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Fall+Frogs = Huge Bass
By Gary Rehbein
Fall is here in the North country. I feel it as I make my way down to the boat parked at the public landing boat dock. I have the added warmth of my jacket and have begun to were my pants as opposed to my traditional shorts and T-shirt. The leaves have begun their ceremonial change of color and much of the wildlife is preparing for the upcoming winter. For most people who enjoy the outdoors, this can be a very difficult time of year. They are often torn between time in the field hunting or the last days on the open water.
Being an angler first, it is an easy choice for me to wake up in the morning and grab the rod and reel before the shotgun or bow. I figure I will have more time to chase feathered fowl or deer at a later date. But, on this fine morning I will take advantage of one of my favorite fall bass patterns.
Over the past few years I have been keeping my frogg’n rods in the boat a little longer into the fall season. Bass will remain shallow for an extended period of time in the fall as much of the baitfish and other prey are still working within the shallow vegetation that is still alive and healthy. The natural light of the sun has significantly diminished, but some aquatic vegetation holds on well into the fall.
The main idea is that much of the thickest cover has died off. This gives anglers an opportunity to get back into places that 3 weeks ago were impossible to get through and fish. It also opens up access to fish allowing them to swim freely to search for food.
This pattern hinges significantly on the weather and current weather condition are a major factor when fishing frogs in the fall. The key for good fall frog fishing is a stable warming trend with overcast skies. It does not have to be hot and the vegetation does not need to be very thick, it just has to be present. Some of my best fall frogging patters have been over dead rice. The stocks remain under water, but above water you will see only a few sticking up every few feet apart.
Because the cover is reduced, overcast days will produce many more strikes than days that are abundantly sunny. Reduced cover equals extra light perpetration and pushes fish out deeper or make them very wary for anglers trying to get close enough for a cast. The fish are spooky in these instances.
Generally, I will focus on large flats, many of which I fished throughout the summer by flipping or pitching jigs into opening in the thick cover. Since then many of the vegetation has died off, except for the thickest patches. I will make repeated cast near these ambush points with two different types of frogs. One is a buzz style frog that makes a tremendous amount of commotion and also a traditional hollowed bodied frog.
I will use the same equipment as I do in the summer. My rod consists of a 7’ heavy action rod, 65 pound test braid, and a high speed bait caster. I will use two different approaches in the fall for frog frenzy bass! I will cover water with a buzz style frog, any of the brand name fogs will work. Lately, I have been favoring the Strike King Rage Tail Toad and Yum Money Frog. I will use these to cover large flats, picking apart the remaining isolated cover. If I get a fish that blows up on the bait and will not commit, I will move on to the hollow bodied frog.
This is a standard soft, hollow bodied frog. These frogs are great for letting you bait sit near cover without moving it very much. This sit and wait technique is very effective for follow up strikes when they miss on their first attempt. This is very effective in the fall because they can see the frog clearly and often do not miss it sitting motionless. I will make a cast to where the fish blew up on my buzz frog. Once the bait settles on the water, I will give it a 10 second pause, following the pause I will twitch it ever so slightly, and then make another pause. Experiment with the pause times and let the fish determine how long you should wait between twitches.
The main point is that most people put their frog rod away far to early and miss out on some exciting, explosive frog fishing action. Extend you season, find lake that are extremely weed choked in the summer and now that fall is here you will have the opportunity to experience the a great bite that was impossible earlier in the summer months!
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Giant Bronzebacks on Muck
“Uncut Angling” Host/Guide Aaron Wiebe Talks Profile, Color and Scent For Big Smallies
A terrorist to bronzebacks, ace angler Aaron Wiebe fishes Trigger X soft plastics in ways that underscore his creativity as well as the versatility of the baits. Photo courtesy of St. Croix Rods
By Jim Edlund
25-year-old Aaron Wiebe is a self-described “professional fishing addict” who’d rather sleep in his truck than miss out on the morning bite—or sleep in his boat with a line in the water, for that matter, with a chance at a moonlit feeding window.
“I’m always going, going, going. I live on the water,” says Wiebe.
