RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Aaron Martens came backstage with the weight of a fish death and a missed cut on his shoulders.
The bait he had ridden to 33 pounds of bass over the first two days of the Bassmaster Legends (presented by Ramada Worldwide) had turned on him during Day Three. With the cumulative weights all zeroed for the third day of the tournament, he finished seventh — two ounces out of the final cut after suffering a four-ounce fish care penalty.
"First one this morning, I killed it," Martens said. "Dang frog, man, big giant double hook. You hope to get him in the cheek. You don't want to get him in the roof."
That's the gamble with frog lures. The shallow grass lining Lake Dardanelle made for prime frogging terrain. But the lure misses a lot of hook-sets, and at least in Martens' case, might have led to a critical fish death.
Live by the frog, kill by the frog. Kill by the frog, die by the frog.
"I missed two that were pushing three [pounds]. That's frog fishing," Martens said. "You'll miss on the frog most of the time."
In the instances when the frog does hit, your day will look at lot like Dean Rojas'. After finishing fourth over the first two days of fishing, he threw his signature Spro frogs to a 16-14 limit and a six-ounce lead over Boyd Duckett.
When Rojas weighed in, footage of him catching two four-plus-pounders played on the JumboTron, complete with Rojas' screams of "Yes! Wooo! Yeah! Kermie!"
"Those are the good times," Rojas told the crowd. "We have a love-hate relationship, Kermie and me, because there are a lot of times when you don't get a bite on him."
When emcee Keith Alan asked whether he'd be able to keep pounding the same areas on the final day, Rojas replied: "There's no doubt they'll replenish themselves. There's a lot of deep water by a lot of that grass. Those fish are moving in and out of that grass all day long. It's just a matter of getting it in front of them when they're ready to bite."
Third-place Jason Quinn (14-14) explained further what he looks for when he throws the frog on a body of water like Dardanelle.
"I'm sure everybody caught at least one on a frog," Quinn said. "There's too much prime area out there: this bank grass that you've got, where you've got some holes on the back side, with a little bit deeper edge to it. A lot of it's real flat, but the stuff that's got a little bit of an edge to it seems to be better."
As for Martens' fish kill? Collateral damage, Quinn said.
"They eat that bait so good, you're liable to hook 'em anywhere," he said. "This time of year, any little mishap like that will kill them instantly. It's something that's uncontrollable."
But that's what makes the bait both fun and effective for Rojas.
"I think it triggers a lot more strikes, because guys will go flipping through there and won't get a bite, and I'll go behind them and get them," he said. "I don't know why. It's something about the bait that just draws their attention. And they just react to it. Strikes are violent — they know what it is. They go and kill it. Whatever it is, it's a hell of lot of fun.
"You have a fatality every now and then — that's like anything you throw," he added. "Other than that, it's all in where you hook them. You have no control over that."
Fred Roumbanis' three Day Three fish all came on swimbaits late, but as a dedicated frog user, he did offer a vote of solidarity for the bait.
"I think this one's Dean's tournament to win," he said. "I'd like to see him win it on a frog. That would be awesome."
After Rojas finished praising the frog, Jared Lintner was left to roll to the stage with the smallest bag of the afternoon, two fish that weighed 3-10.
"I should have been throwing the frog," he said.