Christmas came early for one of the most-accomplished professional bass anglers in his era.

Tom Mann Jr. of Clewiston, Fla., received prototypes of a plastic frog being introduced by Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits. That was early the second week of December, it was love at first sight.

The retired Bassmaster and FLW pro bass angler didn’t waste any time putting the new soft plastic to work. On Dec. 15, the YamaFrog enticed a bass over 9 pounds to bite and he put that hawg in the boat while fishing Lake Okeechobee.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, it’s awesome. I throw it a lot,” Mann said about a month later.

That’s one thing about bassin’ in Florida — something like a plastic frog is effective in the mid-winter months when it’s only a dream in, say, North Texas, North Louisiana, Arkansas or Kentucky.

“Actually, I like to throw it in the winter. January, February, March and April — those four months, especially when they’re spawning and you see a hole in the grass,” Mann said. “Speed up to it, drop it and they just annilihate it.”

The YamaFrog will be rolling out onto the shelves soon in 13 colors. It is 3 ½ inches long and heavy enough to cast long distances, which is important to Mann, who fished in nine Bassmaster Classics and eight Forrest L. Wood Cups before retiring in August 2012.

Mann qualified for his first Classic in 1983 at Lake Okeechobee, and promptly “fell in love” with the bassin’ paradise in the Sunshine State.

He eventually moved 27 years ago to Lake Okeechobee, where he guides. Go to tommannjr.com to learn more.

“I’ve done pretty good here. This place is so good; you’re going to catch fish,” he said.

The 61-year-old has cast plenty of soft plastics of all shapes, sizes and colors over the years, and the YamaFrog he got a couple months ago has him hooked for several reasons.

“They took the time to design it the right way,” he said about Gary Yamamoto’s staff at GYCB, which also manufactures the highly popular Senkos. “The two things I like about it: No. 1, of all the plastic frogs like it, it’s probably the heaviest one. It has good castability.

“And, No. 2, it has a deep hook slot that lets you set the hook in there and hide it. It’s a neat design.”

The YamaFrog’s texture is much like that of a Senko — slightly ribbed, which creates “a little more disturbance, Mann said.

The inverted, flat legs are long enough and curled enough to make a rippling motion on the surface. “Two good swimming legs” is the way he put it.

“And when you cast it, it gets right up,” he said, noting it’ easily glides over the top of grass beds and around heavy cover. “It’s really designed to fish over grass, some kind of vegetation.”

Mann uses a 6/0 Heavy Duty VMC Wide Gap screw-in hook with the YamaFrog, which he said are soft enough to allow good hook-point penetration on the hook set.

“If you don’t have a soft bait, you can’t get the hook through (the plastic),” he noted. “You’ve got to give a little (on the texture) to get a little.

“When the fish bite, you’re going to hook them on the YamaFrog.”

He ties the YamaFrog to 50-pound-test Suffix 832 braided line most of the time.

Mann said his favorite color is black, followed closely by green pumpkin/white.

For more information on the new YamaFrog or other GYCB artificial lures, call 800-645-2248 or go to www.baits.com