He went to the giant impoundment on the Texas/Louisiana border with a determination to sight-fish throughout the event. The result was a wire-to-wire victory – his second at that venue (he won a Top 150 there in 2001).
He bags decreased in size each day, but when the final fish had been weighed, he'd caught just enough to hold off a valiant rally by Gerald Swindle. His margin of victory was a single ounce.
The win was his fourth at the tour level and second since the inception of the Elite Series in 2006. It garnered him $100,000, an automatic slot in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic and 320 Toyota Tundra Angler-of-the-Year (AOY) points that improved his standing in that race from 31st to 8th.
Here's how he did it.
Even though the bass reproductive period was nearly complete by the time practice started and the lake was getting slammed by powerful winds, Rojas spent his entire 3-day practice period searching for bedding fish.
"That's what I designed everything around because I thought there would be enough of them up to see me through all 4 days," he said.
He threw a Spro Hydro-Pop ahead of the boat as he searched and found that tactic to be quite productive. It would play a key role in the tournament.
He covered a tremendous amount of water over the 3 days and discovered that just about all of the quality fish that were still on beds were in grassy locales on primary or secondary points just off the main lake.
"There was no reason to go too far back into the creeks – there was nothing there."
> Day 1: 5, 23-01
> Day 2: 5, 19-13
> Day 3: 5, 14-09
> Day 4: 5, 13-08
> Total = 20, 70-15
Rojas opened the tournament by catching a quick 16-pound limit of sight-fish. He spent little time his best area – where he'd staked out five females of at least 5 pounds each – because it was getting pounded by a strong westerly wind. He managed one 4-pound male there, but figured the females might have departed.
He culled up three times with the Hydro-Pop, and one of those fish was a 7-pounder. At the end of the day, his sack was nearly 2 pounds heavier than that of 2nd-place Fred Roumbanis.
The wind blew hard again on day 2, but it changed directions. That brought his primary area back into play, and he pulled an 8-pounder from it to go with four solid keepers to extend his lead to a little over 2 1/2 pounds.
His weight fell off by more than 4 pounds on day 3, but some of his closest pursuers suffered much worse fates and his advantage grew to 4 pounds. His stringer was topped by a 6-pounder that came from a bed less than 50 feet from where he'd roped the 8 the previous day.He caught a 5 1/2-pounder on the Hydro-Pop early on the final day, but could do no better than a 2-pound average for the other four slots in his bag the rest of the way, and he needed a key cull in the afternoon just to achieve that.
He thought he'd been beaten when he found out how strongly Swindle had finished, but was able to celebrate when his sack landed on precisely the number he needed.
Winning Gear Notes
> Both baits are his own design.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Just fishing my strengths and targeting bedding fish."
> Performance edge – "My Skeeter/Yamaha performed flawlessly all week, but I couldn't have seen those fish without a great pair of Oakley sunglasses. They were pivotal with the wind and the waves and all that stuff."
Drop-shotting has received a lot of attention this year, as yet another West Coast technique that seems to produce bass when nothing else will. And just like any finesse technique, it does, but it's not something most pros pull out every day.
Arizona's Dean Rojas prefers to flip and fish spinnerbaits, but he will use a drop shot rig under the right circumstances.
"I do it mostly where there's spotted bass or deep, clear water," he says. "It's a hard technique because it's not a fish-locater, is a fish-catcher once you have them located."
For that reason, Rojas doesn't have a drop-shot rig tied on when he practices for tournaments, though he notes that some pros do. But when he's fishing a tournament, he will have a drop shot rig ready.
For drop-shotting, Rojas likes a 6 1/2- to 7-foot Quantum Tour Edition spinning rod and Quantum Energy spinning reel. He spools up with 6- to 12-pound Izorline, with line size being determined by how deep he's fishing.
"Weight size also depends on how deep you're fishing," Rojas says. "Out West, when you're fishing for spotted bass in 40-60 feet of water, 1/4- or 5/8-ounce is good. And obviously, the shallower you fish the rig, the lighter weight you'll use. Use whatever weight you feel comfortable with," he adds.
Rojas likes a regular worm hook in 1/0, 2/0 or 1, though he notes that some anglers favor a Kahle-style hook. With these hooks an angler doesn't have to set the hook; he just reels.
For baits, he likes the standard hand-poured worm or reaper (leech) in natural colors, though a variety of drop-shot-specific baits are now on the market (e.g., the 3 3/4-inch Zipper Dropshot Shaker). Nose-hook the bait.
The drop-shot rig requires a vertical presentation. As Rojas notes, "It works well when you cast it, but it works better when it's right below you."
When the rig hits the bottom, "all you're doing is shaking the slack in the line," he says. Whereas a Carolina rig's egg sinker would absorb that action, the drop-shot rig will transfer it to the bait.
Leader length and height off the bottom should coincide with where your electronics show the bass are, he notes. "If the fish are suspended off the bottom, as opposed to lying on the bottom, put 2, 3 or 4 feet of leader on."
"The bottom line is that it's a numbers technique," Rojas says of drop- shotting. "You're going to get a lot of bites on it, though generally the fish are going to be smaller because it's a small-fish presentation, with the small baits and light line.
"It's a technique that has its place, and when it's called for it's probably the best thing to use at that time," he says. "It's in my arsenal and I use it when I need to, but only as a last resort."
Bear in mind that even though drop-shotting is a finesse technique, it isn't just for deep spotted bass -- even for Rojas.
At the 2001 BASSMASTER MegaBucks tournament he used a drop-shot rig on days 2 and 3 to catch largemouths in 5-8 feet of water. He lost that tournament to Rick Clunn by a mere 7 ounces.
