Friday, March 29, 2013

Cranking for a change.....

Rough day today on the water, but it was my first trip of the year where I wasn't under any time limit windows.  I had originally planned to hit a major reservoir, but when the winds combined with the water temps were not favorable for my planned attack, I opted to stay local at a neighborhood pond.  Less time driving = more time to fish.  When I launched, the winds were blowing about 5-10, air temps were in the high 40's and the sun was already creeping through the clouds.  Water temps were in the low 50's on the shady side of the pond, but the sunny side crept into the 58 degree range by the time I had to pack it in the for the day.

I started by attacking the various submerged brush piles and lay downs with a PTL Texas Rig Jig and a Siebert Outdoors Zenith Jig and PTL Craw D'oeuvre.  Didn't get a single hit in two hours, so I switched gears to a new spinnerbait I have been wanting to try but no luck either.  Then again, it could have been the right bait with the windy conditions, surface chop and murky water, but a big ole snapping turtle that was every bit of 30" in length ended that approach pretty quickly with a quick snap at the spinnerbait as it passed him and severed the line.  I was more than ticked off at this one, because it was my only one.

Oh well, those are the breaks.  I tied on a Confidence Baits Draggin Head and a PTL Sick Stick and figured a different bait profile might be the ticket.  I went back and worked the same cover again for a couple more hours to now avail save for that dang snapping turtle a second time.  Only this time he was hooked directly behind his head in the shell.  As I reeled him closer, he remained docile until I touched the top of his shell with the rod tip to try and dislodge the hook point.  His head spun around quickly and snapped at my rod.  I pulled it back just in time to avoid losing a rod tip and only losing a bait.

At this point, I was at a loss for what lure or approach to use, since I took the minimalist approach today and only had the jig box and some soft plastics.  That is until I realized I had left one of my rods in the car rigged with a square bill crankbait.  Ureka!!!!  I beached the PA14 and made a bee line for the van long enough to grab the rod and make my way back to those shallow cover locations mentioned before.  The pond is only 5.5' at it's deepest point and is mostly a flat 3-4' pond with very little structure changes.  Almost all of the cover is right next to the banks where the drop off goes from 1' to 4' pretty quickly.

I made my way over to a corner of the pond that had some surface activity of a fish chasing something.  I fired off a cast to the corner of a lay down and started the retrieve when I felt the line go dead and the crankbait stopped moving.   A quick side sweep hook set and fish on!!  Finally - after two more hours of hard cranking, I landed my first and only fish of the day....a thin 17" Largemouth Bass.
Not much in the way of any size, but it felt good to get the skunk off for the day.  I kept at it for another hour until I realized that it was time to pack it in and head home.  While it wasn't a very productive day, it was still time on the water, and I fulfilled part of my goals for 2013 by catching my first ever fish from a kayak using a crankbait.  I need to continue using them this year and improve my skills and trust in these baits.

One thing I can say is that my new custom handle from HawgTech really came in handy today.  Cranking for three straight hours is tiring work, but the lightweight handle on my reel made it so much easier.  I never felt tired or even thought about it the entire time I was slinging the squarebill.  Awesome handle guys - top notch!  I'll be ordering a few more soon!!

Until next time - tight lines!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Are you a frog fisherman?

If not, have you ever thought of trying it but were scared you didn't have the right gear?  At first, it may seem intimidating when you walk down the aisle at your local tackle store and see an entire section dedicated to soft plastic frogs.  If that wasn't enough, you simply have to turn around and then take in the multitude of hollow-bodied frogs, popping frogs and other diving or floating frog variants on the opposite side of the aisle.  So where do you begin?

Before we get started, it is important to understand that this article is geared more towards those that have never frog fished or have had some struggles.  To the seasoned or veteran frog angler, the items discussed below are old hat and are pretty much automatic.  The other key point to understand is that every body of water is unique and may require you to adjust not only your tactics, but also the gear you choose to utilize.  With that said.....

The first thing you need to understand is that frogging requires some sturdier equipment in the way of rod, reel and line choices.  That means you will most likely need at least two complete setups to target fish using a frog.  This will make more sense a little later.  For the rod, you want to find a good medium-heavy rod with an extra fast action in a length between 6'6" and 7'3".  For most kayak anglers, this length is sufficient for reaching around the front of your kayak and playing the fish to either side yet still stout enough to handle some big fish and short enough to fit inside your vehicle for transport.  A key point to remember here is that as kayak anglers, we do not need to invest in those heavy technique specific frog rods, because we can go to the fish if it gets hung up whereas a traditional bass angler in a boat does not always have that luxury.  Sensitivity is not as key in a frog rod here, so don't get hung up on how sensitive it feels.  You should be more concerned about the strength of the rod's backbone and the action of the tip.

When it comes to reel choice, this is typically a personal preference when it comes to reel brand or gear ratio, but the one recommendation I can offer is one that can stand up to the rigors of frog fishing and has an IPT(Inches Per Turn) of at least 28-30".  This typically means handling heavy cover and the torque or flex of the reel under load.  Low quality reels do not hold up well after a season of hard frog/heavy cover fishing.  When combined with the rod above and the line choices below, you have a fighting chance of getting that fish closer to you before it can dive into heavy cover.  The other quality in the reel that needs to be tested thoroughly is the drag rating and the drag action.  Any reel with a minimum drag rating of 12-15lbs should be fine, but you should have it tested first to know the reel's limits.  The action of the drag should be smooth under load and not jumpy or inconsistent.

