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Out There: Nothing beats a great pair of legs

9/28/2004
The frogger's quarry, the bullfrog, grows large — sometimes weighing in at more than a pound. 

It's a sport that jolts your senses. A bazillion mosquitoes are buzzing in your ears. The pungent odor of swamp water and insect repellent permeates the humid, saunalike air. Your lips taste salty from the sweat running off your face.

A single beam of light sweeps through the darkness. You squint your eyes, searching for a white belly or glowing golden eyes on the muddy banks. Just upstream, you hear the distinctive, sonorous call of your quarry: Brrr-rum. Brrr-rum. Brr-rum.

Your partner plays the spotlight along the shore and pinpoints two luminescent eyes. The creature sits motionless, mesmerized by the beam. You move the boat close and your buddy, perched precariously on the bow, lunges forward and seizes the frog with his bare hands before it leaps away. The long-legged amphibian is admired in the light and added to a growing assemblage of his kinfolks on a stringer.

This is frogging. The scenario is re-enacted thousands of times each summer — the traditional season for pursuing frogs.

Frogging doesn't rank among our most popular outdoor sports, but it appeals to a hard-boiled corps of bullfrog fans who sneer at darkness and discomfort for a chance at one of nature's greatest delicacies — fresh frog legs.

The creature the frogging fraternity finds so appealing is the bullfrog. The largest North American frog, the bullfrog commonly reaches a foot in length and may weigh more than a pound.

Its sweet-tasting hind legs form the basis for a variety of gourmet repasts. When you're eating a mess of delicious frog legs, the heat, mosquitoes, mud and snakes really don't seem like much to endure.

On one of our many frogging excursions, my best friend, Lewis Peeler, ran the outboard while I spotlighted the shore. We'd gone only a few yards when the beam intercepted the first frog's eyes.

Lew swung the boat shoreward, idled the motor and positioned me in front of the bullfrog. I thought I heard the big croaker chuckle as the boat ground to a halt 10 feet away.

"We should've brought a gig," I said to Peeler. "My arms aren't long enough to reach him." Score: frogs 1, froggers 0.

Froggers use several methods to harvest bullfrogs. Some wade; others employ a small boat. Many froggers use long-handled, multi-pronged gigs to spear their catch.

A few are skilled enough to hook frogs with a fishing fly or snippet of colored cloth dangled in front of the amphibian on a line. Some use bowfishing rigs to arrow the prey.

Purists insist the only way to take bullfrogs is with bare hands; it's more fun that way.

Lew and I always have been purists. And over the years we've learned that the approach is critical when hand-catching frogs. If the boat scrapes submerged brush or if a paddle groans against the gunwales, it alerts the frog, which will escape regardless of the light in its eyes. A sudden, head-on strike is recommended.

The amphibian's body provides the best grip, but, often as not, the frog jumps at the last second and the frogger finds himself seizing the hopper by one slippery, squirming leg.

A moment's hesitation gives the frog the split second needed to escape. The frogger who falters fails.
We found our second frog sitting at eye level on a dirt embankment. "This one's mine," I said, prematurely.

I kept the light focused on the frog, and Peeler motored the boat quietly within grabbing distance. When the hopper and I were eyeball to eyeball, I made the snatch … and missed. The frog jumped over the boat and hit the water with a splash.

Lew stifled a laugh. "I guess I'll have to show you how to catch 'em," he said. "Looks like you're kinda rusty." We have an unwritten rule that when one misses, the other gets to grab.

We swapped positions and headed downstream where two booming males called from opposite banks. The boat scraped bottom 30 feet from one huge frog sitting on an open flat.

"You hold the light on him and keep the motor idling," Peeler said. "I'm gonna slip around behind and catch him."

"You must like running the motor," I told him as I took the spotlight. "That frog'll be long gone before you ever get close."

Lew likes a challenge, however, and quickly approached the frog's blind side. Moving stealthily, like a long-legged stork, my friend hovered over the frog with hands outstretched. Suddenly, he pounced.

The frog never had a chance. Lew came up grinning with the green creature dangling from his hand. "We're about to even the score," he said. "Driver, find me another one."

The next bullfrog made some unexpected moves. There was barely enough room to squeeze through the trees to his streamside seat. Just before Lewis could grab him, a branch scraped the aluminum boat and the frog jumped — not into the water, but up the bank. True to form, Peeler caught the frog with a flying tackle into the mud.

"That one almost got the best of you," I said.

"Yeah, but it was fun," he laughed. "And you've got to admit, that was a great catch. Let's go find another one."

We continued up the dark stream a couple of miles and took 16 more jumbo bullfrogs. We got back to Lew's house at 1 in the morning. When we finished dressing our catch, we put 36 jumbo frog legs in the refrigerator to soak overnight.

The next morning the aroma of breakfast cooking filled the air. Peeler's wife, Sherry, had prepared a meal fit for a king — succulent frog legs fried golden-brown, cat's-head biscuits with milk gravy and scrambled eggs.

As we ate, Lew said, "You know, nothing beats a great pair of legs."

I agree.

Certainly, frogging isn't for everyone.

But if you don't mind the feel of frog slime and swamp ooze between your digits. If the drone of a million skeeters fighting over the tender cuts of your face doesn't drive you bonkers. If you don't mind wandering around when the only other creatures operating are bats and cottonmouths. Then maybe, just maybe, a witching-hour safari for bullfrogs could be your ticket to happiness.

You don't have to be crazy, but it helps.

To contact Keith Sutton, email him at catfishdude@sbcglobal.net.