By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

The portion of the Mississippi River in the vicinity of La Crosse, Wis. is a frog-thrower's Mecca. You don't have to employ an amphibian imitation to win there, as Tommy Biffle proved during last week's Bassmaster Elite Series event, but it's unquestionably the most common route to a high finish.

Clearer, cooler water this year – the result of a late spring in the region – brought other tactics into play as the main river was eminently fishable for most of the derby. Such was not the case in 2012, when the big channel was way off-color due to prior heavy rains.

Nonetheless, the Mississippi is a backwater-dominated venue, and that puts frogs on center stage. They were in four of the Top-5 finishers' arsenals for the second straight year, with Aaron Martens serving as the exception on both occasions.

Following are some pattern details for competitors who finished in Biffle's immediate wake.

2nd: Aaron Martens

> Day 1: 5, 14-04
> Day 2: 5, 17-03
> Day 3: 5, 16-05
> Day 4: 5, 13-15
> Total = 20, 61-11

Aaron Martens departed La Crosse, Wis. with a second straight single-digit finish at the venue, and he didn't weigh in a frog-enticed fish on either occasion. He relied primarily on long casts with a dropshot rig for the first 3 days, then switched to a 3/4-ounce jig midway through day 4 when the dropshot petered out.

“Then I smoked them,” he said, “but it wasn’t enough. He (Biffle) got me by over 2 pounds. He caught them really good.”

He found multiple schools of fish during practice – some offshore and others relating to points, riprap and other cover along the bank. Fishing mostly north of the launch, he caught some fish as shallow as 3 1/2 feet and some as deep as 15.

He became the leader by about a pound and a half on the evening of day 2 when leader Brandon Palaniuk was disqualified for an inadvertent culling infraction. He carried a 7-ounce edge over Biffle into the final day, but couldn't hold it as he weighed his lightest bag of the event.

> Dropshot gear: 6'11" medium-heavy Megabass Orochi XX Aaron Martens Signature Series Dropshot rod, Shimano Stella 2500 spinning reel, 7- or 8-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 3/16- or 1/4-ounce dropshot weight, 3/0 or 4/0 Roboworm Rebarb or size 1 Gamakatsu dropshot hook, 4 1/2" or 6" Fat Roboworm or 6" original Roboworm (Aaron's magic).

> He used the size 1 hooks and the original Roboworm when he resorted to a wacky rig during slow-bite periods.

> Jig gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Megagass Orochi XX Perfect Pitch rod, Shimano Metanium casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 16-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon, 3/4-ounce Davis jig (green-pumpkin), Zoom twin-tail trailer (green-pumpkin).

Main factor in his success – "I made a lot of moves and fished a lot of different spots."

Performance edge – "The whole boat package with the Power-Poles, the graph and everything. The graph was really important because I was constantly moving and looking for fish."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Visiting a lot of different locales during practice paid off for John Crews.

3rd: John Crews

> Day 1: 5, 15-07
> Day 2: 5, 13-01
> Day 3: 5, 14-06
> Day 4: 5, 16-06
> Total = 20, 59-04

John Crews fished Pool 7 (one lock upstream from the launch pool) last year en route to a 17th-place. He took a look at that water this time, but opted to spend the tournament in Pool 8.

"I caught some fish up there and I think I might've been able to get a check (Top 50), but I spent 2 full (practice) days in Pool 8 and got comfortable with it. The first day I found some areas that were holding fish and I expanded on them the second day."

He focused on about half a dozen places during the event and said all of them were at least slightly different. A couple owere small backwater areas and others were shallow chutes with flats on either side and current running through the middle.

"I found one general area, a backwater/current combo, that produced most of the bigger fish. I think I caught five or six out of there that were between 3-12 and 4-10."

He relied on only two baits – a creature imitation of his own design and a frog.

> Flipping gear: 7'6" heavy-action Pinnacle Perfecta flipping stick, Pinnacle Optimus LTE casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Vicious fluorocarbon line, 5/16-ounce tungsten weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu Heavy Cover Worm hook, Missile Baits D-Bomb (superbug).

