In the summer of 1920, long before science and clever minds brought us the first plastic worm, Alan P. Jones Sr. and Urban Schreiner, avid bass anglers from Fort Atkinson, Wis., fashioned the original pork frog. Within two years, they were selling pork baits under the brand name "Uncle Josh."
Jones and Schreiner couldn't possibly have foreseen the surge in bass fishing popularity that would take place in the latter part of the 20th century. Did they ever dream the No. 11 Uncle Josh Pork Frog, matched with a jig, would someday be the most deadly big bass bait ever?
The heyday of the "jig-and-pig" took place in the '70s and '80s. This classic combination accounted for many tournament victories and literally tons of heavyweight bass. During this period, a number of companies introduced competing lines of pork baits. Today, only Uncle Josh and Super Pork are still at it.
Joe Thomas often pushes a pointed glass or plastic worm rattle into the fatty portion of a pork frog, inserting it on the back side, from which the thin legs extend. He believes this trick is most beneficial in stained water and when flipping to matted grass. Bass grow accustomed to hearing loud jig rattles," says Thomas. "When you put the rattle inside the pork fat, it creates a muted sound. Plus, pork flops up and down more than plastic does when you shake the rod, so it really keeps that rattle working for you." Despite the fact that bass find pork as tempting as ever, it has been losing ground to a glut of soft plastic jig trailers, including crawdads and chunks, the latter being a plastic version of the pork frog. Plastic comes in myriad colors and scents. It doesn't dry out like pork, has no salty brine to spill and rust hooks, and won't impede hook penetration as can tough pork hide, should it inadvertently flop in front of the hook. Has plastic doomed pork to the fate of Tyrannosaurus rex?
Not if Cincinnati bass ace Joe Thomas has anything to say about it. Though Thomas fishes a wide variety of soft plastic baits, he tips his Arkie jigs and spinnerbaits only with Uncle Josh pork frogs whenever the water temperature measures 58 degrees or lower.
"Pork is more pliable, more fluid, more lifelike than plastic in cold water," says Thomas. "Bass hold on to it better, too. They like the meaty feel and salty taste of pork."
Pork soaks up the heavily salted brine in which it is cured, making it the original salted bait. This "flavor" is one reason for pork's enduring bass appeal. Many companies that make soft plastic baits tout their salt-impregnated lures as innovative stuff. Pork beat them by more than 60 years.
"I have tried other scents with pork, but I've found that its own saltiness is as good an attractant as you can use," says Thomas. "I've also learned that some scents harden the pork if you mix them with the brine."
Uncle Josh's venerable No. 11 Original Pork Frog and larger No. 1 Jumbo Frog usually dress the hooks of Thomas' ¼- through ½-ounce jigs for casting, as well as flippin' and pitchin' presentations. When he needs to downsize for temperamental bass, Thomas tips a 1/8- or ¼-ounce jig with a diminutive No. 101 Spinning Frog. A basic black or brown frog adorns his jigs. When he tips a spinnerbait with a Pork Frog (always a No. 11), Thomas often goes with chartreuse, or some other color that coordinates with the spinnerbait's hues.
"Because it's more buoyant than plastic, pork gives jigs and spinnerbaits a different action," says Thomas. "When I want to fish a bulky jig that falls slowly in muddy water, nothing in plastic can compete with a No. 1 Pork Frog. I even use it during the summer when I flip and pitch."
When fishing matted vegetation, Thomas often uses a pork-tipped jig with a Snag Proof Tournament Frog. Though he can't explain why, Thomas has found that bass will inhale a ¼-ounce jig tipped with a No. 1 Pork Frog when they're missing a Tournament Frog.
"I drag the jig over stuff like hydrilla, milfoil, duckweeds and pads," says Thomas. "It can turn a frustrating day into a winner. I also use the jig-and-pig as a follow-up bait when bass miss the Snag Proof frog. I pitch it into the hole the bass made as fast as I can."