Although Wiebe’s been a fishing guide since age 16, these days his bag is chasing big fish on camera. His cyber show, “Uncut Angling,” has become an overnight success due to the sheer number of big fish he catches on cue and the wildfire of social media burning through his clips.
And while the notches in his cane include several muskies in the 50-plus-inch class, dozens of “over 30” walleyes, leviathan lakers and sturgeon, Wiebe is quick to point out that he loves nothing better than a good smallie outing. “It sounds cliché, but it’s true,” says Wiebe. “Pound-for-pound, smallmouth bass are really hard to beat for a good knock-down-drag-out fight.”
And more often than not, Wiebe’s left hook is involves soft plastics. “From pre-spawn all the way through ice-up, smallies will eat grubs, craws, minnows, you-name-it, and nothing gets the job done more effectively than properly selected softbait,” says Wiebe.
From day to day, that could mean anything from pitching Trigger-X Tubes to Flappin’ Bugs, Swimming Grubs, Flappin’ Craws or Minnows—all the way to bulkier profiles like the Trigger X 4-inch Hodad or 5-inch Little Moe.
“There are days when you’ve got to size up for bigger smallies,” says Wiebe. “The same big bait, big fish principles utilized for many trophy fish in the toothy variety absolutely apply for smallmouths. You’ve got to make sure what you knock them on the head it packs a serious caloric punch. There are times when I’ll Carolina-rig or football head jig deeper structure and they’ll kill a Little Moe—same goes for the Hodad around wood and weed cover, or even 5-inch saltwater Trigger X Minnows in Herring, which has uncanny resemblance to a smelt at first glance and a bit of openwater probing will provide a heavy tournament bag of supporting bronze evidence,” says Wiebe.
As a fisherman who spends the lion’s share of his time in clear water smallmouth fisheries, Wiebe is a big proponent of matching lure color to forage.
“Color is my final consideration when combing a new or familiar body of water – all too often it can be the most important factor in the equation,” says Wiebe. “A lot of times the age-old fly fishing adage of 'matching the hatch' can make the difference between a one or one-hundred fish day. As a rule of thumb, my fishing partner and I will throw contrasting color patterns to isolate the hottest pattern. One color has to 'night-and-day' outperform all others before we would ever consider throwing identical baits. All too often anglers quickly switch to what appears to be working based off of a bite or two, giving the fish only one option for the rest of the day.
“My cameraman Jay Siemens often juggles his camera duties with a sneaky line out the back of the boat that always has another color option. Regardless of all color theories, the fish will tell you what they want—day in and day out—and duplicating their forage in color, profile, and smell is often the win.”
Smallmouth bass forage sources range from minnows and baitfish, to crawfish, gobies, and dragonflies—which just scratches the surface of a long list of land and water dwelling creatures they’ll eat—so Wiebe wants his bait color and profile to match as many different forage patterns as possible.
New Trigger X colors do just that, plus offer the addition of specially formulated Ultrabite Aggression Pheromones that mimic the chemical signals given off by both predator and prey. From a fish's perspective, there are plenty of offensive smells from the out-of-water world, with something as simple as oils off an angler's hands perhaps taking top honors. With this in mind, Wiebe makes scent management a top priority in the boat.
"I've never used a slime towel in my entire life…wipe those fishy hands on your clothes or through your hair and get back to fishing. I'll often rinse my hands with a couple sprays from a bottle of Trigger X rejuvenator throughout the day to keep my scents masked…when a picky five pound smallmouth inspects a worm rigged weightless on 6 pound fluorocarbon, I'm winning with Trigger X as cologne."
Wiebe also knows that choosing the right stick and line is critical to success. "Completing your soft plastic attack with a proper outfit is something that you will appreciate immediately in comfort and shortly after in success," says Wiebe.
The young gun uses only St. Croix tournament "blues,” but says comparable rods in the extremely affordable Mojo series are a very near substitute. He picks rods like the 7' 1" medium-power "plastics" model and the 6' 8" medium-light "finesse" model for incredible versatility in a huge range of soft-plastics rigging when coupled with 10 pound and 6 pound Sufix 832, respectively, for normal and lighter applications.
