This bass was surely hiding in the thick underwater weeds just beneath the surface, already on "half-cock" and ready to pull the trigger on whatever unsuspecting prey might happen by first.
Bass can see nearly 360 degrees, and they are especially tuned in to motion detection because motion equals prey.
When this bass captured movement overhead, it reacted with instincts honed across the millennia. It was in motion even before the frog touched the surface. When the unsuspecting prey did plop down with a splash, the bass was already out of the water. Its aim was perfect, and the fish crashed down with a wide-open "bucketmouth," dead center on top of the frog.
There was only one problem—it wasn't a real frog. It was a Spro Bronzeye 65 containing a pair of well-concealed hooks, and it was tied to the end of my line.
My reactions are not fine-tuned quite as well as the bass' are. That's a good thing because you are supposed to delay your hook set slightly when fishing frogs in the grass. I apparently delayed perfectly in this case because the Duckett rod I held was soon bowed double with the weight of a hefty bass burrowing into matted milfoil and hydrilla. However, the fish was no match for 50-pound braided line, and he was soon scooting across the grass and into the net wielded by Jake Davis.
"That one looked like an outfielder snagging a fly ball when he hit," Davis said.
Frog fishing is well-known in the bass fishing community. In late summer and fall, aquatic vegetation on area lakes has peaked out, often creating seemingly impenetrable mats on the surface. Although they might seem solid on the surface, imagine you are actually looking at a forest from an airplane. The forest canopy looks solid, but walk beneath the trees and it is wide open ... a perfect place for bass to lie and wait for prey. The frogs are made of soft rubber, which hides the hooks so the lures can be fished across the thick weeds without hanging up. But when a bass bursts through the canopy, crushing the soft frog, the hooks do their dirty work.
Davis sees such sights a lot this time of year. There are not too many autumn days when you won't find him on Guntersville Lake guiding clients on frog fishing trips.
"It's probably one of the most exciting forms of fishing there is," Davis said. "It has its risks and rewards—you may not catch eight or 10 fish a day, maybe none—but when you do catch them, it's absolutely phenomenal."
On this day, I joined Davis and his client/friend, Greg Howell from Cookeville, Tenn.
"I probably fish with Jake at least 15 days a year," Howell said. "I've fished with other guides, but I've never met anybody that works as hard as Jake. Some other guides just seem like they're out there fishing for themselves and just taking you along for the ride. When Jake is on the water, he's working for you."
When we hit the water at sunrise, it was soon clear that Davis and Howell had a special relationship.
"Not a bad cast for a blind guy," joked Davis, although it's not totally a joke.
Complications from detached retinas mean Howell is completely blind in one eye and legally blind in the other. From 5 feet away I held up my hand, fingers extended, and asked, "How many fingers do you see?"
"Four ... I think," Howell said tentatively.
Which means it is somewhat ironic that Howell loves frog fishing so much, because for most anglers fishing topwater lures, it's all about seeing the vicious strikes. It is likely, however, that whatever Howell lacks in sight he makes up for in other senses. He admits that as often as not he doesn't see the strike but that he hears it.
"I think it helps me," Howell said. "Where a lot of fishermen make their mistake frog fishing is they set the hook the instant they see a strike. But fishing these frogs, you really have to wait a second or two to get a good hook set."
The best time for frog fishing is October through mid-November, according to Davis. May is also a possibility that people don't always take advantage of.
"It also catches big fish," Howell said. "It's one of the best big fish techniques I know."
Fishing with Davis is a turnkey operation. No need for you lugging a bundle of rods or a ton of lures along—Davis has everything you'll need ready for whatever style of angling the day demands.
"I use nothing but Lew's reels and Duckett rods," Davis said. "When you're frog fishing, line is absolutely critical. I use 50-pound Vicious braid. If you get a 4-pound fish, you're going to get 8 pounds of grass with it."
Davis lives in Winchester, Tenn. He also guides on Tims Ford Lake and Nickajack Lake. But the majority of his 200-plus guide trips each year will be on Guntersville Lake. The certified U.S. Coast Guard captain retired from the Air Force and started Mid South Bass Guide in 2007.
"After I retired, I needed something to keep me busy, and the wife said, 'You like fishing. Why don't you put that boat you bought to good use?'" he said.
The hardest part of frog fishing where there are thousands and thousands of acres of vegetation is trying to figure out which few acres might hold the most fish.
"Look for some sort of change in the grass—where hydrilla meets milfoil or duckweed—or you see a color change in the grass; look for those edges," Davis said.
Davis admitted, however, that sometimes you must hunt and peck to find the best areas. Because he is on the water nearly 250 days a year, he has obviously done lots of hunting and pecking and knows the best areas far better than the typical weekend angler.
That is one of the main reasons Howell said he will keep calling on Davis whenever he heads for Guntersville.
"I don't care how tough it is; he can find fish," he said.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.