I had two favorite outdoor activities growing up; fishing and hunting. I enjoyed fishing more, and it may have been because I was much better at it than hunting, but I enjoyed them both immensely. There were varieties of both, utilizing different skills and techniques. Fishing for catfish in a pond is a lot different from fishing for smallmouth in a stream. Hunting squirrels with a 22 caliber rifle is much different from hunting quail with a 12 gauge shotgun. Thanks to my friend Jim, I was able to experience all of these varieties, with him as my companion much of the time. Jim also introduced me to something a little unusual, something that combined the best of both hunting and fishing: frog gigging.
Now, before I get into describing the entire frog gigging experience, I need to differentiate our intended prey from the toad that hops across your front lawn at night; at least for the city dwellers among you. Toads, unlike the bullfrog, are short-legged and leathery skinned with many bumps (we usually called them warts and the theory was that if you grabbed a toad and it peed on you the warts would begin to form on your hands in a few short days). Also, unlike the bullfrog, they are more terrestrial and won’t be found in the local pond. The bullfrog, however, is found in the local pond, or stream, or septic tank, or anywhere there’s a body of water. They can be much larger than the toad and have longer legs and smoother skin.
Frog gigging is generally done at night; moonless nights being the best. The gig is made of metal that fits over the end of a pole, an old broom handle works well, with the 5 pronged gig the most effective. At the end of each prong is something resembling a harpoon or fish-hook, designed to keep whatever is being gigged from slipping off. Once the gig is rigged up, a couple of other things are needed; a flashlight (we always bought the cheap $3.99 flashlight from Wal-Mart and we usually only got $3.99 worth of work out of them) and a gunny sack (an old pillowcase that Mom wasn’t using would do just fine). Once outfitted, we then headed out to find an appropriate body of water; Dry Fork Creek was a particularly “froggy” place that we frequented often, but any farm pond would do. On a warm summer night we would slowly drive down a dirt road with the windows down and listen for that familiar, loud basso profundo mating call of the male, and if you happened to get lucky, multiple males; with the additional chirping and clicking of other frogs creating a sound reminiscent of a symphony (who said Mother Nature was peaceful and quiet?).
Approaching the pond, we noticed that the extremely loud sound would grow eerily silent as we drew near. That didn’t matter, as we didn’t find the frogs based on the sound; we had the flashlights for that task. On a dark, moonless night, the flashlight shone around the edges of the pond would reveal numerous sets of eyes. Once you were accustomed to the look of those eyes, it became pretty easy to spot them. Flashlight in one hand and gig in the other, you would slowly approach the frog, sometimes from the water and other times on land. The light in their eyes would mesmerize them and if you were really good you could catch them with your hand, but the gig made it much easier. A quick jabbing motion and the gig would pierce through the frog; down into the mud and muck around the pond. The next move was to reach down to the end of the gig and pull the frog and muck upward, while quickly removing the gig from the frog and then tossing them, in most cases still alive, into the pillowcase. From there, onto the next set of eyes.
One particular night there were four of us, Jim, Andy, Tim and I, who went to Dry Fork for a night of frog gigging. If you’re wondering how we got away with staying out all night it’s quite simple; frogs are a delicacy and could be quite expensive in a restaurant and besides the legs taste like chicken (we used every argument in the books; and they fell for them!). The four of us began wading the creek, scanning both banks while heading upstream. Most of the creek was waist deep, but there was the occasional deep hole to be aware of. There was another thing to be wary of; snakes. Water moccasins to be exact. In one particularly deep hole, with water up to my armpits, I was scanning the surface of the water when I noticed a long, black snake swimming a few feet away from me. I didn’t panic and neither did the snake. I watched it and it watched me and I visually followed it to the other side of the creek and continued in my quest. We were having a very successful night, filling up a pillowcase with the delectable creatures. At one point I heard a light splash and turned around to see a baseball cap floating my way and noticed a dull light shining from under the water. Tim had stepped in a deep hole. It was only funny afterward, but he came up sputtering and flailing about, trying to regain his footing and the rest of the night he wasn’t quite the same.
Eventually we noticed the sun coming up in the eastern sky and decided then that it was time to end our night of fun. We ended up back at the low water bridge where we had entered earlier that night and decided to clean the frogs there (less mess at home; less trouble from the authorities). Cleaning frogs is really quite easy. Imagine the frog wearing clothes. With your filet knife you cut the skin around its waist and then pull the skin down to its feet; like pulling off a pair of pants. Once the pants are off, you then cut off the hind legs (the only ones large enough to eat), which on a good size frog resemble a small chicken drumstick. There is something odd and funny at the same time watching a frog, rear legs removed, walking across the bridge with just the upper half of the body intact. We were kind enough to put them out of their misery with a swift penetration of the knife directly into the skull, just above the eyes.
Once married, I was pleasantly surprised that Julie didn’t mind me going frog gigging; it seems she had acquired a taste for frog legs at an earlier time in her life. The first time I brought frogs home, I was sitting in the living room, feeling pretty good about the bounty I had acquired, when I heard a scream coming from the kitchen, “These frog legs are jumping around in the pan!” It seems that the muscles in the legs react when salted and the legs twitch back and forth until the frying pan gets hot enough. Well, at least she used to like frog legs.
This story is an excerpt from Always a Little Heathen, to be released on October 14, 2014.