Bass Are KILLIN’ KERMIT Up The River At Eufaula

Dennis Smith says hang on to your pacemaker if you decide to cast a frog in this part of the lake — the explosive strikes can be hard on your heart.

Brad Bailey | June 17, 2006

Benning Bass Club member and river bass fishing specialist Dennis Smith with an up-the-river Lake Eufaula spotted bass.

Bass fisherman Dennis Smith has decided that there is something to all the hype around bass fishing with a frog.

“I swore I wouldn’t use it,” he said. “But people were bringing in big bags of fish caught on the frog.

“My friend John Brady and I were fishing together and he was catching fish on a frog and I wasn’t. I said, ‘Give me one of those things.’”

He tried the frog—aka a Zoom Horny Toad—and has been a believer in “Kermit” ever since.

Dennis is a 20-year army veteran. He is currently a Sergeant Major with the 75th Ranger Regiment, Special Troops Battalion stationed at Fort Benning. He has been deployed seven times, four times to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan.

He is also an eight-year veteran of the Benning Bass Club, formerly the Bass Club of Fort Benning, and has been on the club’s Top Six team four times.

In early April, I was on the far northern reaches of Lake Eufaula in Dennis’ s Ranger to fish “Up the River.” We put in at daylight at Uchee Recreation Area ramp, and made the run down to the River Bend area. The first rod Dennis picked up had a frog tied on.

“The frog is a new phenomenon,” said Dennis. “It is amazing how it will catch fish—and usually good fish.”

As we eased off the main river run into a wide flat, there were shad flipping in the grassbeds that line the banks, although the river was down, leaving a lot of grass high and dry.

“You can always find bass in the grass here,” said Dennis. “And the hotter it gets during the summer the more shad will move back in here.”

He started the morning by throwing the frog around grass and stumps. The frog is rigged weightless with a 4/0 Gamakatsu off-set hook so that the tip of the hook rides in the slot in the belly of the bait, much like the standard way to rig a hook in a fluke.

“Some guys use a 5/0 hook, but I think the shaft of the 5/0 is too long and rides too far back,” said Dennis.

A Zoom Horny Toad rigged with a 4/0 Gamakatsu offset hook with the point riding in the slot in the bait.

The Ultra-Vibe legs paddle and flail the water—much like a buzzbait—and leave a tiny trail of bubbles in the wake. Bass, says Dennis, will absolutely kill the bait.

The frog-shaped plastic bait comes skittering across the surface of the water much like a buzzbait without the metallic clatter. The Ultra-Vibe legs flutter and splash, creating both vibration and bubbles in the wake.

“You can pop it, but I have had the best luck just swimming it back just fast enough to get bubbles,” said Dennis. “I don’t know why, but the bubble trail is key—you’ve gotta have bubbles. The fish will absolutely kill a frog. If a big fish knocks the fire out of it and knocks it three feet out of the water, it will scare you to death.”

Then the hard part:

“If a fish knocks it in the air, don’t do anything. Just let it sink. Take the slack out of your line, and watch the line. Usually the fish will come back to get the bait.”

Dennis fishes the frog on braided line.

“Mono has so much stretch that it is hard to get a good hookset, and you will lose more fish,” he said. “The mono is also not so good for your heart if you have a good fish on and it is see-sawing over a log.”

Standard issue topwater baits will also work here—Spooks, Sammys and flukes, as well as chuggers like Pop-Rs or Chug Bugs. Buzzbaits also get a lot of work in the grassbeds and stump flats. Spinnerbaits are also a good choice around the stumps as are Trick Worms, says Dennis.

A bass unwilling to come into the boat makes one last splash at the end of Dennis’s line. The bass in the river have to work against the current and are usually fat, stout and aggressive. “The bass have shoulders from fighting the current,” says Dennis.

We fished the River Bend area for an hour and a half. Dennis caught a hybrid, of all things, on the frog, and then a small largemouth. We spooked a small alligator, and saw another gator, but the bass fishing was slow, and with the river down more than a foot, many of the better areas were difficult or impossible to reach. We fished into McClendon Creek into a target-rich environment ideal for topwater fishing on a gray, overcast day, but the fish weren’t having it.

