Few things are more exciting than slopping around a muddy pond at night—while most of your friends are sound asleep— in hopes of catching America’s largest frog. A bullfrog can weigh more than half a dozen cheeseburgers and grow larger than your dad’s hand. Their calls, which sound like enormous, rumbling burps, echo in ponds, rivers, marshes and swamps throughout Missouri. They’re fun to catch, and best of all, bullfrogs grow long, meaty legs that when cooked to perfection give your grandma’s fried chicken a run for its money.
Frogging season runs from sunset on June 30 to midnight on Halloween. Bullfrogs and their smaller cousins, green frogs, are both legal to catch. If you’re 15 or younger, you don’t need a permit to harvest frogs; if you’re 16 or older, you do. You can take home eight frogs each day. The possession limit—how many you can keep in your freezer before having a frog fry—is 16.
There’s no shortage of ways to bag bullfrogs. Some froggers use gigs—long, multi-pronged spears—to harpoon frogs. Once you gig a frog, though, it’s yours forever. Releasing an injured frog is against the law. If you want to trade a frog in hand for a meatier one on the next lily pad, don’t use a gig. Instead, try a long-handled net or a fishing pole. Bullfrogs eat anything they can cram inside their cavernous mouths. Jiggle any kind of lure—or even a bare hook—in front of a hungry frog, and it will lunge for it. Of all the ways to catch croakers, though, grabbing them with your bare hands is the most fun.
How do you catch a one-of-a-kind frog? Unique up on it. Bullfrogs, however, can be as jittery as your little brother after his third can of cola. Sneaking close enough to grab a jumpy hopper takes skill and a little luck.
During summer, frogs cool off at night in mud along the shore. Slowly circle the bank, sweeping your light all around. Look for white chests and glowing pink eyes. If you spot either, keep the light tight on the frog’s face. The hypnotized hopper won’t be able to see anything and will remain hunkered in place. Creep toward the frog from the front. If it startles, it’s liable to jump right toward you, offering a chance for a mad grab. If it doesn’t spook, move your hand s-l-o-w-l-y within striking range and ... GRAB IT! When you get your paws on a frog, hang on tight—they’re as slippery as a greased water balloon.
After you’ve bagged eight frogs, it’s time to call it a night. Run yourself through a carwash, tip-toe up to bed, and sleep in so you can stay up late tomorrow for another round of mud, fun and frogs.
Nichole LeClair Terrill