Several of the more memorable moments in recent televised bass-tournament coverage are action shots of wild strikes on Dean Rojas' frog baits. Explosive hits and Rojas' front-deck victory dances make for great TV. And any BassFan's blood pressure soars at the thought of a good bass smacking a frog.
Rojas has elevated frog fishing from a specialized tactic for certain situations to a primary gameplan with enough oomph to propel him high up the leaderboards. His success with soft-plastic amphibians has earned him a solid reputation as a master frogger worthy of an exclusive bait with his name on it.
While developing his frog prowess, he's learned how to overcome two of the major drawbacks commonly associated with the lures – a miserly strike-to-boat ratio and a relatively limited application.
Not Just for Weeds Anymore
"Probably the number-one misconception about the frog is that it only works over matted vegetation," Rojas said. "That simply isn't true. I've taken lots of bass – good ones – in open water. I've caught big spotted bass on the frog in 25 feet of water at Smith Lake in Alabama."
He counsels anglers to try frogs in more places than they would typically expect. Any place a topwater lure might work is potential frog water.
"Don't overlook open water. That's the beauty of the frog – particularly the new one I designed after last year's Bassmaster Classic for Spro/Gamakatsu (more on the Dean Rojas Classic Frog below). It can be fished in so many different ways," he said.
"The whole key is presentation. It can be skipped under docks and overhanging brush and across matted vegetation. If you fish the frog in places average anglers avoid, it really pays off."
Get More Hookups
Rojas said the missed strikes – so common in frog fishing – can be overcome.
"It's tough, when you see that explosion, to avoid jerking too early," he said. "But I find that when a bass goes to eat a frog, it really wants to kill it. They don't just want to bounce it around."
As with any topwater strike, he said an angler needs to wait to be sure the fish has the bait securely in its mouth. That means waiting to feel the weight of the fish, or watching the line zip from the scene of the blowup.
He said a key to solid hookups is in the design of the frog. "I wanted a frog that's user friendly for everybody – including those who are just learning how to fish that way."
He's a stout advocate of braided line to increase hook penetration and to wrestle fish from snags.
"You can use 20-pound mono, but I highly recommend you throw the frog on braid. I use 65-pound-test Izorline. It lays nice and limp and it's soft, so it casts really well."
The Dean Rojas Classic Frog is designed around the 4/0 Gamakatsu Double EWG hook. "The body collapses easily and fits perfectly inside the hooks, making it weedless and increasing the hookups," he said. "The bait was designed for a high hookup ratio. I'm landing 85 percent of the bass that take the bait and most of them are caught back in the roof of their mouths. I wanted a bait that weekend anglers could land fish on and get the same enjoyment that I get."
When and Where
Rojas breaks out his frog as soon as topwater conditions arrive. "Around 63 or 64 degrees (water temperature) is the start," he said. "They really get on it when the water hits 67, 68, 69 degrees and then all throughout the summer."
Frogging gained a loyal following in the West among a corps of anglers who dedicated much of their fishing time to perfecting their skills with the bait. But he said recent tournaments in other parts of the U.S. have helped spread the word about the bait's potential.
"It catches them all over – Lake Havasu, Toho, Champlain, the Potomac River, everywhere. Bass eat frogs all over the country. In fact, I never knew how many enemies frogs had until I started fishing it. Turtles, snakes, grinnel, gators – they all love frogs."
He also noted a good frog bait can be made better as an angler experiments with modifications. Weights and rattles can be added to the lure's hollow body to change the way it performs and sounds. He said the new Spro/Gamakatsu frog has legs that are 3 1/2 to 4 inches long and can be trimmed if desired.
Walk, Pop, Skip
Rojas said his frog retrieve changes on any given day, depending on the mood of the fish.
"The best way usually is a walk-the-dog cadence," he said. "The longer you walk the bait in place, the better. When you make that perfect cast, you want it to sashay in the strike zone as long as possible.
"But sometimes the fish want it fast, so you chug it across the water, and other times they want it slow, so you throw it out and just pop it a little."
He acknowledged that frog fishing can be hit or miss, especially for neophytes.
"But when they're on it, they're on it. You can get big bites that will catapult you to the top of the standings."
> Rojas' frog rod is a medium-heavy Quantum. "It's the Dean Rojas Frog Rod and has a fast tip and a lot of backbone. The tip helps a lot in avoiding backlashes when you're skipping the bait back into cover."
> The Dean Rojas Classic Frog features a body that's narrower than many other baits in that genre. "It goes through the cove really well," he said. "After the Classic last summer, I got hundreds of emails asking about frog fishing and what's the perfect frog. Now I've designed it."
> The new bait will be available exclusively through Bass Pro Shops around the first week of July, he said. Seven colors will be available, including black with red eyes. "It's the most intimidating frog you'll ever see. It looks a lot like Darth Vader."
> He noted the frog is designed to land belly-down. "It's weighted that way – in the design of the belly and the hook. We've also beefed up the barbs on the hook so it has better holding power."
Depending on your location in the country, Rojas believes frogging can be done almost year-round. In the South, Rojas believes that you can throw a frog 12 months out of the year, whereas it works best in Northern lakes when the water temperature is at or above 65 degrees.
The Arizona pro got up at 4 a.m., downed a banana and put his boat in Kentucky Lake at about 5:15 a.m. to start a long day of practice for the Bassmaster Elite Series Tennessee Triumph.
When most of us were back home from work and sitting down for dinner, Rojas was working overtime, still trying to put together a game plan for the upcoming Elite Series event. "It wasn't an eight-hour shift," said Rojas of his day on the water that ran about 13 1/2 hours.