Cox Would Go All-In on Frogging in La Crosse

Published on 07-27-2023

By Pete Robbins
The Upper Mississippi River may be a new venue for the Big Bass Tour, but it’s hardly an unknown to the nationwide fishing community. Just about all of the major big money circuits have visited multiple times, which means that fishing’s “Iron Man” – Florida pro John Cox – has spent a lot of time on this prolific northern fishery. He stated unequivocally that if he were to compete in the Big Bass Tour event there from August 4-6, he’d go all-in on frogging.
“That’s 100 percent what I’d be doing,” he said. “That’s the bait that has produced almost all of my big ones up there, and by ‘big’ I mean over 5 pounds.”
He’s aware that the river is low right now, and that might take some backwater areas out of play, and force careful navigation, but it only reinforces his strategy. He knows that many areas will “look like you’re almost on the bottom,” but just a cast away there are slight dimples or ditches – “any kind of depression” – and that’s where ambushing largemouths lie in wait. 
His favorite frog these days is Berkley’s new Swamp Lord, both the pointed nose version and the popping model. The former, he said, walks super-easy, which allows him to cover water. The later is more compact, and he endeavors to fish it slower once he’s dialed in the bass.
“I’m usually a pretty fast fisherman,” He said. “But those bigger fish seem to eat it mostly on the pause. I catch them by really slowing it down and pausing it a lot.” He likes panfish patterns like MF Bluegill all day long under sunny conditions, but will switch to solid black if there’s heavy cloud cover.
If your favorite area of mats doesn’t have enough water on it to support big bass, or to get there, Cox recommends using the same popping frog adjacent to deeper water in and around undercut banks and laydowns on the main river. 
If the fish won’t react to the frog, he’ll mix in a Watermelon Maxscent Chigger Craw, most often behind a ½ ounce tungsten weight.
“Berkley’s plain watermelon is super natural, and it’s different in a good way that any other watermelon on the market.”
Competitors will have Pools 7, 8 and 9 open to them. Cox noted that Pool 7 has produced more truly big fish for him than either of the other two.
“I feel like it has more fishable grass,” he said. “Stoddard has a lot, too. I guess they’re all good, but Seven just feels like I’m on Toho, like a big one could be anywhere. It also seems to get less pressure than the others. Maybe that’s why I like it.”
While Cox would look exclusively for largemouths, it will be possible or even likely to get hourly checks with the river’s fat smallmouth bass, using crankbaits like the new Berkley Dime, dropshotted Maxscent Powerbait Flat Worm, and a variety of Powerbait soft plastics. Of course, no one should ever go to this neck of the woods without a swim jig or three tied on. Berkley’s Powerbait Swim Jigs and Finesse swim jigs in Crystal Chartreuse, Gill Spawn and Black Blue are all proven winners.
Cox believes that while certain areas tend to produce more big bass, they don’t segregate by size. He’ll often catch a pile of 2-pound class fish and then suddenly have the rod jerked out of his arm by a bass twice that size. It may not pay to leave fish to find fish. It will, however, pay to watch the live leaderboard to gauge your fish’s value in a given hour. Given the distances and time needed to weigh in, a strategic approach will help anglers garner hourly checks. With so many quality fish in the river, timing may be everything.