About bass



By Richard Hart

When I was young, I enjoyed visiting my grandparents on the old the old family farm in Alabama. My father and grandfather would take us kids fishing for bream in the stock ponds. The ponds were small and had great weed center for fish. While fishing those ponds one summer day we noticed a small green tree frog struggling on a branch over the water. Eventually the frog fell in the pond right in hunt of a stand of cattails reeds.. It lay still for just a moment and then a dash for the bank. Suddenly there large, noisy swirl and the little frog vanished almost as if it had disappeared by a magic trick. I asked my dad what happened to the frog and he replied, simply, "Bass." He said it with a tone that made it clear that no further explanation was required

In that instant I understood why many of the lures in my dad's tackle box were shaped and colored like frogs. I had played with those deer- hair bugs many times and always wondered what fish ate frogs. That day I received a dose of reality in the workings of the aquatic food chain. I filed the experience away, but now recall it fondly when I'm sitting at my tying bench concocting a new frog imitation.

Chain of Food
As I grew older. I learned more about the biology of frogs and how they fit into that aquatic food chain. Frogs are amphibians that differ from toads in that they have smooth skin and live their lives close to water. Toads have bumpy skin and live in a more terrestrial setting. Frogs vary in size front as small as your fingernail to as large as 12 inches long. Frogs are responsible for eating many mosquitoes and other insects that we classify as pests.

After hibernating through the winter, frogs awaken with a fierce urge to procreate. A male frog doesn't seem very bright as it tries to mount anything, but that moves, but eventually it will find a female and attach itself to her back .She lays eggs in the water in a gelatinous mass.. It is during the mating time- early spring through about early summer-that frogs are most vulnerable to fish. The males, in particular. become so active in their pursuit of a mate that they'll venture into places where the bass lie in wait, That's one reason why you'll often find bass patrolling within inches of the shoreline early in the season: the fish are looking for frogs that make it mistakes.

The fertilized frog eggs are left in warm, shallow water to incubate and hatch. Small tadpoles emerge from the egg mass in a matter of days and swarm in the shallows. This stage of development should not be overlooked by the fisher man. Predator fish find the tadpole delicious and plentiful. Then. too. tadpoles are available through out the year. The tadpoles of two common frog species. the bullfrog and the green frog, can take up to two years to reach adulthood. I have found that a Marabou Tadpole fly works very well on many ponds and lakes, as long as the shallows remain fairly warm.

Later, as the tadpoles metamorphose and start to grow legs. they become prime fish food for the larger predator fish, Smallmouth and Largemouth bass find frogs especially tasty, I have found that small (up to a bout size 1/0) frog hit imitations will work when almost nothing else will elicit a strike.

Old Fashioned Fun

One of the earliest references to frog lures for the fly fisherman came in 1893 from Mr. M. D. Butler. a warmwater fly fisher and fly tier from Indianapolis. Indiana. He sent cork and turkey feather "bass bugs" to Dr. James Henshall, a renowned fly-fishing author, for consideration in his writings. These were perhaps some of the earliest "frog flies" designed for the long rod. In the 1881 first edition release of his book,. Book of the Black Bass, Henshall described bass-bug fishing as falling far short of true fly fishing. but he would later change his mind as he experienced the thrill of warmwater fly fishing, and he eventually went on to create the eponymous Henshall Bug.

Early versions of cork-bodied frog imitations were blunt on the front end. An early pioneer in lure making, B. F. Wilder, was responsible for rounding the cork and creating a sliderlike bug. With further improvements on the design b Will H. Dug, the bass hug that simulates a frog became popular and was marketed by Heddon for years as the Wilder-Dilg.

F. H. Peckinpaugh, who many consider the originator of cork and balsa fly lures, dug out the face of a cork bass bug and produced the popping bug. The Peckinpaugh lure company has gone through many changes over the years, but they still make some of the best cork-body poppers on the market. Every kid with a fly rod has used a Miss Prissy or Froggy popper to catch one of their first fish.

In the '20s, Joe Messinger developed a new way to spin deer hair and created his eponymous frog. Joe Messinger. Jr. has stayed in his father's footsteps and continues to tie the Messinger Frog. More recently, the Dahlberg Swimming Frog from inventive tier Larry Dahlberg has become the fly of choice for many bass fly fishermen.

