lake weedbeds or exploring far back in the swampy marshes, scummy backwaters, lily pad fields, or even casting far back into seemingly impenetrable thick, matted weeds such as hydrilla, milfoil, coontail moss and peppergrass, always keep one thing in mind. BIG bass are always nearby.
With the presence of these, 'full size meals' all hopping and scurrying about, a BIG bass can bury up in the thick, matted grass and be assured of an easy-to-catch meal. When choosing lures, as when matching-the-hatch with baitfish imitations, so must you match the shape, size, color and the prevalent antics of these shoreline-dwelling amphibians (frogs) and bank-running rodents (rats).
There are dozens of lures on the market that imitate each of these small creatures. By collecting a few of each, an angler can be armed with an armada of leg-kicking, tail-shaking attractions for a variety of fishing situations. Reviewing the history, equipment and fishing techniques associated with fishing these frog and rat imitations, can increase your fishing know-how and help you with your bassin' goal....which is boating more bass!
Then and Now
FROG IMITATIONS - For over a century there have been crude attempts to mimic one of Mother Nature's creations, a real live frog. In the late-1800's live bait lures were popular, due to the fact there were no fake lures yet being marketed. These big bass offerings consisted mostly of a hook and live bait, which were either cast or fished while hanging from the end of a cane pole.
Soon, some tinkerer developed the use of a wire frame with multiple hooks, to which an angler could attach a live frog for casting. Some crude models even featured built in weed guards. Spring-loaded, similar in appearance to a mouse trap, the frog was impaled to avoid its escaping, but in such a way that it still kicked and wiggled. This natural fashion got the attention of any bass nearby and rang the dinner bell with its struggling and injured-meal appeal. Labeled, "frog-casting frames" or "harnesses", these complex and cumbersome, live bait lures were extremely popular nationwide among a growing number of bass-chasing enthusiasts. That is until newer models arose.
Even as these homemade 'live frog' lures began popping up all over, some inventors advanced to the ultimate. This consisted of stretching real frog skins over wooden, hand-carved models, that could be used again and again without reloading. As in the case of the frog-casting frames (and lucky for the frogs) this didn't last long. Today only a few models are still in existence and are extremely rare and of high value. One can only imagine what they smell like by now!
One of today's rarest lures (especially in the frog category) is the Heddon Frog. These hand-carved models (of which only a few still exist) were created by James Heddon. They are valued today at up to $20,000 each, that is in good condition. Resembling a small slingshot, the Heddon Frog consisted of a fat, handle-shaped body with two Y-shaped legs coming off both sides of the lure at an angle. Beneath the belly hung a treble hook with a single hook dangling from each leg. Finding one of these rare models in good shape is becoming difficult. It was a very good imitation of a frog and most anglers used them until the bass just plain tore em’ apart.
At the head of this hand-carved James Heddon frog was a line tie and two extruding eyeballs. Most of these plain-looking frogs were painted green with a white underside. Once the world's largest producer of honey, James Heddon handed out his hand-carved Heddon frogs to customers that he exclaimed "got to talking to much fishing". Thus was the beginning of one of the nation's most famous lure manufactures, James Heddon & Sons Tackle Co. emerged. Today, popular lures are still manufactured under his name.
RAT (OR MOUSE) IMITATIONS - Just as the frog skin-stretchers had emerged some lure designers decided if it was good enough with frogs skins why not try mouse skins too? Among other small, lakeside creature replicas such as snakes, birds, baby ducks, lizards and small fish, the furry bank runners had some genuine copies of their own.
One mouse model that stood out among others emerged on the then-growing lure market around 1940. Labeled, "The Bleeder Mouse" and rightfully so. It had a compartment in the belly for inserting a small tablet that emitted a real mouse blood trail when water activated. It came with a dozen 'bleeder' tablets for an extra 15 cents. This true-to-life mouse came in one color, brown. It was covered with a rough, hair-looking texture with treble hooks hanging from the belly and at the rear. It was known for its BIG bass appeal. Manufactured by Bleeder Bait Co. this is a rare and valuable lure among collectors today.
