The distinctive call of the bullfrog is as much a part of summer as the smell of fresh cut clover, gentle evening breezes and campfire cookouts. It's also the sound of one of my favorite summer pastimes, a sport I affectionately call "Froggin'."
Frogging makes a lasting impression on kids and grownups alike, and it will provide succulent treats for you to serve to family and guests. Nothing is more fun than trudging around the banks of your local pond with flashlight in one hand and gig in the other, searching for the iridescent pink reflection of frog eyes. And what would a froggin' trip be without a couple of youngsters to share in the thrill and excitement of catching the elusive and delicious American bullfrog?
Whenever the topic of froggin' comes up in conversation, many folks recall with a smile the outings they took as children. Frog hunting doesn't have to remain a memory. "Froggable" waters are plentiful in our great state, frog populations are in great condition, and the frogs are just as big as they used to be.
Opening day of frog season happens to be my birthday, and my three children and I celebrate it each year with our first frog hunt of the season. Frog season opens at sunset June 30th and closes October 31 every year.
Most froggers target bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana). Mature bullfrogs may weigh several pounds. The largest on record measured more than 8 inches from snout to vent. Bullfrogs are typically olive in color with white to yellow bellies and dark brown bars on their hind legs. They lack the ridge of skin along the back found on other species. Their light-colored belly and reflective pink eyes will help you locate them.
Bullfrogs are primarily found in farm ponds, rivers, sloughs, swamps and marshes. Healthy populations of large frogs can be found in virtually any permanent wetland, especially those without fish. In fishless wetlands, frogs are the top aquatic predators in the system. The lack of competition for food and other resources allows them to grow large and become abundant.
In Missouri, bullfrogs are most active from May through July. They are considered nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. Temperature dictates where you'll find frogs in and around water. During May and June, look in shallow water where they call, breed and lay eggs. Later, during the "dog days" of summer, they'll be on the bank, usually within five feet of the water's edge, where it is cooler and food is abundant.
The water temperature of a shallow pond in August and September can exceed 85 degrees. Bullfrogs cannot regulate their body temperature internally, so they leave the water at night to cool off and slow their metabolism. When temperatures drop in late September, the water is warmer than the air, and frogs nestle into aquatic vegetation in deeper water. By late October, bullfrogs begin burrowing into the mud to over winter. That's about the same time as the frogging season ends.
The Wildlife Code of Missouri allows the harvest of frogs by hand net, gig, longbow, trotline, throw line, limb line, bank line, jug line, snagging, snaring, grabbing or pole and line and allows the use of an artificial light. They can also be taken with .22-caliber firearms, pellet guns, longbows and crossbows.
The current daily limit of frogs is eight. The possession limit (how many you can have in your freezer before having a frog fry) is twice the daily limit. Frogs may be harvested with either a hunting or a fishing permit. Children under the age of 16 are not required to purchase a permit, nor are adults over age 65.
Approach a wetland and search for white bellies and reflective pink eyes with your flashlight. Once dazzled by the light, frogs won't jump unless startled by your movement. Creep up slowly then thrust the spear right behind their head. Frogs are tough, so it takes a considerable amount of power to pierce their leathery bodies. Instead of throwing the spear, get as close as possible to the frog and use your body weight to impale your prey.
Once you've speared a frog, you must harvest the animal. Releasing an injured frog is viewed as "wanton waste" in the Wildlife Code, as the animal is not likely to recover.
Hand grabbing is my personal favorite method for harvesting frogs. My 5-year-old daughter says you have to "neek" up on them. Hunters and anglers typically choose to harvest larger animals to ensure their limit is sufficient to grease up a skillet. By catching frogs with your hands, you can then decide to harvest the animal or let it go in hopes of catching a bigger one.
The best time of year to grab is when the frogs are on the bank. Dazzle a frog with light and approach it from the front to block it from deep water refuge. If it is startled before you grab it, the frog will jump toward you, giving you a second chance. Be prepared to have lots of fun.
Although bullfrogs are primarily nocturnal, you can often find them poking their eyes out of moss, lily pads and cattails around dusk and dawn. A long cane pole or telescoping fiberglass rod works great. Artificial flies, grasshoppers, crickets or even a small piece of bright red yarn tied on a treble hook will tempt a frog.
I have found that the bigger and gaudier the fly, the better it works for frogs. Dangle it in front of the frog, and it can't resist taking a bite. The lightning speed at which they strike often surprises the hunter. Once the frog has taken the bait, it's just like fishing, only the frog is not in the water.
Topwater lures work well with spin-casting or spinning rods. When a frog is beyond the range of a cane pole or telescoping rod, simply cast the lure beyond the frog and then reel to the frog and gently twitch the lure on the surface of the water to tease the frog into lunging. Bullfrogs have been known to eat other frogs, mice and even small birds, so try to mimic these critters when top-water fishing for frogs.
Frogs for the table
Frogs are a breeze to clean. Rinse the frog, then grasp it behind the front legs with its head in your palm and place it belly down on a cutting board. Stretch the hind legs out and cut with a cleaver or heavy knife above the hip. Try to keep the legs attached as a pair to ease skinning and cooking. Work your finger under the skin between the frog's legs. Then, pull the skin down the legs to the ankles, like peeling off a pair of tube socks. Cut off the feet and skin with a sharp knife and toss this tasty treat to the friendly barn cat keeping you company. Place the legs in a freezer bag with a tablespoon of salt per gallon bag of frog legs, fill the bag with water and refrigerate or freeze. This will avoid freezer burning the legs. The hip bones can be sharp, so double bag.
A bright flashlight with an adjustable beam and a headlamp like those used by cave explorers are essential to froggin'. The adjustable flashlight beam allows you to focus on a frog, and the headlamp keeps your hands free to remove frogs from the spear. Be sure to bring extra batteries.
You'll need a bag with a drawstring to keep the frogs from escaping. A mesh laundry bag or an old pillow case with a string through the cuff will suffice. Hip wading boots or an old pair of sneakers and jeans will protect your feet and legs. Old clothes that you might be considering cutting up into shop rags make excellent froggin' attire.
Wetlands are home to legions of mosquitoes, flies, moths and other bothersome insects that are attracted to your body and lights, so bring plenty of insect repellent.
A gig or frog spear is a light metal spearhead with three or four prongs attached to a long pole. Spearheads are available at most fishing tackle stores or through catalogs and are usually sold without a pole. You can fashion a pole out of cane, fiberglass, wood or any other long, lightweight, rigid material.
Use extreme caution, especially when hunting with children. Each point of the spearhead is very sharp and has a barb cut into the shaft of the prong to prevent the frogs from flopping off. To prevent accidents, cut a 3- inch section of radiator hose to slip over the spearhead when not in use.
Finley's Frog Fry
There are many ways to fry a frog. Here's my favorite recipe:
1 cup flour
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
1/4 cup corn starch
1 tbs black pepper
1 tbs season salt
1 tbs lemon pepper salt
1 cup milk
2 quarts peanut oil
Thaw a possession limit of frog legs (16 pair) drain and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients into a large plastic bowl with lid. Dip legs into milk and egg mixture then drop into bowl with dry ingredients. Cover bowl and shake your legs! Drop in hot oil and cook until golden brown.
The experience and excitement of hunting frogs is topped only by the satisfaction of eating your harvest, and nothing draws kinfolk out of the woodwork like frogs in hot fat. All that usually remains after a frog fry is a little pile of bones picked clean as cotton swabs. This summer, hunt some frogs with your friends and family, make some lasting memories and enjoy a taste of Missouri's bountiful resources.