By Larry Dablemont
I remember catching frogs from the river when I was only about 13 or 14 years old. We used carbide headlamps like miners used, with polished globes. My goodness, there are lights today that bullfrogs in the past would not believe. And that’s what you have to have to catch a bullfrog by hand.
Blind him, and a bullfrog don’t know which way to jump, so you can just reach down and grab him. But you can’t be indecisive about it. You have to grab a bullfrog like you might go after a drifting hundred-dollar bill on a windy day. Many things shine in the light at night along our waterways, the eyes of spiders and insects, sparkling rocks, and other amphibians and reptiles, but when you learn what a set of bullfrog eyes look like, you have little doubt when you see a pair of them. A big bullfrog's eyes looks a little like the headlights on a Model T Ford.
Once you have him, the best thing to do is put him in a wet cloth sack... burlap feed bags were best but today they are hard to find. The men who once scoured the rivers and creeks at night, catching bullfrogs by hand as they traveled along either wading or boating, were true outdoorsmen and today they are really rare too, like burlap bags. They came from a different time and training.
Most of today’s froggers gig them, and that's a great deal easier perhaps. You don't have to get into the weeds or get nearly as close. But if you gig frogs, you need to know which ones are too small just at a distant glance, because you can't cull them. A gigged frog will die in time. The bigger the frog, the better the eating, and that's what most froggers are after. Frogging may not be the greatest of sport; there are perhaps things to do that are more fun. But frogs are as good to eat as anything!
There are few people who do not relish fried frog legs. A big bullfrog in Ozark waters may reach a length of 15 to 18 inches with their legs stretched out. A twelve-inch frog isn't big enough for most, he isn't really a keeper. Taking one of them home is like keeping a six-inch bass! On a big bullfrog, you will find quite a bit of meat on the back and the front legs as well as the back legs, so skin the whole frog and fry all of it. Cut off the head, cut off the feet, and then it will skin easily. Remove the entrails and cut the sheath of nerve fibers in the inside of the small of the back. If those are not cut, the frog will jump and twitch in the pan when you fry it, and it looks as if he is still alive.
Frog meat is very white and firm, with a flavor all its own. Frogs are very clean creatures, actually, though the water you find them in may look a little bit bad due to modern day pollution and algae growth. If it gets too polluted, you won't find the frogs, and that's why so often you hear froggers say, "There aren't any frogs anymore!" What they should be saying is, "There's not much clean water anymore."
Bullfrogs eat lots of insects, and they do nail them with a long tongue. That's why during the day you can dangle a hook in front of one with a little white or red yarn on it and they'll nail it. Years ago when ponds had lots of bullfrogs and clean water, farm kids caught frogs during the day in such a manner. But bullfrogs eat a lot of things, including smaller frogs, small snakes, worms, small fish and of course their very favorite food, the crawfish.
The bullfrog is highly favored by mink and coons and otters and bigger snakes as well, so they have to watch for lots of enemies, but only one enemy wears a headlamp! One of his greatest predators is the great blue heron, and they are at incredibly high numbers right now in the Ozark waters. There are too many of them, more every year. That has a lot to do with why there are fewer bullfrogs right now in small streams and lakes where there once were so many. But froggers have a lot to do with that as well, as does the degradation of our rivers, increasingly tainted with herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer and becoming choked with algae. Some ponds which were clean enough to swim in 40 years ago are now covered with slime.
You'll find bullfrogs in future summers where you find plenty of big bullfrog tadpoles this summer. And any place where there are bullfrogs, you'll find a few froggers in July. And that's because you can't find anything much better to eat than a bullfrog!