Fascinating, fun to fish with heart-jarring explosions, easy to master and known for trophy bass, frog and rat lures have gained popularity with the modern day angler. As we are now in the year 2000, over 100 years after the first models were introduced, frog and rat imitations are mass produced, with dozens on the market to choose from.
Current designs are manufactured with hollow bodies or poured in a solid mass of rubber with an air-injection process. Very weedless and high in fish-catching abilities, these rubber-bodied lures do have one bad trait. They eventually tear up from constant use. Most models are not expensive to produce and can be replaced for just a few dollars. Although better than yesterday’s models they still can't replace the pride of designing, hand carving and fooling BIG bass on your own lure. Just like the original James Heddon frog, modern day plastic frog and rat imitations do tear up after catching a lot of bass, so there won’t be many models around in the near future for lure collectors to display.
Presentations and Retrieves
There are many arguable points on the fine art of fishing with frogs and rats. Viewpoints do vary among topwater enthusiasts on various presentations, retrieves, colors and lure choices. Even the equipment needed for different situations must be considered before heading out on a frog and rat chunkin’ excursion. Some of today's models feature a very weedless design. This can be a definite plus when each cast places the frog or rat over, under, around and through all types of hook-grabbing cover. The less weedless types should be saved for open water fishing. Those not-so-weedless frogs and rats can give the bass a different look at other models after missed strikes in the weeds and often generate return strikes. Each and every model can be utilized, particularly on days when picky bass prefer that little added touch of enticement to provoke a strike.
There will be days (or nights ) when bass won't roam far from the security of thick cover. This calls for stealth, extremely accurate casting and very slow retrieves to provoke a strike. Allowed to sit motionless after thumbing the line for a quiet entry, a frog or rat will aggravate any bass into striking. All you need are the right techniques and a lot of patience.
THICK MATTED WEEDS - When fishing thick, matted-type weeds, hopping these lures to the edge of weed 'holes' or 'openings' will signal the bass down below to look up. A slight delay and an enticing wiggling of the lure, in place, is crucial at this point. Be ready, these picture windows from our world to the bass down are key spots for some BIG weed-dwelling bass.
LILY PADS - Other slow-strike methods include hopping your enticing offerings from pad to pad. Key in on the isolated (and bigger) lily pads. These pads can be in numbers or single. The more shade, the more likely a big bass will be holding in these slightly open areas of lily pad fields. Other cover within these vast fields of greenery such as rocks, laying logs, brush, blowdowns, stumps, or even a different type of weed, all draw in the bigger bass looking to dominate one particular ambush spot. Always throw your lures past your intended target to avoid spooking these very skittish, shallow water bass. Upon retrieve keep the cadence steady, so the bass can ready itself for the kill. This helps aid the bass in tracking down the lure and results in less missed strikes.
TALL GRASS - Even tall grass can be fished with heavy line and stout equipment. Tossing the frog or rat way back in the grass and jigging it up and down, while splashing the lure in the water, imitates helpless creatures that have fell in the water and are trying to climb back up the tall, slender grass. In these situations strikes are fast and often go unseen by the angler in the tall grass. All you hear is a loud blow-up, you then set the hook...and hold on! Heavy line and stout equipment are needed for this crude method of fooling bass that rarely even see a lure. The bass must quickly be horsed from cover to avoid losing the fish or having it hang you up. I suggest Trilene Big Game monofilament line in the 20-25 lb. test category.
GRASS PATCHES - When approaching grass islands or small patches of weeds, long casts are often necessary, especially in clear water situations, to avoid spooking these generally, shallow water bass. Try throwing your offerings far past the isolated weedy cover and working your lures down both sides as you circle the small patch of weeds. Then retrieve the lure right down the middle of the weeds to thoroughly cover every available spot the bass could be hiding in. Work the weed edges first, many unseen underwater weeds, rocks and wood cover are hidden and cruising bass stop-off or hold here when feeding.
Keep in mind, your always attempting to mimic the hopping, running and even swimming motion of these little bank runners. Remember, a fake frog or rat can be reeled in with a steady swimming motion, a very fast retrieve, hopped along in short (or long) jerks, retrieved with slight pauses in-between short hops, or made to sit totally motionless for as long as you (and the bass ) can stand it.. Usually most stubborn bass will be tight to cover and must be coaxed into striking. This may require several cast’s with various retrieves from all angles. Experimenting is the ticket to getting bit.
