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Frog Patterns for Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass

LepFrogIf you’ve spent any time on a river lately, especially along the shore, I suspect you’ve seen frogs. Leopard frogs are an environmental indicator species along with a bunch of other critters that tell an interesting story about the relative health of a body of water. 

On the upper Mississippi and it’s tributaries this late summer, I’ve seen more small leopard frogs this season than I’ve seen in the last ten. These frogs all but disappeared for the last six years or so, but are now back. Other indicators such as healthy clams and crayfish also abound currently.

Most of the frogs I’ve seen are small, with a body length of only 1 – 1/2″. I’ve observed the same phenomenon with crayfish as well, seeing a number of tiny 1 – 1 1/2″ crays in the shallows on the Mississippi. 

High Water
I believe the retarded growth rate is due, in part, to the extremely high water through June into July this year. We were unable to fish effectively in the turbid river water until later July. High water disrupts the ecology of the river system in many ways. And while spring rains generally bring expected high water for several weeks, extended high water can delay egg hatching of various river inhabitants and even eliminate a year class in some cases. 

Frogs Are Back!

What does this mean to you fisherman out there?

Huh…let’s think…OK, frog imitations might be worth a shot!

For the fly fisherman there are two basic patterns to consider, the popper and the diver.

Lefty'sCut175Most of the poppers we use are meant to emulate frogs or other surface struggling prey.


I prefer foam over hair bugs for surface poppers since they float all day and work well at times – often bringing up some of the largest bass in the area.

The foam bodies at right – can be used cup faced or reversed for a more subtle presentation. The blockhead patterns can also be reversed, as can most styles of popper bodies to create more of a diver fly.

However, there are many days the fish will not take a surface popper.

Divers offer a different kind of action than a traditional flat, beveled, or cup shaped popper since they dive by design. A properly constructed diver will dive down upon stripping creating a tantalizing bubble trail that works like magic on bass (northern and muskies, in larger sizes).

One of the best sources of information on frog mechanics can be found in this excellent interview with the frogman himself: Larry Dahlberg, inventer of the Dahlberg Diver. You can watch it HERE.

Incidently, I always remove the weedguard from any fly.

Whether you’re spin fishing or fly fishing, frogs are a major source of food for fish that hang near shore, such as smallmouth in rivers and largemouth in lakes or ponds.


Deerhair Divers
Deerhair divers, such as the original Dahlberg and countless variants, are becoming my number one “go-to” fly for late summer frog patterns that really work! Unfortunately they get soggy after about 20 casts (or less) and don’t float well. But I love the action of a real hair diver and believe they are more effective than a foam head diver.

I will often bring several of the same pattern and tie on a dry one if the one I’m throwing is waterlogged. Many guides feel the waterlogged hair divers are just as effective under the surface as they are on top. So experiment and see what your fish want.


Foam Divers
Foam head divers offer the advantage of non-stop bouyancy and will not get soggy and become a glorified huge Muddler Minnow. 

The problem with the foam diver is they can be TOO bouyant and not dive correctly to make the all important bubble stream required to excite fish into striking.  I like to use both kinds of divers, but when I tie up a foam head diver body, I generally add non-bouyant material to the body such as saddle hackle, flash materials, marabou and other items that will get and stay wet. This counteracts the bouyancy of the head and helps weigh down the fly allowing for much better action. 

Working a Frog Pattern
Put yourself in the position of a frog trying to escape open water, or better yet, catch one and throw it out in the water and carefully observe exactly what it does. You’ll learn very quickly the best ways to work a frog pattern combining short jerks with long pulls, as the terrified frog makes for the security of the shore.

This drives fish nuts!

I will generally start with the surface popper and if it fails, go directly to a diver fly. Many times you can work the same water and get strikes from the very same fish that refused the surface popper!

Whether you’re in a river or pond remember this is the time of year frogs get very active and start to migrate, especially on rainy nights in September and early October. You’ll often witness them jumping across the road at night as they seek preferred habitat to hibernate and spend the long winter burrowed slightly into the pond, lake or river bottom. 

All this activity means predators are looking for them and are accustomed to hitting these high protein morsels. 

This is one of the very best times of the year for you to get out there and work over some out-sized bass with frog patterns of various kinds. Remember frogs come in many different colors, so have several variations on hand to match the hatch in your area.

PS: Don’t forget to have hopper patterns and flying ants with you, they can be even better than frog patterns this time of year.

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