Taking a different angle on frogging pays fry-pan dividends

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JEFFERSON CITY–The folksy poet who penned the traditional song inviting his “honey, oh baby mine” to join him at the fishing hole probably had in mind catching a mess of catfish or bluegills. Those whose taste runs toward a plate of frog legs could take a lesson from rustic anglers and wait until after sunset on June 30 to take cane poles, not gigs, to their favorite frogging waters.

Frogs span the gap between hunting and fishing in Missouri. If you have a hunting permit, you can take them legally with a pellet gun, longbow, crossbow, hand net or bare hands. Missouri regulations also allow the use of .22-cal. rifles and pistols. However, these are not allowed on some conservation areas.

With a fishing permit, you can use a hand net, gig, longbow or hook and line. Gigs and pellet guns are the most popular methods, but not necessarily the most effective or efficient.

The bullfrog, North America’s largest native frog, is prey to a wide variety of animals other than humans. Consequently, it is as skittish as a minnow in a piranha tank. Getting close enough to spear a smart old croaker is no small achievement.

Shooting frogs is a chancy proposition, too. Unless hit just right, many frogs make one last leap and disappear into mud and vegetation before they can be claimed.

Luckily for frog-leg fanciers, bullfrogs and green frogs – the only two species that can be taken legally in Missouri – both are voracious predators. Their mouths are as wide as their heads, and they will eat anything they can jam into their capacious gullets with their front feet. Drop any kind of fishing lure, or even a bare hook, within a foot of a frog and jiggle it around awhile and the hungry amphibian is almost certain to glom onto it. After that, it’s just a matter of reeling it in. A savvy frog angler can put a limit of eight frogs in a bag in less time than it takes a hunter to paddle once around the pond, missing or losing frogs.

Perhaps best of all, catching frogs on hook and line doesn’t fatally injure them. Undersized specimens can be released, making room for those sporting heftier drumsticks.

The bullfrog is North America’s biggest frog, measuring up to 8 inches all scrunched up and ready to jump. A good-sized bullfrog can weigh well over a pound, so a stout pole and line in the 10-pound-test range are recommended.

Missouri’s frogging season opens at sunset June 30. The daily limit is eight green or bullfrogs combined. If you catch a limit before midnight, you can start up again at 12:01 a.m. and catch another eight, filling out a possession limit and providing great eating for several people. To do this legally, you must keep the first eight frogs separate from those taken after midnight. Also remember that individual hunters must keep their frogs separate and identifiable from those of other froggers.

After skinning, frog legs have a mild flavor very much like fish. They taste great battered and fried or sautéed in butter with a little garlic or herbs. They also make a terrific base for Cajun dishes that call for fish or shellfish.

Aside from hunting raccoons and other furbearers, frogging is the only game that can be taken with artificial lights in Missouri. Anglers will find a headlamp helpful, as it keeps both hands free for managing rod and reel.

Male frogs fill the air above Missouri lakes and streams with their songs on summer nights. That is a big help to hunters trying to locate them. The bullfrog’s tune is a deep base chant that sounds something like “Jug-O-Rum, Jug-O-Rum.” Green frogs are less musical. Their songs sound like someone plucking a loose banjo string.

For more information about catching and cooking frogs, visit http://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2003/06/40.htm.