Thomas' loyalty to pork heartens Kurt Kellogg, one of three new owners of Uncle Josh who are working to reclaim pork's elevated status among bass anglers. He reiterates the praise Thomas heaps on pork for its superior action, salty scent and lifelike feel, and also stresses that pork is a good value.Anglers have long performed surgery on pork baits, trimming the fat, splitting the fat and cutting legs into thinner strands for different looks and additional action. Joe Thomas doesn't get carried away with such modifications, but he will thin the pork fat on occasion to increase a jig's sink rate. When you trim the fat on a piece of pork, it exposes a white belly," says Thomas. "I trim a dozen or more frogs at a time and put them in a jar with some black Rit dye. That darkens the belly and gives the jig a more natural appearance."
Pork may cost more per piece than most soft plastic baits, but it's so durable you actually save money in the long run," says Kellogg. "And you don't waste time digging for a new bait every other time you catch a bass."
Kellogg and his partners are also taking steps to make Uncle Josh pork baits more user-friendly and enticing to bass than ever. For some time now, Uncle Josh baits have come packaged in plastic bottles with caps that will not rust. While the pork is cured in a heavily salted brine, the salt content in the bottles has been reduced to cut down on damage due to spills. Anglers who prefer a saltier storage brine may simply add salt on their own.
"We've put quality control measures in place to make sure every leg on a No. 11 Pork Frog, for example, has the same thickness," says Kellogg. "We are also working on a softness modification to make every bait as lively and appealing to bass as possible."
To make pork easier to remove and to prevent it from sliding up the hook's shank and impeding the point's penetration, Uncle Josh has developed the Uncle Josh Pork Jig, which features a Fast Clip. The Fast Clip is a piece of wire, molded securely into the head of the jig, that extends slightly beyond the hook and doubles back to clip to the hook's bend. The Fast Clip, not the hook, holds the pork in place.
"With our Pork Jig, you don't have to worry about the pork trailer blocking the hook set," says Kellogg. "And when you're finished with it, the pork slides easily off the clip."
The Pork Jig is available in ¼-, 3/8-, and ½-ounce sizes in six popular colors.
While pork falls short of plastic in the realm of color selection, Uncle Josh offers a variety of dark to bright colors, including combo colors, such as black/blue, and glitter colors. Kellogg claims the company can match most colors, and will do so if they receive a large special order. To help introduce anglers to pork, Uncle Josh has put together a variety pack of four different-colored Pork Frogs in a Ziploc-style pouch.
Super Pork, the other pigskin player, also offers a respectable color selection. But Super Pork's texture, more than its color, keeps customers coming back for more.
"Super Pork is the softest true pork bait out there," says Frank Scalish, 2002 CITGO Bassmaster Tour Rookie of the Year. "It has almost a velvety feel. It doesn't hold up as long as Uncle Josh baits, but you can set the hook right through it."
Super Pork comes in plastic jars that, while durable, are not indestructible. The jars will crack if you accidentally step on them, spilling the salty brine. Frank Scalish circumvents this problem by putting a dozen or more pieces of Super Pork into a small baby formula bottle, along with the brine. The formula bottle seals tight and withstands more abuse. He places the formula bottles in a large Ziploc bag to prevent them from rolling around and getting lost in the boat. During cold water periods, Scalish dresses a 3/8-ounce Rippler Low-Pro Jig with a black or brown Super Pork Frog. When spotted bass are the target species, he downsizes to a Super Pork Frog Jr. He opts for 12-pound Silver Thread for casting, and 17- or 20-pound test for flippin' and pitchin' presentations.
"For the first 10 years of my bass career, I fished jigs with Super Pork almost exclusively," says Californian Mike Reynolds, who qualified for the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Tour through the Western Opens. I have tremendous confidence in pork. I see no need to switch to plastic. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Reynolds routinely flips and pitches jigs tipped with Super Pork to shallow bass in heavy cover. He also finds many casting applications for a jig-and-pig, even in California waters. Casting jigs produce especially well for Reynolds on the California Delta and on Clear Lake.
"Clear Lake has a lot of rockpiles and underwater ledges 12 to 18 feet deep," says Reynolds. "That's a situation where I'll cast jigs on 14-pound line. In the fall, I concentrate on red clay banks near deep water and work jigs down as deep as 35 feet."
Super Pork's soft texture and subtle, floating action maintain Reynolds' devotion. He claims every piece isn't exactly the same, but gladly accepts the inconsistency.
"Super Pork is not perfect every time, but even the bad ones are good," says Reynolds.