Small Waters Strategies – Strip mine frog fishing

Small Waters Strategies – Strip mine frog fishing

Jun 30, 2013

Strip Mine Strategies:

Frog Walking? Now You’re Talking! 

By Mike Pehanich

In Tale of Two Lakes: Tapping deep –- and not so deep – strip mine secrets, we contrasted two types of strip mine lakes and outlined successful strategies for fishing each. Here SWF reflects on our approach to a mature strip pit with extensive vegetation fishing primarily with hollow-body frogs and swimbaits.

Small Waters Classification: Strip Mine Lake

Location/Season: Central Illinois (Peoria area)/mid-June

Conditions: Water temperature -73 degrees; air temperature – 80 degrees; overcast to mix of clouds and sun.

Primary Lake Species: Largemouth bass, bluegill, perch, walleye

Fish Calendar Period: Post-Spawn/Pre-Summer

All waters mature, growing more fertile as they age. Limnologists (lake scientists) call the process “eutrophication.”

Bass holding in thick vegetation rose to hollow body frogs like the Nories NF 60 on this clear strip mine lake.

Natural lakes may take hundreds — or even thousands — of years to age enough to  advance to the next “older” stage of lake classification. But with small manmade waters like strip mine lakes, “age” and increased fertility often come more rapidly, particularly when man or nature accelerates the aging process.

I made a first-time visit to a private strip pit of Brotherhood Farms near Peoria last week with Todd Kent, head chef at Jim’s Downtown Steakhouse in Peoria and a frequent contributor to Heartland Outdoors magazine.

We couldn’t capture much history of the lake at the time, but it was a beauty — a clear, shimmering water teeming with life.

Owner Ralph Sedgwick’s home overlooks the two segments of the lake. Each has deep basins separated by flats – by strip mine standards, fairly large flats — and sunken islands.

A gorgeous fountain added to the aesthetics as well as aeration to the smaller front-yard lake arm. A vegetation-filled neck area separated the two sections of the lake.

The lake proved to be as “fishy” as it looked and Ralph had proclaimed. I stuck a three-pound bass on my third cast with a swim jig/swimbait duo, an ideal combination for covering quality water in a hurry. Several more largemouth followed, including one on the ever-reliable Jackall Flick Shake.

The bass in this handsome strip pit fell to a variety of presentations ranging from dropshot to hollow-body frogs and swimbaits. Ralph Sedgwick's home overlooks the lake.

My swim jig was one of Jonn Graham’s hand-tied Warrior Jigs. I alternated swimbait trailers, starting with the Northland Impulse Paddle Minnow, shifting to the rounder-bodied Trigger X Slop Hopper and then the Nories Spoon Tail Shad. All three caught fish, but, on this day, the fish showed a decided preference for the tighter action of the Northland Impulse Paddle Minnow.

SWF Tip: Carry several styles and sizes of swimbaits to trail your swim jig and try to dial in their preferences on a given day.  Short hits may indicate that it’s time to  experiment with another swimbait or at least try a different color or shorten the swimbait you are fishing. You will notice different tail action and body roll with each trailer. The bass notice, too!

The 4-5-inch Spoon Tail Shad’s “tweener” action also suited the bass’s mood that day. The Spoon Tail’s detailed natural appearance and scale-like mylar interior showed off nicely in the ultra-clear pit waters. I also fished the six-inch Spoon Tail later on a fish-head jig. I hooked up on a bass on the first cast; a bigger bass snapped my fluorocarbon on the next.

Frog Call

Moss rimmed most of the shoreline. Vegetation – much of it Eurasian milfoil – grew from the shallows to depths of 18 feet or more. The vegetation helped to maintain the lake’s crystal clarity. Even without electronics, we could read the growth pattern of much of the lake’s vegetation, including plants scattered along dropoffs where I took a number of fish on a dropshot rig and a nine-inch Upton’s Custom worm. Color: the Pehanich Special, a motor-oil worm with a chartreuse tail named after yours truly.

The swimbait, dropshot and Flick Shake enabled us to cover the edges and dropoffs. They were high percentage areas, to be sure, but by no means did they hold all the lake’s fish-holding potential.

Chef Todd opted to work over these areas with a hollow-bodied frog. It was his first time out with the Nories NF 60, and his first choice was the natural frog color called Male Green.

Our "frog" bass came not from the moss that rimmed the shoreline but from heavily vegetated shallow and mid-depth flats, points and bars.

Walkin’ Water

This was great walkin’ water for our frogs. Bass had long, long yards of thick milfoil and other aquatic vegetation to hide in. These grass stretches were far too thick to work through. But we had plenty of room to work the frogs over the tops of the vast beds of vegetation that reached within 1-1/2-feet to a half-foot of the surface.

