Clayton: Frog brings back memories

Luke Clayton
The original mechanical shad lure, left, that Luke has had for over 25 years and the current version named The 22 FIVE mechanical frog, right.
Luke Clayton

With a title such as the one accompanying this week’s column, you are probably scratching your head and wondering what ole Luke has up his sleeve this week!

Well, let’s begin by backtracking a quarter century to a hot June day at Lake Ray Hubbard where I was first introduced to my first "mechanical" fishing lure. I had heard of this mechanical shad invented and by a gentleman named Frank Pearce. I was elated when Frank contacted me and asked if I would like to meet him at Lake Ray Hubbard to catch some largemouth bass on his new mechanical top water shad baits.

I was somewhat taken aback at Pearce’s choices of lakes to fish for largemouth. Granted, Ray Hubbard was a renowned hotspot for white bass, hybrid stripers and catfish, but until this day, I had no idea how good the bass fishing could be. After a brief visit at the boat ramp we were on our way to a shoreline with a good stand of vegetation.

I noticed Frank has a couple rods rigged with his mechanical shad. As we pulled up to the outside edge of the grass bed, he gave me a primer as to how the lure worked by pulling the line, which went into the "mouth" of the bait. When the line was tugged, the tail of the artificial shad twitched nervously. He then made a short cast and popped the bait on the surface, which loaded the internal spring and caused the tail to move back and forth at a fast pace, mimicking a dying shad on the surface. When the motion ceased, he simply popped the lure again, just like one would do with a conventional surface plug, the difference was the twitching of the tail of the bait.

I remember how impressed I was at the lifelike appearance of the bait on the surface, but in the back of my mind, I was wondering if it would really entice bass out of the heavily matted, submerged vegetation. On a lake that I would have rated way down on my list for largemouth, we proceeded to enjoy a couple hours of excellent top water bass fishing.

As I remember, it was mid-morning when we made our first cast. The trick was to make a cast over the grass bed, activate the bait with a short pop of the rod and leave the bait setting to work its magic. When fishing conventional top water plugs, I have a tenacity set the hook too quickly. The rule of thumb is to wait until your line loads up and feels heavy, this caused by the fish actually being hooked and swimming away, and then make your hookset.

Bass hitting these mechanical plugs often got themselves hooked on the first strike rather than "slapping" at the baits like they often do with conventional plugs. I soon learned to watch the bait and not pull back to set the hook until the bait disappeared. Almost without exception, if the bass was not hooked on the initial strike, he would instantly strike again in attempts to kill what he thought was a tasty late breakfast making its dying gyrations on the surface.

Through the decades, I lost contact with Pearce but continued to pack my mechanical baits along on fishing trips when top water action was expected. I always carried a couple on warm weather hunting trips to ranches with ponds and small lakes to fish and used them to catch the makings of many fish fries on spring and summer turkey and hog hunting outings. After 25 years of use, my last bait was finally getting to the point that it didn’t "twitch" like it should when I loaded the spring by pulling on the line. For the past year or so, It has graced the mouth of a fine bass mount from many years ago.

And then, when Pearce contacted me last week, my interest in mechanical lures rebounded. Our conversation went something like this, “Luke, I have designed the ultimate mechanical frog, named it the 22 FIVE Gold series. If you liked the old lures we fished with years ago, you are going to really go for this new frog.”

In a couple days, several of Pearce’s new frogs arrived in my mail box and I immediately tried them out on a local gravel pit. Of course I didn’t expect to catch a top water bass this time of year, my goal was to test the lure. The tantalizing twitch of those frog feet will be more than a surface-feeding bass can withstand, I feel confident. I simply can’t wait until spring and the top water bite to begin but there is always warm water lakes such as Monticello and Welsh where bass will be up shallow spawning in a matter of weeks. Don’t know if I can wait until spring to once again experience the thrill of watching bass "blow up" on these mechanical baits.

I do a lot of creek fishing for white bass, usually from about mid-January through March. I find myself wondering if these frogs would be effective on the bigger white bass. Granted, they are designed for largemouth because of their size but tossed into a deep pool around the bend of a creek, they might just be the ticket to some great white bass action!

I feel confident that a downsized version would be lethal on spawning white bass. Will they work on hybrid stripers and stripers during the spawn above reservoirs? What about tossed into a school of surface feeding stripers at Lake Texoma? I can’t wait to try them out and see a trip to my old favorite Lake Welsh in the near future!

To learn more about the mechanical frog and watch a video of it in use, visit www.22-five.com  

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org