"Sufix 832 braid in the Neon Lime color is my favorite for its incredible handling and high visibility," Wiebe relates, "so much of bass fishing is a visual game and being able to see your line above and below the water gives an observant angler many advantages with sensing bottom contact and strikes.
“Sufix 832 can also be marked with a permanent marker, which helps for several depth management tricks. An 18-inch section of 6- to 10 pound Sufix Invisiline Fluorocarbon rounds out every one of my smallmouth outfits for stealth and standing up to the abuse of abrasive underwater structure, including that found on the jawline of a bass.
“I’m a big fan of the new Trigger X colors,“ says Wiebe. “They’re exactly what a lot of us have been waiting for, stuff like the new pumpkin variations that do well to match different crayfish color phases and Bluegill, which also serves as a killer goby imitation."
When asked to pick his one desert-island smallie color, Wiebe paused for a second, “Muck. I think they really hit it with this color. It represents multiple forage options. I know, it sounds strange, but we catch a lot of bronzebacks on Muck!”
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Hold on Tight
Shallow cover like reeds, rushes, and other “junk” vegetation will often hold largemouth.
By Mike Frisch
While largemouth bass can be found in various water depths, one very exciting place to catch them from is shallow cover. Not only is the hand to hand combat necessary to muscle bass from the shallows enjoyable, but it also can lead to some of the year’s biggest, baddest largemouth. Here are some tips to use if you decide to head to the jungle in search of the big boys this summer!
Shallow cover like reeds, rushes, and other “junk” vegetation will often hold largemouth. One key to putting the most fish in the boat is to look for irregularities, or changes,within the vegetation. Any pockets or holes in the weeds will often hold bass. Other good changes include the inside and outside edges of vegetation,as well as changes in the types of vegetation found within a “weed patch.”
A good way to develop a fishing pattern is to fish as many possible fish-holding spots within vegetation and make mental note of where bites come from. Often, a pattern will emerge that can easily be duplicated when moving from weed patch to weed patch. For example, if I catch several bass from the outside edge of one pencil reed bank, I can often go to other reeds and catch fish from the outside edges there too.
A great way to target shallow cover is by pitching a standard“jig and pig” combination. My favorite jig is a 3/8- or 5/8-ounce black & blue Jungle Jig tipped with a similarly colored chunk trailer. Jungle Jigs, with their weedless design and premium hooks, are perfect for penetrating heavy cover and pulling out the big bass that live there.
A key to this style fishing is using heavy line on a quality heavy action rod/reel combination. I use 50-pound Bionic Bass Braid spooled on a Lew’s Speed Spool Tournament Baitcaster reel fished on a Carbon X C5 model heavy action rod. The braided line gives me the power needed to hook a big bass and horse him from heavy cover. The rod and reel combination allow me to quickly and accurately make lots of productive pitches and, is also very light so I can fish a big bait all day without undue fatigue.
If you want to experience some end-of-the day fatigue because you hooked and fought a bunch of big bass this spring and summer, head to the heavy cover, use some of the suggestions provided, and hang on!
Mike Frisch is a western Minnesota fishing guide. Visit his website at www.fishinwithfrisch.com
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Twitch and Pause for Smallmouth Hogs
Casting suspending bodybaits for brute bronzebacks is the perfect year-round ploy
By Mitch Eagan
Cast. Reel. Stop. Twitch and pause. Twitch, twitch. Pause. The rhythm of your retrieve is limited only to what your brainwaves can beckon.
A smallmouth bass in proximity takes note of your bodybait suspended motionless in the water column. You make another sharp, downward rip of the rod tip and the lure scurries askew and stops. Sunlight reflects from it like the beam of a spotlight echoing off a mirror. As slack line is reeled in the fish erects its dorsal fin, spins, flares its gills and attacks what it thinks is dinner. The wallop is so powerful it torques your wrist.
Soft plastics that imitate critters crawling along bottom fill the majority of tackle totes of smallmouth aficionados. And that’s okay because crawfish and aquatic insects make up the majority of a smallmouth’s diet. But contrary to popular bass beliefs, fishing low and slow with creepy-crawlies isn’t always the finest bass catching methodology. Minnows and young-of-the-year fishes are equally as sought after as smallies hunt them down just as doggedly.