Todd concentrated immediately on the holes – dark shadows we could easily identify even at long distance due to the clarity of the water. Some were only a foot or two in diameter, a few as large as five or six feet. These were high percentage areas where a “walking frog” had time to mesmerize a bass sitting in ambush on the edge of the hole.

The telltale slurp alerted me that Todd’s call was right on. He converted his first hit of the day – always a good sign when you are frog fishing!

He stuck and boated fish on the next two strikes as well. That was enough for me. The swim jig/swimbait bite was still going strong, but the frog worked effectively where the swim jig dared not tread!

Besides, who’s crazy enough to pass up a topwater bite?

I started out chugging my frog tight to the moss-rimmed shoreline and over the shallow vegetation. Several casts to such areas drew no attention from bass. Meanwhile, Todd continued to work the vegetation on the mid-depth flats, concentrating particularly on the holes, and over the tapering vegetation around six- to 12 feet before the breaks plummeted to 20- and 30-foot-plus depths.

Chef Todd Kent shows off one of the many strip mine bass that fell to our frogs.

We doubled up quickly on the taper, the bass hitting our baits almost simultaneously. I expected to continue working that tapering break, but Todd had eyeballed a long grassy hump we both agreed looked irresistible.

I switched from a chugging to a walking presentation – not only because it was working for Todd but because it enabled me to work the bait longer over those black holes on the flats. Ba-boom! I connected quickly with a nice fish a long cast away. But I would have gladly traded that fish for Todd’s next boil.

“Fish!” he grunted. “Big fish!”

And it was. Like most slug-outs in the thick “veg,” it was decided quickly. Part of the fun – and frustration – of frog fishing is that the furious fights are won or lost quickly, with the bass frequently on the winning end. Such was not the case this time, however. When I lip-gripped Todd’s five-pound-plus largemouth and swung it aboard, both hooks of the Nories NF60 flared from the roof of the fish’s mouth.

“Holey” Discussion

From our photos, you can see that Strip Pit #2, a.k.a. “Home Lake,” featured a ring of moss in many areas – a characteristic of many prototypical froggin’ lakes. But we caught nary a bass from the moss. Some came on the transition from the aquatic plants on the flat to the scattered clumps of vegetation on the taper. But our best catches came from the “black holes” on the extended beds of milfoil on the flats and humps.


The "pink frog" made its public appearance this day. This rare Nories NF 60 "Light Bubble Gum" color was a "lights out" killer. Beside it is the "Male Frog," our mainstay and, overall, best producer over the course of the entire day.

You’ll note in the angling literature more and more discussion about “walking” hollow-body frogs and popping-style frogs in open water. Why? As more anglers improve their walking technique, they are discovering its advantages at times over other topwater lures. With practice, an angler can learn to keep a walking frog and its seductive profile within the bass’s strike zone for a long and all-too-tempting time! Pick a good walking frog, like the NF 60 or some of the other models discussed in Small Waters Fishing and give it a try. See coming SWF posts on frogging technique or review some of the features and videos with bass pros Bobby Lane, Marty Stone, Gerald Swindle and Zell Rowland for more tips on frogs and froggin’ technique!

Our hook-up ratio with the NF 60 was remarkable. I believe we missed only two strikes all day. SWF has talked about this bait before, and, despite all its favorable attributes — including its “snagless” quality in thick cover, its ability to drain and resist taking in water, and its splendid “walkability” — the standout trait is its ability to convert strikes into hooked fish consistently.

“Interesting! Almost all our fish today had both hooks in the roof of the mouth,” Chef Todd noted as we paused for photos later in the day.

Also worthy of note…we caught almost all our fish during high-sun hours between 10:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

“That defies what most of us believe about topwater baits,” said Chef Todd. “Bright skies, mid-day…and a hot all-day frog bite!”

In the Pink!

One last note…I tied on a bubble gum Nories NF 60 in mid-afternoon – more as a novelty and to goad Todd, who enjoys shocking central Illinois anglers with his penchant for – and frequent success with — bubble gum pink worms, trailers, and bladed jigs. I knew he would covet the bait for its sheer “shock” value, whether it caught fish or not.

A hook-up on nearly every strike was one of many reasons this was an exceptional froggin' day!

Surprise! The pink may have been the best producer of all! During one stretch, I landed fish on the bubble gum-colored NF 60 on four of five casts.

Might it happen again? I’m confident it will, but I first will have to find a replacement.

If you guessed that I’m a softy, you’re right. I gave the bait to Chef Todd. Seeing that pink frog turn the chef’s ruddy complexion to “envy green” was too much for my tender heart to take!

Take care of her, Chef Todd. She’s a beauty!

Visit Lee’s Global Tackle website for Nories frogs andother high quality baits.

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