STEADY RETRIEVES -Always keep a steady, easy to follow, cadence going. This will result in better hooksets as the bass home in on the lure and move in for the kill. There will be days when the bass literally try to annihilate these frogs and rats and not many lures can equally out fish them. As with all topwaters, early light periods or rainy, overcast days are best. At night, prior to a full moon (or just after) combined with clear water, could just be the best conditions for a bass to see and track down the lure. However, the darkest nights with no moon can be just as exciting, but missed strikes are more likely, as the bass has trouble finding or actually seeing the lure.
SETTING THE HOOK - As blow-ups occur instincts tell you to set the hook. This usually results in snatching the lure away from the bass prematurely or a poor hook up. Experience is the best teacher. Soon you will realize you need to pay close attention on every cast and be ready for the strike. Always give the bass a one-two count before setting the hook. This takes practice, lots of it! Often bass take these lures very lightly and strikes can go undetected. A sudden line movement off to the side, indicates the bass has the lure and is already moving off, indicating it’s time (or past time) to set the hook. If the bass misses the lure you can do one of two things. Let the lure remain motionless, hoping for a return hit or continue hopping the lure in the same manner that got you a strike in the first place.
LINE - As a matter of preference (and from years of experience) one thing is evident. You rarely need light tackle when fishing frogs and rats, especially around tackle-testing cover. It only brings heartaches, lost lures and tales of lost fish. Monofilament line as small as 15 pound test will get the job done, but day or night when fishing around thick cover-despite water clarity-you are safer with 20-25 lb. test Trilene Big Game line. Braided line can be utilized when targeting bass in very thick weeds. Some of the new super, braided lines are tailor made for situations such as these. With the right knot these "ropes" will not break. This in turn sends the shock of the hookset to the properties of the rod. There has to be a giving point somewhere in the line, hook, knot or the rod you choose.
RODS -A good fiberglass or fiberglass composite rod with a stout tip, strong butt and a long cork handle provides fighting leverage needed to avoid lost bass. Very stiff graphite rods can result in jerking the lure away from the bass or ripping the lure loose upon a strong hookset. Rod lengths of 6 to 7 feet are needed when making long, two-handed casts in open water situations. These longer rods can also be a deciding factor when battling a huge bass-of which frogs and rats always attract. Long, stout rods also help with better hooksets, pulling the bass out of thick cover during fierce battles and they can aid an angler in wearing down a strong bass at boatside. Even smaller bass can be swung aboard with less effort with a longer rod.
Again, this is all a matter of preference and some anglers may feel more comfortable with shorter rods, especially when fishing in tight quarters such as the backs of weed-infested pockets or narrow creeks. Try several models to decide which is best suited more towards your style of fishing. One important aspect does apply here. Dependable rods must always be coupled with quality reels for success in getting these huge bass in the boat..
REELS - Most reels will work when fishing with frogs or rats. Some experts on this subject prefer slower ratio reels to avoid over-fishing the lure. Slow-class reels (such as closed-faced Zebco models) usually have a 1.1 to 3.1 ratio. Mid-class ratios on most open-faced or spincast reels are around 4.7 to 5.1. Some high speed spincast reels have a 7 to1 ratio. There are several reasons for choosing each of these reels.
Closed-faced reels are easier for the novice to cast, especially the younger frog and rat chunkin' generation. Zebco makes many models for anglers that prefer these type of reels.
Open-faced reels are popular with today’s anglers. But most open-faced reels of today are narrow spooled and won't hold much heavy test line. After making a long cast (with any size line) the reel ratio is reduced. The less line on the reel, the more you must speed up the retrieve to gather up the line. Always choose models with wide spools to accommodate the thicker diameter of heavy line. ABU Garcia makes many models in this wide spool category.
Open-faced reels are notorious for backlashes and take some getting use to. Wide-spool high-gear, open-faced reels, coupled with heavy line and oversized reel handles are the norm for froggin' and rattin'. There are times when heavy duty, open-faced spincast reels are needed.
