The toad's soft-plastic legs kicked out a steady, gurgling tempo as it swam over a six foot weed flat. The sound was too steady, I thought to myself. Too predictable, too ordered -- something's got to give. And it did. I swam the toad towards a pocket in the underwater weeds, when suddenly, an aquatic eruption ensued as a hefty largemouth inhaled the bait with predatory precision. I set the hook, and the rod loaded up from the weight of a good-sized fish. "Another one fooled by the toad," I said to my partner.
Lipping the fish at boat side, it didn't take much to pop out the single hook and quickly release the catch. That day the topwater bite was hot and the bait of choice was soft-plastic toads. Here's what you need to know to add these amphibian imitations to your angling arsenal.
Frogs versus Toads
Snag Proof Bobby's Perfect Frog
Let me make one important statement. I love fishing plastic frogs for largemouth bass. Yet, in some instances, the slightly different presentation of toads can make a big difference in the numbers of fish you catch. I've experienced days when toads out-fished frogs, and vice versa. The best bet is being prepared and keeping both baits stocked in your tackle bag.
Frogs are floating, plastic, hollow-bodied baits. Mann's Super Frog, Snag Proof's Bobby's Perfect Frog and Bass Pro Shops' XPS Frog are a few examples. Most frogs come pre-rigged on double hooks and are usually sold individually. They feature rubber skirt legs that flare when retrieved and rarely interfere with the hook set.
Toads are soft-plastic baits sold in blister packs and don't come pre-rigged on hooks. Most companies call the baits toads, although swimming frogs is another moniker. Some examples include Yum's BuzzFrog, Zoom's Horny Toad, Gambler's Cane Toad, and Berkley Gulp's Bat Wing Frog. The majority of toads will sink if left to sit on the surface, but some floating ones are available.
In comparison to frogs, toads have a thinner profile that some companies tout as improving hook penetration. The legs and feet on toads are a productive feature of these baits, giving toads a different presentation than plastic frogs. Being soft-plastic and ranging in styles from double, twister-tails to paddle feet, they emit a steady gurgling when retrieved. This gives them a presentation like a buzzbait. Yet toads can be rigged weedless and their soft-bodies (which are often impregnated with salt or scent) feel more natural to bass so they'll hold on longer.
Yum BuzzFrog rigged on a 3/0 wide-gap hook
Most anglers Texas-rig toads on a 3/0 to a 5/0 wide-gap hook depending on the length of the bait. Many toad bodies have a groove for the hook should you prefer to rig it Texposed. Another alternative rigging option is using a similar sized, straight-shank hook with a #44 HitchHiker coil from Tru-Turn. The coil can be inserted into the nose of the bait and the hook point inserted in the back. Other unweighted, long-shank keeper hooks will also work.
To keep the hook properly rigged in the toad's head, add a drop of super strength glue to the bait at the hook eye. This helps prevent the common problem of the soft-plastic tearing from hook sets, numerous casts, being fished in thick cover, and being frequently snapped on braided line.
Mann's HardNose Swim Toad is especially worth noting due to its long-lasting nature. The nose-tip of the Mann's bait is ultra durable and holds a hook in place better than regular soft-plastics.
The Time for Toads
Toads work well when fished in weedy cover for bass. Hopping them across pads and hitting pockets during the retrieve is an effective presentation. Scurrying toads over slop and pond weed is also deadly for bass buried in the thick cover. When largemouth are aggressive, they'll have no trouble tracking down and inhaling a toad. Yet sometimes short strikes and closed-mouth nudges are signs of neutral mood, non-interested fish.
The benefit of toads is that most sink, so when a bass misses the bait, I sometimes stop the retrieve and let the toad sink into the pocket with a slight twitch or two. On the drop, the bait's legs will continue to kick, which can be tempting to bass uninterested in swallowing a bait off the surface.
If the bass hasn't taken the bait in a few seconds, I'll bring in the bait and then cast the toad back and beyond the strike zone. I slowly retrieve it over the same area in the hopes of teasing another hit from the fish. Keep in mind that sometimes too many missed strikes are a sign you're working the bait too quickly and need to slow down your retrieve.
Another alternative to missed strikes is using a throw-back bait, like a flipping jig or Texas-rigged lizard, with the following approach. After a bass misses the toad, immediately pitch the bait into the newly-formed hole in the vegetation or the splash rings. Sometimes bass that are reluctant to take a toad will hit a follow-up bait. This example demonstrates how toads, like most topwaters, can be an effective hooking bait as well as a good search lure.
Toads can also be used to fish shorelines, flats, and sparse weed areas. These spots can be particularly good in lowlight conditions when bass are roaming and feeding. In these open water situations, fish toads on a straight, swimming retrieve similar to a buzzbait. Work toads near visible cover like stumps, lay downs, docks and emergent vegetation. Bumping the bait into objects can sometimes trigger reaction strikes, especially if you mimic a toad in panic, trying to get out of the water. When fishing a shoreline, don't be afraid to occasionally cast the bait onto the shore and then hop it into the water. On undercut banks, this technique can be deadly on bass.
Always keep your eye on the toad during retrieves in anticipation of a strike. If a bass hits the bait and you loose visual contact, set the hook. Waiting to feel the fish after you see the bait disappear can sometimes be too long and result in deep-hooking a fish. The key to the above hook-setting technique is to learn to distinguish between a strike, when the bass has the bait (i.e., it's no longer visible) versus the drama and splash of a missed hit. Like most things in fishing, this skill takes some time to master, but it's worth learning to reduce the chances of gut-hooking bass.
My toad and frog fishing set up is the same: G. Loomis Frog Rod, Shimano Curado with a 7.0:1 gear ratio, and 50 pound-test braided line.
The Loomis stick is one of the frog-specific rods presently on the market. A good frog and toad rod should have a soft tip that will let you cast these lightweight baits a considerable distance, but it also needs enough power and backbone to haul a big bass from thick cover. The soft tip is particularly important. For example, if you use a flipping stick, you'll waste a lot of energy trying to cast these light baits any distance. A soft tip allows the top of the rod to adequately load up under the weight of the bait and will easily propel it a considerable distance with minimal effort required by the angler. During a full day of fishing, using a rod designed to cast toads will make a big difference in how tired you are at the end of the outing. If you need convincing, either borrow a rod from a friend or talk to any semi-serious tournament angler and you'll likely be quickly convinced of the merit to these specially designed sticks.
When toadin', you want to use a reel with a high-gear ratio to be able to quickly winch bass away from heavy vegetation. These high-speed reels also help you quickly take in slack line at the initial stage of the hook set. This can be particularly helpful when a big bass grabs a toad and is swimming towards you.
The benefits to using braid are numerous. Its abrasion resistance makes it ideal for fishing heavy cover and its thin-diameter increases overall casting distance. Braid also has good knot-holding strength. Lastly, many braids float, and if they do sink, it's extremely slow. This is a big benefit to keep toads properly tracking on the surface.
Swimming toads for largemouth is an excellent tactic when they're buried in heavy cover or roaming flats. These versatile baits are helping tournament pros increase their weigh-in numbers and giving recreational anglers more bragging rights with buddies. If you haven't already, tie a toad on for bucketmouth. The gurgling sound and natural profile of these baits combine to create a presentation few largies can resist.