> Frog gear: 7' heavy-action Pinnacle Perfecta rod, same reel, 65-pound Vicious braided line, Spro Bronzeye Frog 65 (black or killer gill).

Main factor in his success – "I practiced in a lot of different areas – I really plowed through a lot of stuff in my Bass Cat/Mercury – and that definitely paid off."

Performance edge – "That 7-foot rod puts very little fatigue on your arm and wrist when you're working the frog. And when one bites, it's got the backbone to let you crack on them."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Fred Roumbanis enticed all 20 of his weigh-in fish to the surface.

4th: Fred Roumbanis

> Day 1: 5, 14-04
> Day 2: 5, 13-06
> Day 3: 5, 13-15
> Day 4: 5, 14-15
> Total = 20, 56-08

Fred Roumbanis was the lone Top-5 finisher who threw surface baits exclusively.

"I had seven rods rigged up with hollow-belly topwaters – some frogs, some rats, just all different baits," he said. "I never even used a follow-up bait for missed strikes. If those fish wanted the frog, they'd come back and get it on the next cast.

"I had one spot that I never got to fish because of the wind. I caught a 5-pounder and two 4s there in a very short amount of time during practice."

He said the key to his pattern was clearer-than-average water that contained duckweed. He spent the tournament fishing near the bottom of Pool 8.

"I keyed on fish that were just kind of out there roaming."

> Topwater gear: 7'5" heavy-action iRod Air rod, Ardent Elite casting reel (7.2:1 ratio), 50-pound P-Line braided line, various hollow topwater baits.

> His bait offerings included a couple of versions of the Snag Proof Bobby's Perfect Frog (including one with a buzzbait-style blade and paddle legs), an Optimum Baits Furbit, a Picasso Shad Walker and a Spro Bronzeye Frog 65.

Main factor in his success – "If I was going to get beat, it was going to be with me playing my own game, which is frogging. Some of the guys who really caught them mixed it up and my hat's off to them."

Performance edge – "I can make really long casts with that iRod and I can get really good hooksets. It also allowed me to get the best action out of each bait."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Brandon Card fished a crowded area, but had his best stretch of water to himself.

5th: Brandon Card

> Day 1: 5, 14-09
> Day 2: 5, 13-09
> Day 3: 5, 14-06
> Day 4: 5, 13-10
> Total = 20, 56-02

Brandon Card was among a cadre of anglers who joined Roumbanis in the southern portion of Pool 8. It was a crowded place for the first 2 days and was still busy on day 3 as most of the competitors who plied that water made the 50-cut.

Card, Roumbanis and Takahiro Omori were pumped for day 4, thinking they'd have free reign following the cut to the Top 12, but the water had gotten so muddy from a major thunderstorm the previous night that much of it was unfishable. Card's solution to that issue was to find a single 30-yard-by-20-foot strip of clear water near a point and camp there all day, throwing a swim-jig.

A frog was his main bait over the first 3 days, but he said he picked up a key fish each day doing something else – either flipping or swimming a jig.

"It was the same area I fished last year, when I finished 53rd, but the first day I should've had a 16- or 17-pound bag," he said. "I was kind of new to frog-fishing last year and I lost some key fish by using the wrong gear and stuff like that."

> Frog gear: 7'9" heavy-action Pinnacle Perfecta rod, Pinnacle Optimus LTE casting reel (7.3:1 ratio) 65-pound Spiderwire Ultracast Ultimate Braid line, unnamed frog (white or natural).

> Swim-jig gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Pinnacle Perfecta rod, same reel, 17-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce Lethal Weapon jig (bluegill), Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper trailer (low blow).

> Flipping gear: Same rod and reel as frog, 25-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce Mission jig (black/blue), Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer (green-pumpkin).

Main factor in his success – "Patience – I stayed in an area where I knew there were fish. Thankfully I had my best stretch all to myself."

Performance edge – "My Suzuki outboard is really reliable. Most other engines I've had suck up grass in conditions like that and they overheat and then you can't idle the flats like you want to. I could idle anywhere I wanted to go."

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