Open-faced Spincast reels will aid an angler by winching a fighting bass from thick cover. Or when avoiding the dreaded backlash by skipping these lures under man made structures and overhanging bushes. These reels are a must for this technique.
Surprisingly, most frogs and rats will cast quite some distance with any reel loaded with 20 pound test line. With a little practice, a fast-retrieve reel can be slowed to a crawl while barely turning the reel handles. When choosing these rods, reels and lines remember, no matter what equipment you decide on keep in mind that you will encounter some BIG bass when fishing these lures. You don't go after an elephant with a B B gun. Getting the strikes is one thing, getting the bass in the boat is another.
WOOD COVER - Although most anglers associate these rubber morsels with fishing different types of grass there is other cover to consider. Wood and rock cover may be all that your favorite lake has to offer in the form of bass holding hideouts, but don't despair! Frogs and rats stop and rest as they travel about the banks of our lakes. Fishing with this thought in mind, can aid an angler towards more success, when there are no weeds to fish these lures in. A stump field in the back of a flat can be homes to frogs and rats, that hop about from stump to stump. A lure imitating these little bank runners, can be made to hop off the bank, scurry up to each stump, before it careens off to one side and is attacked by an awaiting bass.
When allowed to swim all the way down a laying log or laydown tree, these lures have the same effect as spinnerbaits and buzzbaits, only you can ‘stop‘ these lures. Flooded brush can bring explosive strikes when you hop frogs and rats around every available limb.
ROCK COVER - Even bluff banks have many small frogs, mice and other creatures, that plunge to their inevitable deaths when traveling about these overhanging or deep shady bluffs. Rocks or washed-out boulders in the backs of feeder creeks, rocky shoals and small streams are excellent ambush spots for smallmouths, spotted bass and largemouth’s. Frogs and small mice live in these often undisturbed backwaters. So do some BIG bass, none would turn down a frog or rat hopped their way.
SHADY COVER - Piers, boathouses, bridges, culverts and overhanging bushes provide cover and shade all day and bass that seek the comfort of these much cooler, shady hideouts see a variety of lures....but not many see frog and rat imitations.
Not many people will pull up to these low, overhanging areas and skip a frog or rat way back into the darkest reaches where the big ones live. A low trajectory, with a side arm cast, while simultaneously thumbing the reel, will skip these lures like a rock. Spincast reels are better suited for this type of fishing and aid the angler in casting accuracy, while tremendously avoiding backlashes, which are more common with open-faced reels. There are many other places to consider when fishing a frog or rat, nevertheless on lakes with weeds, the target is evident.
Fishing Aquatic Weeds
WEED IRREGULARITIES - Most weedbeds have points, open lanes, holes and pockets. Some weedbeds include several varieties of aquatic weeds. In some weeds you will find cover within cover such as brush, rocks, stumps or laying logs. These are places to find the bigger and more dominant bass laying in wait to ambush unsuspecting prey. Directing your casts towards these irregularities within the weeds, will eliminate casting to whole fields of seemingly endless miles of weeds.
THICK WEEDS - Thick, matted weeds, within thinner, more sparse weeds always deserve a few casts, for they provide a canopy of all day comfort for a big bass. Besides weeds, scummy-looking backwaters, which most anglers avoid, can be fished with these weedless lures. The same traits can be found in lily pads fields, another excellent aquatic weed choice for fishing frog and rat imitations. Big bass also prefer the shade, comfort and security provided in these hard to fish spots...that most anglers usually avoid.
There are many choices when deciding what cover to fish when casting with frog and rat lures. Just as significant as lure choices, are tricks-of-the-trade to help entice bass from wood, rock cover-or the green, green grass many call home.
Lure Choices and Tricks-of-the-Trade
COLORS - Frog and rat imitations come in all shapes, forms, sizes and colors. When looking to chose the correct color, you can always go by the standard rule of topwaters, dark lures on dark days and lighter colored lures on light days. Or darker lures at night. However, this rule can often be bent a with a little experimentation on the anglers part. White or chartreuse frogs and black or brown rats usually gets the big bass bite. At night stick with darker colors on both types of lures. This provides a better silhouette for bass that are looking up for an easy meal. On some days smaller lures may be the preference of picky-eating bass. Each model has it's own bass-attracting qualities. Again, experimenting is the key.
