Perhaps one of the most-telling testimonials for any new artificial lure was featured prominently on the Louisiana Sportsman Web site April 2, the day after Johnny Watkins of Lake Charles hooked and landed a 9.1-pound bass on a Stanley Top Toad, the latest in a legendary line of Ribbits designed by John Dean of Many.
Watkins was smiling broadly as he held the big bass for the camera.
Dean talked like a proud papa when he pointed out the Top Toad's prowess before and after Watkins' hawg was caught on April 1. His painstaking efforts since last August, when he sketched his first drawing of the hollow-bodied soft-plastic frog, were being rewarded on waters near and far from his home lake of Toledo Bend.
Of course, the 9.1-pounder got his attention. Watkins, a friend of his, told the story to Louisiana Sportsman: Watkins and Lance Melendy were catching 5-pound-plus bass regularly while working a grassy stretch on April Fool's Day. He was throwing the Top Toad atop the grass while Melendy was catching fish on a Wedgetail swimbait in and around the grass at the Indian Mounds.
Watkins said the 9.1-pound bass blew up on the Top Toad, which is Ribbit's answer to hollow-bodied soft-plastic frogs.
"She came halfway out of the water on that frog. Lance warned me that she was headed for a stump, and sure enough she stayed wrapped up around it for seven to eight seconds. I think those two Double Take hooks on the Toad kept her on," Watkins told Louisiana Sportsman contributor Chris Berzas. "Then she made two more runs underneath the boat, and finally Lance was able to net her."
It was his third bragging-size bass of the late winter and early spring on the Top Toad, he said, noting he also caught and released an 8-pounder and a 6-pounder.
"We started catching good fish on the Top Toad in February on the main lake and secondary points," Watkins told Berzas. "Those fish were prespawners that were staging and feeding before moving up on the beds. We were fishing the first 50 yards or so on both sides of points that had good grass on them, and having a good outside grass line was the key."
The Top Toad intercepted those bass and, later, fooled post-spawn bass that were on their way out, Watkins said.
That's exactly what it was designed to do, Dean said. He had kept this Lure Review writer abreast of his progress with the new soft-plastic creation over the months. It wasn't easy to build, considering the number of molds and prototypes it took to arrive at the one that produced a weedless, lifelike-looking amphibian.
"It definitely was a challenge," Dean said the first week of April. "Before I did anything, I took a hand-poured test mold for a Bull Ribbit and built an inside cavity to create equal wall thickness. It can't be real thin and tear. You can't be microscopic in one spot and 3/16 (inches) in another. You've got to have enough insert to create a cavity."
Then he made some "hand-pours" and made sure it floated with a hook, and was happy to know he was 85 to 90 percent dead on. He made up the rest later in the process.
"Then I went to the cosmetic part," he said. "I made drawings to the 1/1000 of an inch to go into a computer. It's got to be right."
The most difficult part was building it around Stanley's special Double Take hook (although it can be fished with a wide-gap single hook, too). He needed to get the hips just right, get the numbers right and, after two more hand-pours, he still wasn't satisfied.
He kept drawing, tucking here, adding there. He threw them but didn't field test them much, he said.
Dean fine tuned the leg length "a little bit," as well as the size of the foot, and made the spread of the legs slightly wider. He made an indention above the frog's rear end for the two-pronged hook to fit snugly.
The veteran bass-fishing guide and artificial lure manufacturer arrived at the design he wanted four months later, and it went into the production mold phase, which was finished around the first of February.
"It takes time to get this thing done," he said in an understatement.
The Top Toad's soft plastic is special because it is built with PVC plastic, not vinyl like many other hollow-bodied plastic frogs.
"We really didn't want it to tear up - in other words, a bite a bait, as we say in the business," Dean said, noting there's a fine line to walk because if it's too soft, the hook set might be affected, and if it's too heavy or tough, then there's a possible compression issue when a bass chomps on it.
He had a Georgetown, Ga., company that produces soft plastics go through four different grades of soft plastic before settling on a saltwater hard plastic that's "got durability and enough compression when a fish bites it."
"Once we got it nailed down, the mold came in and we started running it," said Dean. "We were ready to go."
The Top Toad's features are unbeatable, he said, noting its track record so early in its release.
"Plus, its got the Ribbit kick, the noise. That's one thing we had to keep in check as well, to keep it in the Ribbit family. The legs and feet are definitely Ribbit," he said, adding that Top Toad colors and color combinations include white, catalpa, black, baby bass, melon red/pearl and bullfrog.
"We're selling the heck out of them," Dean said. "I'm really proud of the way it looks. I'm really proud of the way it works. This bait is fixing to blow up. Everything I heard is all good. It's because the water temperatures are warming. That's why."
People who might think it's only a seasonal soft-plastic wonder will be proved wrong, the artificial lure manufacturer said, as he believes it is capable of triggering strikes any time of the year.
Toledo Bend's bass have been biting it since mid-February, when it first hit the market. Less than a month later, its popularity was spreading from Toledo Bend to neighboring Lake Sam Rayburn to the southwest in Texas.
"We've still got a long way to go to see its success," said Dean. "With the Ribbit name and the Ribbit package, it's got its own identity. With the Ribbit family, with the Ribbit action it has, we're 85 percent home. With the hollow cavity concept, from what we're seeing now, it looks like this lure is going to be a 12-month lure."
For more information on the Top Toad and other Stanley products, go to fishstanley.com or call 800-256-2075.