In the big picture, Dean Rojas' recent win in the Champion's Choice Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Lake Oneida with a new model Spro frog was simply icing on the cake.
After all, for the past four years, the Arizona pro has continued to totally re-define the entire technique of frog fishing for bass fishermen the world over, and now after his Elite victory, he is starting to change the way anglers approach all topwater fishing.
"Once I designed the Bronzeye Frog, I had to learn how to fish it, to learn all of its capabilities and how bass react to it," Rojas laughed about the lure that won a Best of Show award at its 2005 ICAST Show introduction, "and I'm still learning.
"The beauty of these weedless frogs is that you can fish them in places you could never throw a hard topwater bait with treble hooks, and you can impart amazing action to them. My learning curve has been fun, that's for sure, but best of all, they're easy and exciting to use."
The fact that they are fun, easy to use and catch a lot of fish has generated a huge response from the public, who have made the Bronzeye one of the nation's best-selling bass lures for the past two years. Everyone from beginners to pros has now become aware of frogs, thanks to Rojas, even though these types of floating, hollow-body lures have been around for decades. The late Lloyd Tallent designed the first ones for fishing the matted milfoil on Lake Guntersville in the 1970s.
The learning curve for Rojas began not quite six years ago when a friend showed him how to skip frogs underneath overhanging tree limbs, something he had never considered. After watching his friend catch three 4-pounders with the technique, however, Rojas started practicing frog-skipping himself.
"At the time, I was actually looking for the right frog with a high hook-up ratio, because with all the frogs I had previously fished, I always missed a lot of strikes. The lure I was using had some good features, but I was modifying it heavily to gain the specific characteristics I was looking for.
"I used this particular frog during the 2004 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Wylie where I was actually leading going into the final day but eventually finished fourth. That summer at the ICAST show, Spro hired me as the first bass pro to promote their lures, and at the same time gave me the go-ahead to design my own frog."
Gamakatsu already had a strong 4/0 double hook so Rojas designed the Bronzeye around it. He drew countless pictures of the frog on plain white paper, and in five months he had his first prototype. That was only the beginning; more than a year of testing and changing continued.
"I actually caught my first bass on one of the prototypes during a tournament on Kentucky Lake in May 2005," Rojas remembered, "and I caught it within the first 15 minutes of using the lure. You can only imagine what a thrill that gave me, even though it was just a two-pounder."
The learning continued even after the Bronzeye design had been finalized, and it is because of the thousands of hours Rojas spent using and learning about the lure that he has changed the face of frog fishing forever.
For example, Rojas has proved you don't need lily pads or matted grass, the traditional frog cover, before you can fish a frog. In fact, you don't need any cover at all because he's learned how to catch fish in open water with them, too.
You don't need shallow water, either, because with all of its action, a frog will pull bass up out of the depths for a strike. Different retrieves are possible for different situations, as well, including "walking" beside specific targets, "chugging" over matted vegetation, "skipping" under docks and overhanging limbs and now "popping" through thick but scattered pads and other canopy-forming cover.
After the initial success of the Bronzeye, Rojas immediately began studying ways to expand the lineup. A Bronzeye Jr. came first, and has proven to be effective in colder water as well as in lakes with smaller bass; and a larger frog, the Big Daddy, has already been designed for targeting trophy-class bass. That lure was scheduled for introduction at the 2008 ICAST Show but due to production questions, SPRO decided to hold it back until 2009.
"I had already started designing the Popping Frog about a year after the original Bronzeye came out, building it around Gamakatsu's double 3/0 hook" explained Rojas. "It took about 18 months to get the final version right, so for nearly a year now it's just been sitting on the shelf waiting to be introduced. When we decided not to introduce the Big Daddy this year, we brought out the Popping Frog instead."
At Oneida, Rojas used both frogs, depending on what he found along the shoreline. When he fished matted grass or lily pads, he chose the Popping Frog because it created more commotion and pushed a lot of water, even though it has a more narrow profile than the Bronzeye. When he fished shallow shoreline weeds or boat docks, he chose the Bronzeye because he could make longer casts or skip the lure underneath the cover.
"The beauty of a popping frog is that it's weedless so you can throw it into places where any treble hook lure would get hung up," Rojas pointed out. "That was one of my primary goals in designing the frog, and at Oneida my biggest bass throughout the week came on that frog because of where I was able to fish it.
With an over-sized Big Daddy frog already waiting in the wings, are bass fishermen likely to see different sizes of the new Popping Frog?
"Yes, I'm pretty sure we'll introduce different sizes in the future, but first I need to learn all I can about the version we have now. Believe it or not, I'm in another learning curve because I think I can use these two frogs in just about any topwater situation I want to fish, and I'm learning how to do that."