“It’ s a little early,” said Dennis. “The hotter it gets, the better the fishing will get.”

Back out on the river, we headed north.

After fishing mostly grassbeds in River Bend, out on the river the primary structure becomes wood—stumps and blowdowns on the river bank. The water gets progressively clearer the farther north you go. We pulled in to a series of blowdowns near the mouth of Uchee Creek, and Dennis picked up the frog again. He has good reason to be confident in the bait here.

In March, the Benning Bass Club fished Eufaula. Dennis’ s boat motor failed, leaving him on trolling-motor-only status. He stayed in the area near the mouth of Uchee Creek and won the tournament with five fish that weighed 17 pounds. His best fish was a 7-lb. largemouth that blasted a topwater “Kermit.”

“The seven-pounder hurt my heart,” said Dennis. “It ran into some brush and got hung up. Luckily the branch it was wrapped up in broke. Then it ran into some more brush, but I was able to get in there and pull her out. All my keepers hit a frog in a tree top. You shouldn’t throw the frog past a stump or into a tree just one time. If you throw it four or five times, you’ll be amazed how often it gets hit on the fourth or fifth pass. I don’t know if it aggravates them or what.”

Dennis fished mostly with a watermelon frog, and he likes watermelon-red, too, and sometimes color makes a difference.

“My fishing partner John Brady was on the river last week, and the bass quit hitting a watermelon frog,” said Dennis. “He switched to a white frog and caught 30 bass during the day.”

Fishing up the river at Eufaula is worth the long run up from the main lake, says Dennis.

“The water is usually three to five degrees cooler up here and that is better for the shad and the bass. During the summer the fish are usually more active here. The river also channelizes the bass—in the skinny water you don’t usually have to go far to find them. A lot of people like to fish the river ledges in the main lake during the summer, but I think it is easier to find fish up here.”

We targeted stumps, blowdowns and rock ledges on the river bank — any obstruction in the water that would provide a place for a bass to hold out of the current.

Strong current when water is being released from dams upriver helps the bite.

“The more the current, the better the bite,” said Dennis. “The moving water seems to get the fish into an active mode.”

We fished briefly around a water discharge pipe on the right-hand bank just downriver of the bridge into Fort Benning. The inflow often attracts shad, which attracts bass, says Dennis. In April it is also a great place to catch hybrids and white bass on their migration up the river.

This water discharge on the east bank of the river above Uchee Recreation Area draws shad and bass and is always worth a cast or two, says Dennis.

Dennis and I then made the run all the way up the river to downtown Columbus to fish a completely different situation. Water was being released upriver and the river was up and flowing fast in front of the Columbus Convention Center.

The 80-lb. thrust trolling motor on Dennis’s boat would pull us against the current, but you will run your batteries down in a hurry fighting the flow. Mostly we fished in a controlled drift downriver, and even so, you need to pay attention that you don’t get swept into rocks or bridge abutments.

In the few areas of slack water, Dennis still worked the frog. In faster water he cast a crankbait or a fluke. I was following with a chartreuse/white spinnerbait. Between us we caught a spotted bass, two shoal bass and one largemouth from rip-rap and rock walls lining the fast water.

“I like the right bank (east) better than the left,” said Dennis. “The left bank has more wood cover, but the right bank has more rock and other debris.”

This is the part of the river where Dennis caught his best-ever bass, a largemouth that weighed 9 3/4 pounds. That fish hit a spinnerbait.

A fluke is also a good bait here for bass, and Dennis’s tandem-fluke rig also got an amazing amount of atten- tion from fish he called skip jack. As his fluke came zig-zagging through the current the silvery fish would flash on the bait without hitting it. On one retrieve we watched a half-dozen fish flash up at the bait.

Whatever bass fishing you like to do, from topwater in grassbeds and stumpflats at River Bend, to fishing blowdowns and ledges on the main river run, to fast current in downtown Columbus, you’ll find it all up the river at Lake Eufaula, but just remember to take a frog along.

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