STORIES OUT THERE FISHING By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Soft-Plastic Topwaters Hard to Beat in Thick Cover for Summer Bass No other topwater lure outperforms these funny-looking critters – plastic mice and frogs – when bass are stationed beneath dense vegetation in the warm summer months When the weather is steaming hot, and the body of water you're fishing is full of dense cover, fishing soft-plastic rats and frogs may be the bass angler's ticket to success. (Keith Sutton photo) It looked like a fat white marshmallow with whiskers and a tail. “What’s that?” I asked my fishing buddy. “It’s a Moss Mouse.” “A Moss Mouse, huh? Since when did bass eat mice?” “Since always,” he replied. He cast the funny-looking lure deep into a bed of water lilies. “Now look what you’ve done,” I said. “You’re gonna hang it up and lose it before you even get to use it.” “I won’t lose it,” he responded. “It’s weedless.” “Maybe in normal cover, but not out there.” He gave the white mouse a little twitch with his rod, then skittered it over the surface of the pads. Beneath one pad, the water boiled. “See that,” he said. “First cast, too.” The mouse floated in a pocket between the pads. I figured the fish had struck, missed and left. “Watch it now,” my friend said. With rod held high, he wiggled the mouse. At almost the same instant, Old Faithful erupted, or so it seemed. The mouse disappeared. My friend reared back on the rod. A big bass skyrocketed from the cover. “Holy Moses!” I shouted. The largemouth put up quite a tussle, but my buddy won the bout. That bass, which he released, pushed the 8-pound mark. The one he caught next, on the same lure, was even bigger. It’s now mounted and proudly displayed on his office wall. Both those bass, and dozens of smaller ones taken later that day, were caught in cover I never would have thought you could fish. But fish it we did, with rodent-like lures that looked like marshmallows. (My buddy is great about sharing.) The amazing thing is, even I caught bass, including a fat 6-pounder that looped me around the stems of so many lilies, I thought I’d never drag it out. Soft-plastic mice, sometimes called rats, now accompany me any time I fish for bass in lakes with dense beds of water lilies, milfoil, hydrilla and other aquatic vegetation. And they’ve been joined by another group of soft-plastic and foam topwaters—rubber frogs, most folks call them—that work equally well in this situation. I’ve been a topwater fanatic for years, but no other variety of topwater I’ve used—not prop baits, not stickbaits, not chuggers or buzzbaits or crawlers—outperforms these funny-looking critters when bass are stationed beneath matted vegetation. Cast one into the worst tangle of weeds you can find, and you can maneuver and dance it right back out if a bass doesn’t clobber it first. Rat and frog lures now on the market come in various shapes and sizes. Some consist of a foam body molded around a single ventral hook with a wire or plastic weedguard. Most, however, feature a hollow body of soft plastic or rubber and a large double hook that curves up over the lure’s rear end. The hook points ride out of the water and are protected by the lure’s body, which snugs up against the barbs. This design permits the lure to skim easily over the most troublesome weeds. When a bass hits, the lure’s hollow body collapses, exposing the hooks. Many bass fishermen laugh at these lures. “Toys,” one of my friends calls them. Yet despite the fact that they’re neglected by many anglers, frogs and rats catch bass. The reason is simple. Almost every body of water that harbors a good bass population has frogs as part of the food chain, especially those lakes that have a great deal of aquatic vegetation. In many waters, frogs are the number two summer food for bass after baitfish. Mice and rats don’t comprise a large portion of the bass diet, but it’s likely that bass in weedy waters see all floating lures as frogs or other potential prey items. Anything slightly lifelike that moves into the strike window is attacked. Objects crossing the weed ceiling can’t be seen but often will be struck. The best tackle choice for froggin’ and rattin’ is a 7 ½-foot flipping rod with 25- to 30-pound-test high-strength, low-stretch line. The long rod permits you to hold the tip high, helping the lure glide over weeds and allowing you to impart a titillating action. Strong lines resist abrasion and withstand the heavy-handed tactics needed to pull bass from thick weeds. Many anglers prefer dark-colored rats and frogs such as frog-green, black, brown and gray, believing they are more visible to bass. But in my experience, white, chartreuse and other bright colors are more easily seen and worked, and these, too, have proven bass appeal. I also prefer bright colors because, when a bass hits the lure, you must instantly determine whether or not it has the lure. Topwater fishermen too often set the hook before the lure is engulfed. The most successful retrieve used with rats and frogs is what my bass-fishing buddy deems “the hip-hop retrieve.” Cast the lure back into an expanse of lily pads or onto a mat of vegetation. If you can make it land on top of a pad or near a hole in the vegetation, so much the better. Let it lay there a few seconds, then flip it a fraction of an inch at a time, allowing nearby bass to feel the vibes produced by your twitches. If an actively feeding bass is nearby, it may bust the lure right then and there. If no strike is forthcoming, it’s possible the fish is lurking underneath, waiting for the creature on the pad to jump off. And that’s exactly what happens next. Hop the lure into the water, give it a jiggle or two, then let it lie still. Have your rod tip low and prepare for a smashing strike because this will usually produce it. Big bass waiting close by can’t resist. If a bass doesn’t come busting through the weeds, begin your retrieve, swimming your lure around, through and over the vegetation. When it reaches an opening, speed up, swimming the lure at a fast pace. About halfway through the pocket, stop your retrieve momentarily. If a bass has been watching the lure, this might coax a strike. If it doesn’t, start swimming the lure again, stopping in pockets and repeating the process. This start-stop action often triggers strikes, along with the fast swimming of the lure which resembles a frog or mouse in a hurry to cross the open expanse of water and get to the safety of the pads. If, at any time, a bass swirls and misses, and the lure hasn’t moved too far from the hole, let it sit a second, then twitch it. This time, be ready. If you try setting the hook and miss, throw back to the blowup and prepare for another strike. Or cast past the hole and retrieve along the same track. A bass may take three or four strikes at the lure before getting it or giving up on the free meal. Unlike other forms of topwater bassing that generally work best near dawn and dusk, rat and frog fishing trigger startling strikes throughout the day, especially from early summer through early fall. Often, the best action occurs at high noon under intense heat, sometimes in water as shallow as 2 to 3 feet. Rats and frogs sometimes produce under less-than-ideal conditions, too. I once fished an Arkansas impoundment when the air temperature was 40 degrees and the water temperature was 56. My partner, the same guy I spoke of earlier, started out fishing a chartreuse frog over the tops of some elodea, retrieving the lure with quick jerks that produced little spritzes of water. I figured he’d gone off the deep end until a huge bass nailed the frog beside a stickup. My buddy did everything right, waiting until just the right moment to drive home the hook. But the bass did a loop-de-loop around the snag and snapped his 20-pound line. I learned that day that it pays to fish rats and frogs anytime bass are hiding in dense vegetation, waiting to ambush their prey. The fact is, when you’re after bass in this situation, frogs and rats are your only good option. If you’re like me, you’ll miss half of those that strike, but those you bring in will be memorable catches.