Ersatz Frog
Frog imitations made of spun deer hair are effective and good looking. Deer hair frogs also have all that tradition behind them. which may not make them catch bass any better. but it sure lends them a lot of class.
I have found that spinning (leer hair requires special training and lots of practice to become proficient. For those who are not proficient with spinning deer hair. there are other things from which to make fake frogs. Closed-cell foam, braided tubing. and plastic coated materials have caused a new wave of designs and patterns that are making a splash on t fly tying scene. One such design is the Flexo Frog. This simple pattern is tied with Flexo tubing an coated with Softex. The Flexo Frog was designed to be east to cast. and can be fished in heavy weeds The Softex covering over the Flexo tubing makes for a rugged fly.
Cork is also excellent for making ersatz frogs. You can cane and sand your own custom frog bod ies wit relative ease, or you can order pre-made cork bodies from any number of places.

For those who don't tie, there are quite a few commercial frog imitations available. Traditionalists can find all sorts of deer-hair frog patterns from the likes of Umpqua Feather Merchants. Premier Fly Company, and many others. These looking for hard-body imitations might try sonic of the offerings from Gaines or Accardo/Peck. You can even find fly-rod size frogs magic of soft rubber hanging in the aisles of Wal-Mart and Kmart.
No matter what your fake frog is made of. it should have a couple of key features that make bass strike. Color is very important. Your fake frog should be white, off-white, or yellow on the underside. (Male frogs tend to have white bellies that shade to yellow near their chins.

Shape is also important. A fairly wide, blunt head and a tapering body give the ersatz frog the proper profile and make it easy to cast. You can skip the front legs. but your fake frog must have back legs of some sort. The back legs can he anatomically correct with knees, ankles, and toes, or they can be "suggestive" -a clump of appropriately colored marabou works great.

Fishing Frogggies
Fishing frog imitations doesn't call for any truly special skills, It does, however, require some attitude adjustment, and sonic knowledge of what it is that you're trying to imitate. In the wild, frogs lead fairly secretive lives. You might say that frogs' are paranoid. and you wouldn't be far from wrong-after all, frogs are favorite foods of everything from to bass to herons, so it's not like every carnivore around lie pond isn't out to get them.

The frog's paranoia means you should cast your imitations as close to shore and shoreline cover as possible. Frogs don't usually stray more than a couple of feet from shore and it's exceedingly rare that they'll venture into deep or open water, They know that death awaits once they get out from the protection of the shore
The bass, on the other hand, know that frogs that venture even a little distance out from the shore make a delicious meal. If you've spent any time prowling quietly along the banks of a pond 'a where both frogs an bass live, you've probably seen bass sitting right up against the bank. Those fish are waiting for something to drop in. and that something will most likely be a frog.

So you're casting your frog imitation against the banks. Don't use a delicate presentation. Frogs that get frightened off the bank usually hit the water with a health splash. and your ersatz frog should do likewise. Overpower the casting stroke to drive the bug down onto the surface and make it land with a good splat. Not only is this a true-to-life imitation of how a real frog hits the water. it also rings the dinner bell 'or any nearby bass.

Actually retrieving due bug opens up a whole bunch of other possibilities, The traditional retrieve is to let the bug sit still for a long time after it lands The old-tune advice is to let the hug lie until all the rings have disappeared. then to give it one gentle twitch and le it rest again. That works much of the time. but its not the most accurate imitation of frog behavior. When frogs get panicked off the shoreline and leap into the water, they start swimming instantly. So it's sometimes a better bet to make a fairly quick retrieve as soon as the bug lands.

One situation where the resting bug does provide a truly lifelike imitation is when you're trying to mimic a frog that's come up for air. You'll occasionally see frogs floating motionless on the surface, and your bug should do likewise. How ever. when a basking frog finally does start moving, it will always head clown and dive for the bottom. Your mutation should do the same. and you can make it do so by fishing a buoyant bug on a full-sinking or sinking-tip line. Let the bug rest motionless as the line sinks, then make a couple of vigorous strips to pull the bug under. This is an almost perfect imitation of the behavior of a real frog. Use this trick along the outer edges of weedbeds and in pockets in the weeds.

Bass have been eating frogs for as long as there have been both bass and frogs. Through summer and into early autumn, few flies approach the effectiveness of frog imitations. especially when the imitation looks like, and behaves like, the real thing.



Richard Hart is from Granbury, Texas. The article was first publihed in the January 1999, Warmwater Fly Fishing and Richard has given permission to WWFF to place it on the site. Thanks Richard.