Casting suspending bodybaits for brute bronzebacks and retrieving them with a tug and purposeful lull is the perfect year-round ploy for emulating the finned fishes big bass eat. It’s not just the lure’s action, but lack thereof that entices bass to whack them no matter the marauder’s mood.
Casting suspending baits for smallmouths isn’t “alert the media” news. Back in the late 1970’s it was realized that lures that didn’t float or sink, but hung right in the water column when paused were often smacked more often than those worked with a steady retrieve.
Back in the early days of this revelation, anglers would bore holes in the bellies of Rapala Original Minnows, slide the prescribed mass of lead weights in so the lure would suspend as perfectly horizontal as possible, then close up the gaps with epoxy and touch up the paint. It was a time consuming task but well worth the effort. As word spread of the suspending bait’s effectiveness, the soon-to-be-doctored floating balsa lures started disappearing off store shelves.
Since that formative era, companies like Rapala began mass producing bodybaits that suspended without needing a handyman. And the baits have come a long way; most are now molded from plastic, have weight-transfer systems for long-distance casting and to keep the lure from spinning and tangling midair; and come in every imaginable shape, size and color.
The Rapala Husky Jerk persists as the benchmark suspending bodybait. It casts long and rattles, literally, the cages of smallmouth bass. Comes in every size and finish to match your neighborhood hatch, too.
One misnomer still stuck in the minds of small-jaw fanatics is that suspending bodybaits only work when fish are foraging below a lake’s façade during the coldwater periods of pre-spawn and late fall – nothing could be further from the truth. While the lures do shine during these periods, suspending bodybaits work anytime and anywhere smallmouth swim.
Freshwater fish are truly cold blooded. This means their body temperature duplicates the surroundings; smallmouth bass, included. In coldwater fish not only won’t, but cannot catch up to a lure fished too aggressively. Besides that, the very forage these lures are imitating are also lethargic and unable to dash away from predators.
When water temperatures are in the 40s and 50s, the lure should move less and park longer; sometimes sitting still up to 30 seconds between twitches. As water temperatures warm, however, the rip of the rod tip can become more erratic and with tighter intervals between twitches. By the time water temps reach 70 you can entirely eradicate the pauses, your rod tip continuously snapping and the lure endlessly darting to and fro – this versus a steady retrieve.
Overall, no matter the season, the key to success boils down to varying the twitch and pause until you get hit. The hard part is remembering exactly what speed and pause time worked so as to repeat it...
To evoke the correct lure action takes a rod and line that matches the task at hand.
Rods, whether spinning or baitcasting, should be on the long side; up to 7 feet to cast lures extended distances. (The waters smallies swim are often very clear and long casts away from the boat or shore are necessary). The rod should be medium-action, yet with a soft tip – the medium power of the midsection and butt for muscle to work the lure and set the hook; the forgiving tip section aiding in casting the lure without it somersaulting in the air. St. Croix, for example, has designed a 6-foot 8-inch “jerkbait” rod in the Legend Tournament Bass series explicitly for this technique.
Using the right line, too, is essential in making the lure come alive. It should have little or no stretch, yet be soft enough to cast like a demon. 10- to 17-pound-test Sufix 832 is where it’s at. The dense property of fluorocarbon, too, such as found on Sufix Castable Invisiline 100% Fluorocarbon in the same pound test is a suitable alternative for twitching suspending baits. Both superline and fluorocarbon are sensitive and even the lightest hits can be felt telegraphed through the line, rod and into your hand.
Anywhere, Any Place, Anytime
Minnows and young-of-the-year fishes are equally as sought after as bottom dwellers – smallies will hunt them down like CIA operatives. And suspending bodybaits, which emulate baitfish, work wonders anywhere smallmouth wander, whether that be a natural lake, reservoir, river or Great Lake.
The key to using bodybaits is varying the action and amount of time between moves. That, and use equipment that makes the lure come alive. And don’t forget: These lures will catch brute bronzebacks year-round no matter what others may say.
Mitch Eagan is an outdoor writer and photographer who hunts, fishes and lives within the mosquito-infested cedar swamps of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
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