Nighttime Raids

There are worse ways to spend a March evening than filling a crawfish sack with big bullfrogs.

Trivia has it that Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), the father of French cuisine, listed frog legs on the menu of the famous Hotel Carlton in London as, “Cuisses de Nymphe Aurore.”

Considered a disgusting food by the British, who could resist an item on the menu with a name such as “Legs of the Dawn Nymphs?”

As the early 20th-century story goes, the Prince of Wales couldn’t, and neither can Louisianians today.

It is this very reason my partner Shane Wiggins and I can’t wait for the weather to warm up, so we can make a few amphibian nighttime raids on the Prince’s dawn nymphs. The two best time periods to make a raid or two or three are during late February/early March and late June/early July.

March offers the advantage of not having to deal with as much vegetation as you normally would during the hot summer months. Most of the cut-grass, bull tongue, arum weed, cat tails (flag grass) and other plants that typically harbor frogs along bayou banks still haven’t recovered from winter’s wrath.

Further, it is not uncommon for coastal marshes to be hit with a late-winter frost or two, slowing any real growth.

Another reason that makes this early period excellent is we are still getting cool fronts in. These fronts tend to push out the water that is typically on the rise at this time of year, exposing mud flats along bayous, canals and river banks, on which frogs come out to feed at night.

James Duay, land manager for St. Mary Land & Exploration Company, is one of the last marsh men who grew up in a family that made their living fishing and trapping. Over the years, Duay caught frogs to make a living and for personal use.He particularly likes the month of March for hunting the green amphibians.

“Frogs have been hibernating all winter, and when they come out they’re hungry,” he said. “Those first warm days, he buries himself in the mud, and all you see are his eyes. He is hungry, and wants to feed.”

According to Duay, when you catch one, there is absolutely nothing in its stomach. It is completely empty.

“Another thing I like about hunting in March is they’re not as wild; they’re cold and stiff. It’s not like in the summer when they jump early. They’re cold; they barely move.”

Perhaps most important about this time frame is it’s the season when frogs are getting ready to spawn. Generally, you find several large bull frogs in one small area as a result.

Because of the spawn, Wildlife & Fisheries regulations prohibit any hunting of frogs during the months of April and May.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been on hunts where we caught everything just right. The slick Teflon on the bottom of the airboat glided us along these shallow flats. While pulling one frog out of the grabber, the head light was on another several yards away. These warm days and cool nights are prime time for putting several messes of frog legs in the freezer.

If you don’t have an airboat, don’t let that stop you. Any flat-bottomed, shallow-running boat, with the myriad of engine styles and models today, will work just fine during this time of year. The new Pro Drive, Mud Buddy’s Hyper Drive, and Beaver Tail’s Gator-Tail are shallow-water work horses. Of course, the ubiquitous, stand-by Go-Devils are excellent too.

Reaching a frog out on a mud flat or back a few feet on the bank gives everyone problems from time to time. An equipment modification that I have employed extends the reach of a typical frog net and handle by a few feet. Easily made, it is not a panacea for every situation, but it helps nonetheless.

Locate a marine antenna that no longer works and remove all cables, clamps and any hardware. You can tape up or fill any holes, and paint it any color that suits you. Simply transfer your net to this long, extremely light pole, and you’re ready for action.

If you need a net and hoop ring to go with your antenna, I know of only one place from Lafayette to Houma that sells these frog setups, and that’s Aucoin’s Hardware, located at 430 Levee Road in Morgan City. Locals always say, “If Aucoin’s don’t have it, it can’t be found.”

This new set-up makes a deadly addition to your nighttime frog weaponry. It is long, strong, light weight, and can be used with one hand.

I also like to modify my grabber too, using a trick I learned from Duay. Big bull frogs can literally puff up and use their back legs to open the jaws of standard grabbers. What I do is file the lower inside bottom jaw hinge until the top of the grabber overlaps slightly and mid jaws touch. I then cut a slice of tire innertube, and make several wraps on the outer jaw springs and tie it off. The rubber addition forces the jaws to snap shut quicker and hold the frog tighter, preventing the loss of most frogs.

I wanted to know more about the frogs we go after in our area, so last summer I contacted Jeff Boundy with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries with a couple of questions I had.

According to Boundy the “frogging” frogs in Louisiana are both bullfrogs and pig frogs.

“The pig frogs have a pig-like call and are smaller than bullfrogs of the same age,” he said. “The males and females are about the same length, but females can be fairly rotund with eggs.”

Most everyone who gets down the bayous regularly has heard them call. The pigs have this sort of robust “unk-unk” blast, whereas bull frogs have a bass tone droning that sounds like “ro-um, ro-um, ro-um.”

Boundy went on to say that bulls are about 5 to 8 inches in head to body length as adults and pigs about 4 to 6 inches.

