Barbs and Backlashes

Frog Migration by whitetips
September 27, 2010, 10:21 am
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: , , , , ,

I am sure you know that there are many species of birds that migrate through Nebraska; we also have butterflies that migrate, bats, fish, etc.  But you may never have realized that we have amphibian migrations as well, and if you like to catch fish in the fall, you need to be aware of the fall leopard frog migration.

I am not a herpetologist, so I am no expert when it comes to Nebraska’s amphibians and reptiles.  Most of what I know comes from this website, , and the recently published Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Nebraska, .  I have noticed more leopard frogs around the state this year and I believe that might be due to the increased precipitation and higher water levels we have had the past couple of years.  Nebraska actually has two species of leopard frog; the northern leopard frog,

and the plains leopard frog.

Obviously there are subtle differences between the two species, and if you are interested in distinguishing characteristics be sure to get the field guide that I recommended earlier.  From what I have read, the two species can hybridize as well which makes specific identification even more of a challenge.

The fish do not care.

Leopard frogs will spend much of the summer in shallow marshy areas and wet meadows.  You will often encounter them in lush grass and vegetation a long way from any lake, reservoir, pit or pond.  As summer ends and the weather begins to cool, leopard frogs migrate from their “upland” habitats back to bodies of water where they will spend the winter.  The frogs tend to migrate back to bodies of water that are large and deep enough that those waters do not freeze completely to the bottom during the winter.  The frogs actually spend the winter lying nearly motionless on the bottom of those larger bodies of water.  Since they are “poikilotherms” or “cold-blooded” creatures, the metabolism of the frogs slows to nearly nothing during the winter.  The oxygen needed by hibernating frogs is minimal and they are able to survive the winter by absorbing oxygen through their skin.

I have read stories about the frog migrations 50 years ago when the frogs were so thick they could be scooped up in shovels.  Some of those stories spoke of so many frogs that roadways became slick from all the crossing frogs that were squished on the road.  I have never seen that many migrating frogs and habitat changes, pesticides, diseases and who knows what other factors may be reasons frogs are not as abundant as they were historically.  Nevertheless, you will often notice when the leopard frogs are migrating because you will see a lot of frogs in a certain area.  Typically the frogs will take a direct route from their marshy, wet meadow summer habitats to the larger waters where they will hibernate.  Often that migration route will follow along a waterway or low, wet terrain.  You might see a lot of frogs crossing roads that run around the perimeter of a body of water where the frogs will spend the winter.

If you walk some shorelines you may find lots of leopard frogs on the shore.  The frogs will migrate to larger bodies of water and stage near the water until the night when they finally swim out and settle down to the bottom to spend the winter.  Warm, humid nights will often produce the heaviest migration activity and on those nights you might see hundreds of frogs crossing roads or hopping along shorelines.

OK, that is enough frog biology, now let me weave in some aquatic ecology.  As the leopard frogs migrate back to large bodies of water, predators are there to take advantage of the abundance of prey.  Yes, that includes terrestrial predators along the water’s edge, but it also includes finny predators patrolling the shorelines waiting for a leopard frog to take a swim.  Most anglers know that largemouth bass love frogs, but believe me, when the leopard frogs migrate there are a whole bunch of predator fish that will pull up a chair to enjoy the feast–bass, pike, muskies, catfish, and walleyes will all eat leopard frogs.   If you find a shoreline with a bunch of staging leopard frogs, you want to fish it!  Typically the fishing in those areas will be best after dark, but late afternoon and evening can be productive too.

I am always telling anglers how important it is to understand predator/prey dynamics.  “Matching the hatch” is a fly-angling mantra and it often applies to other fishing situations whether an angler is using a fly-rod or not, whether the fish are eating aquatic insects or something meatier.  So, you might presume that using some frogs for bait or using a frog-imitating artificial lure would be the best way to catch fish.  You can certainly still-fish some frogs and catch fish or throw a scum frog and catch fish too.  But depending on the habitat and situation, you may catch more fish by using artificial baits that look nothing like a frog.  Yes, at times fish can become very selective and only eat something that imitates the abundant prey on which they are feeding, but many times actively-feeding fish will readily take a variety of baits.  For example, you might be able to cover more water and catch more fish by casting a shallow-running crankbait or a buzzbait than by still-fishing a live frog.  Most of the fall frog migration fish I have caught have been taken on jigs and crankbaits.

I have spent some time fishing a few of the natural lakes in northeast South Dakota and have taken advantage of the fall leopard frog migration on those waters.  Oftentimes the areas where I caught fish were nothing but gently-sloping, sandy shorelines with no structure or cover.  But, the frogs showed up on those shorelines in the fall and the predator fish were there too!  Usually I and my fishing partners would catch fish in late afternoon, evening and on into the night.  Believe it or not, walleyes love leopard frogs!  At times we would be wading in waist-deep water after dark, and as we stood there casting we would hear fish swirl back behind us, back along the shoreline.  No, those were not carp, they were walleyes snarfing down leopard frogs as they took a little swim (oh, the humanity, the carnage, GRIN).  More often than not, if you turned and made a cast back towards the shore, you would hook up with a walleye, sometimes a big walleye.  At times those walleyes were in water so shallow that they were literally gulping our baits off the surface!

Admittedly, I have not seen the frog migrations on man-made Nebraska reservoirs like I have seen on natural lakes.  But, I have seen enough leopard frogs to know that this also happens on Nebraska waters and if you keep your eyes open, you can take advantage of it!

OK, this is another "blast from the past", but it is an example of some fall, frog-eating walleyes! That is one of my brother-in-laws with me; he is somewhere in the mountains of Montana bow-hunting elk right now.


6 Comments so far
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What a timely barb!! I have been fishng a long, long time and witnessed the frog migration this week-end in the Tri-County canal system for the first time. Didn’t know what I was witnessing. There were tlots and lots of frogs hopping along the shore line mud beach. I couldn’t explain it to the guys in my boat when they asked,”why so many frogs”? I thought the frogs were just out getting some sun and I could see them because the water was down. Know I know! Thanks.

Comment by Steve Trybus

What “distance” is involved in this “Migration” ??? yards..????? pond-to-pond..????? miles..????

Comment by (^.^) d.mck

Depends on the habitat and location. Certainly can be up to a mile or more in some instances.

Daryl B.

Comment by whitetips

A good friend of mine always mentioned how they would almost plan their trip to Minnesota every year at a migration. That was 20yrs ago,they caught some big walleyes backtrolling frogs on shallow banks. I always remembered that, and as recent as last week caught more big largemouth in the daytime hrs than ever. Point being,witnessed lots of frogs along the banks, so many we watched a mink repeatedly catch a frog and later return for another in a short time. Herons were very plentiful too. Could have been the first hatch of shad, but we wondered if it wasn’t the frogs now. First time I’ve ever seen this in Ne waters and I always fish the fall. The one thing is I have fished this paticular lake over two dozen times and have never caught this quantity or quality of fish. Daryl defintely is on to something when he speaks about this. Alot of big fish up that shallow all over a lake isn’t just eating shad in my book. Thanks Daryl great topic again!

Comment by Ray

One other thing I forgot to mention during my babblefest, was there are very few weeds in this particular lake. We have night fished this lake with rojas frogs and shallow cranks but never with the degree of success as this last trip.

Comment by Ray


You call your comments a “babblefest”? That is not long-winded at all! Thank you so much for the observations and comments! I love to hear what other anglers are seeing and experiencing on the water!

Daryl B.

Comment by whitetips

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