The next piece of your arsenal is the line choice.  Just like reels, there are many preferences in this area as well.  You can use anything from 15lb flourocarbon to 65lb braided line.  The key here is understand what cover you will be fishing in and around before making your line choice.  For open water or light cover like sporadic lily pads or grass mats, you can use 15-25lb flourocarbon and be fine.  For the waters like I fish where the lily pads are super thick and lay downs and timber are knotted like spaghetti, I prefer to use a dark green 50-65lb braid, because when I get a fish on, I know I can keep the fish hooked without fear of the fish breaking the line on the cover and give me enough time to get closer to it if needed.  The one caveat here is for those that are using the lighter small profile frogs on spinning gear.  You can use 30lb braid with a 20lb flourocarbon leader and be fine.  As said before, the cover will dictate what line to use.

Now that you have your "frog combo" ready, you need to arm yourself with some frogs.  I recommend keeping it simple at first with regards to types of frogs and colors.  You have to remember, the predatory behaviors and actions of the fish will clue you in on what is the right cadence and retrieve to use, so don't focus so much on color variation.  After all, the profile of the lure underneath the water and the noise profile it emits are what entices the strike, not whether the frog was green, red, brown, white or black.  The fish could care less what intricate pattern or frog like graphic was painted on the top or side of the lure - they can't see it from below!!

For your first set of frogs, I recommend three colors: a watermelon pearl, a brown/orange and a black.  If you stick to these three colors, they will be get you started and will do perfectly fine.  I have caught the majority of my frog bass on either black or the watermelon pearl.  As for the other types of frogs, I also recommend a couple popping frogs in black and a green; a few walk the dog soft bodied frogs in the same two or three color patterns.  The only other things you need at this point are 4/0-5/0 EWG or unweighted swim bait hooks and a good frog scent.  The reason for the frog scent is enticing the fish to hold onto the frog a split second longer to increase your chances of a good hook set.

So, now that you have your "froggin' combo" and your first frog arsenal ready for the fight, what do you do?  How do you get started?  First and foremost, you need to have your two frog rods rigged with different frog types.  The first combo should have your moving presentation.  The second should have your popping or walk the dog presentation.  The first thing I do is target the outer edges of the lily pads, grass line or lay downs with the moving frog.  I typically burn the frog first creating a nice bubble trail.  I'll work the lay down or cover edges quickly and follow up with a slightly slower retrieve where the frog barely disturbs the surface.  These fish are typically the most aggressive and are relative easy targets.  The reason you want to start at the outer edge first is to not spook any potentially larger fish that may be lurking deeper in the cover or closer to shore.  Once you have worked over the edges fairly well, make a cast about midway deep into the lay down or cover and repeat.  Once that is done, then I cast to the shore and hop my frog into the water and start working it back to me.

If I miss the strike or get a short strike, I immediately get my second frog rod and cast back just beyond that spot.  Only this time, I'll let the frog sit there for a bit before I give it a subtle twitch and let it rest.  After 20-30 seconds, I'll give it a couple more twitches.  The primary purpose of the second combo is as a "throwback lure" for a missed strike.  If you aren't getting any strikes on the moving frog, the second combo can be used in conjunction with the first combo and worked into the mix when you are casting.  For example. the first cast you made earlier was to the outer edge of a lay down and you worked your frog quickly.  The second cast was to the same general area but with a slower retrieve.  Now pick up the second combo and throw that frog to the same outer edge and work it slowly twitching the frog every 20-30 seconds.  As you move your target area, work your second combo into the mix as the last step before cycling back to the moving presentation on your first combo.

The key concept to understand here is to provide the target species with alternatives.  If all you are doing is power fishing with a moving presentation, you might be missing some quality fish by not offering them something different to think about.   At the same time, if the fish only sees and hears one thing, they will tune it out and likely not strike it.  For the budget conscious angler, you can achieve the same goals by only using one combo.  You just have to be self aware enough to know when to switch it up with your retrieve cadence or how you work the frog.  For example, on some days I will only take one frog rod, but it is worked using all three retrieval speeds - fast, medium and slow.

The last concept to understand and often times the hardest is the hook set.  There are three key elements to the proper hook set on a fish that strikes a frog.  First and foremost is rod tip angle.  When working the frog, you need to keep your rod tip at approximately the ten to eleven o'clock position.  The second is lowering your rod tip immediately when the strike occurs - don't try for a hook set here!  You'll most likely end up with a frog flying straight back at you at quite a high rate of speed and with hooks exposed!  Yikes!  Third, count to yourself a two count (thousand one, thousand two) as you reel the slack in and then give a quick firm hook set over your shoulder.  If you try a side hook set, you could pull the frog right out of the fish' mouth.  The hardest part of the three-part series of events is not setting the hook immediately.

Simple right?  In all seriousness, it is actually that simple, but it takes practice as with any fishing technique.  I'll leave you with two helpful tips that I personally can attest to as helping me land more bass using frogs.  First, when rigging soft plastic frogs on the hook of your choice, work the hook through the body of the frog a couple times to loosen the passage way for the hook shank.  It only takes one missed fish and seeing your hook still rigged perfectly to remember this tip.  Second, if you use a frog scent attractant, stick to the gel or wand-style attractants.  They remain on the frog longer than the sprays.
Have faith in your ability and go try to catch some fish on a top water frog - I can tell you that there is nothing quite like the thrill and adrenaline rush of a top water frog strike.  It gets my blood pumping all the time!