The last hunt Wiggins and I made, we put in at the Calumet landing in Calumet. The landing is located off of Highway 90, by taking the Highway 182 turn off, just before the bridge crosses the spillway on its east side.

Pulling out of the landing, Shane pointed his airboat south at an idle while he made adjustments to his sealed-beam head light. When it flashed along the bank, I immediately saw a big bull frog just before we passed under the Highway 90 Bridge. I took this as a good omen of things to come.

We started our hunt below the Intracoastal, taking a narrow pipe line off of the east bank of the spillway above Wax Lake. Working the canal slowly, we picked up a few frogs along both sides. From there we hit the eastern side of Wax Lake, working every patch of sub-aquatic vegetation along the way. Nearly every patch we came to, the sealed-beam would pick up the star-like eyes of our quarry.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using a large airboat at times. In shallow water, the heavy crafts tend to push water ahead before you get to the frog that causes them to spook. Moreover, due to the hunting pressure these frogs get on a regular basis, they are wild. Therefore, you can’t be overly aggressive.

The trick is to ease off the gas and let the hump of water slowly pass over them like a mild boat wake that they are used to. Always try to come up alongside them from behind if possible when you’re using a grabber. If you’re using your hands, a whacker or net, a frontal assault works fine most of the time.

When we got below Wax Lake, we cut across the spillway, and worked our way south along the west bank. At the edge of some thick grandiose (American lotus), there was some mixed coon tail grass and hydrilla that kept us busy for a while.

I no sooner would grab one frog, and Wiggins was on his way to another. As I glanced back toward the aft end of the airboat, Shane’s sealed-beam swept light over the yellow grandiose flower pods that had not yet blossomed. The mist produced by the prop wash formed a contrail as he steered the boat into position to make another strafing run on our next target.

As quickly as I could, I would shove frogs into a 4-inch PVC pipe that led down into the frog net sack fastened to it in the bottom of the boat.

The sack started looking pretty good about then, and we jumped into Hammock Canal, hoping to pick up a few more. Using the net, I ambushed one off the bank. I love using the net when it’s not practical using a grabber. The frog feels the net drop over them and instinctually leaps into the air. By flipping your wrist and lifting straight up, you close off the net opening, and he can’t escape — and don’t think they won’t try.

While heading to our next location, I noticed a frog jump to the front of the boat.

What the heck? I thought to myself. Where’d he come from?

Then I saw another. It was then I realized the sack wasn’t fully attached and securely tied to our PVC pipe. For the next several minutes things were “hopping” in the boat, both human and amphibian.

After restoring things to order, we decided to hunt our way back north along the west side of Wax Lake toward Blue Bayou. The action wasn’t what we expected, and our efforts only garnered a couple more frogs. The west side certainly looked like prime frog habitat, but sometimes it simply works out that way. The fact was, we weren’t the first to hunt it, and wouldn’t be the last. The frogs were pretty well picked over in this spot.

Crossing over the spillway to the east side, we took Little Wax Bayou to the Bull Canal, and headed north coming out in the Intracoastal. Overall, we picked up a total of 57 frogs, a modest run by no means.

However, in the past, we did have better nights, but we also had some worse. What we picked up were real bruisers in terms of size. I’ve run into many people who have a hard time believing me when I tell them we get some frogs with thighs that are nearly as big as chicken legs.

The best way to eat frog legs, of course, is deep fried. It seems everything good is fried. I like to roll them in a corn meal fish fry or just simply lightly dust them in flour with salt and pepper, dropping them in the fryer at 350 degrees.

When they begin to float, leave them in for just a few seconds longer, letting that light golden color envelop them. Don’t overcook them, and be sure to eat them immediately. They’ll knock your lips off.

For those concerned with eating too many fried foods, try them smothered in a red gravy sauce over rice or baked in butter (low-fat margarine).

For a place to hunt frogs in early March when the water is up along the Atchafalaya River, I’d check out the area behind the old recycling plant near Berwick. Later in the year, when the waters down, it really isn’t possible to navigate due to silt build-up. This area receives a lot of pressure, but if caught early in the season at the right time, it produces frogs.

The Atchafalaya Basin always holds large numbers of frogs, particularly near and around the Attakapas WMA. Make sure you check with the DWF for specific restrictions.

Other areas worth mentioning are American Lake, Duck Lake, Flat Lake near Bear Bayou, and Grassy Lake. All of these are public areas that produce frogs throughout the spring and summer months.

The early spring can have nighttime navigational drawbacks in terms of weather — fog being the primary culprit. The warm air over the much cooler water and land masses can place you in dire straits in no time. The key here is to watch the weather before heading out. If there are fog warnings, it is best to pick more favorable conditions.

When conditions are more favorable fog can still be problematic the later it gets. Try not to stay out too late. Louisiana doesn’t have any shortage where warm weather is concerned.

With only the months of April and May closed to frog hunting, you’ll have ample time to get in a few raids.

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