POPULAR MODELS - Manufactured by dozens of reputable companies the frogs and rats just keep on coming as tackle stores and online shopping nationwide exhibit many different models to choose from. Here is a frog and rat checklist of various designs in order of this author's preference: Scum Frog and Bassin' Rat by Southern Lure Co.(Zetabait) and Swamp Rat by Zetabait Lures, Mann's Rat by Mann's Lures, Tournament Frog by Snagproof Lures, Grass Frog by Strike King Lure Co., ‘Super Frog’ by Bill Plummer, Frog Bait by Burke Lures, and a weedless spoon frog imitation labeled 'Moss Boss' by none other than Heddon Tackle Co. Many other brands exist but these are the most popular and proven favorites.
LURE MODIFICATIONS - There are many lure modifications for altering the store bought appearance of frogs and rats. Adding rattlers can help a bass detect lure movement especially in stained water, when fishing at night or during low light conditions. Skirts can be added (or changed) to alter the appearance of frogs. On models that come with rubber skirts a change to silicone skirts will avoid skirt strands sticking together. Dyeing frogs or rats different colors or spotting them with a permanent marker can give them a one-of-a-kind appearance. Hollow body frogs and rats can be stuffed with small bits of styrofoam to aid in staying afloat. Or you can fill them with cotton and pour in some of your favorite frog and rat attractant (they do make it don't they?).
HELPFUL HINTS FOR MISSED STRIKES - Missed bass are common when fishing these lures. First, sharp hooks are a must. Sharpen or replace all hooks. Unlike other hard-bodied lures missed bass will return to strike again. The soft qualities of these rubber bodied lures are very similar to the real thing. Adding a trailer hook (or two) will snag the short strikers. Weedless hooks with wire weedguards are needed to avoid destroying the weedless traits of most frogs and rats. You can slip a small piece of surgical tubing over the hook eye. Then hang two of these hooks off the back of the already weedless hooks that come on the lure.
Another trick for missed strikes is to tie one lure behind another with a short piece of heavy test line or a wire leader. When the bass misses the first lure, the second temptation is hopped in its place for a second look and often a return strike. Zetabait’s (Southern Lure Co.) Scumfrog now comes rigged and ready for this tandem, frog fishing attraction.
SHARP HOOKS - The last thing between you and a well landed bass is the hook. Without a sharp hook there is just the tale of, "the one that got away". Whenever the subject of frog and rat fishing emerges in fishing circles there are tales of lost fish, usually due to dull hooks. To avoid joining this not-so-proud group of anglers, you must keep your hooks sharpened to increase your catch-to-loss ratio.
Most weedless models feature two upturned hooks that fit snug to the lures body creating the weedless qualities. Weedless hooks are exposed when the bass clamps down on the collapsible rubber body. These hooks must be very sharp to penetrate the bony tissue in the maw of a huge bass. One company has taken this into consideration. Zetabait’s subsidiary, Southern Lure Company, now includes Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp hooks on their Scum Frogs and Bassin' Rats. A trend should develop as other lure companies notice the difference in customer approval and in this major competition's sales.
As many of our nation's small ponds, natural lakes, rivers and man made impoundment’s, become clogged with miles of thick, aquatic weeds, getting a lure through the mess (without hanging up) is becoming quite an accomplishment. Many anglers just give up or totally avoid weeds, that seem to create a hang-up on every cast. More lure manufactures in the new millennium have designed newer and better lures that mimic creatures of all shapes and sizes, with weedless qualities always a best seller. The new hand poured (and mass-manufactured) plastics of all shapes and sizes generate strikes above and below the waterline and will always entice a few bass.
However, getting bites on most of these lures will never surpass the excitement of seeing a huge, monster bass explode through thick, weedy cover, as it waylays a frog or rat in reckless abandon. There are very few lures that generate such astonishing memories for the young and old to log away, as another of the many topwater blow-ups when fishing with frogs and rats. Give it a try, but bring along spare lures and plenty of heart pills. You're gonna need 'em !