Summer frogging

(Photo courtesy Hunter Meche)

Now’s the time for some frog hunting fun and a great meal, too

Little breeze stirred the air on this sweltering, humid night where even the air seemed to sweat.

Every swamp denizen croaked, grunted or otherwise added its voice to the cacophony of contempt for our unwanted presence.

Every object and sound seemed sinister in the darkness gripping this forbidding wet labyrinth of skeletal trees, black water and sucking mud. Shadows cast by the pallid sliver of a moon ominously loomed at us like long-fingered monsters reaching for a snack.

In the gloom, fallen trees resembled dinosaurs struggling to climb onto soggy banks while real dinosaurs, or at least their smaller relatives, prowled these swamps. Their eyes reflected flaming red when hit by light before suddenly vanishing into the murky depths. Other reptilians slithered along the surface, making faint wakes.

A frog hides in floating vegetation. Frogs sometimes come out in the daytime, but catching frogs at night makes a great sport. (Picture by John N. Felsher)

On such nights, intrepid sportsmen armed only with spears and headlamps search the swamps for resonant beasts with muscular legs capable of jumping more than 10 times their own length. These voracious predators swallow anything that fits into their cavernous mouths, even creatures almost their size.

Fortunately, these muscular predators don’t normally weigh much more than a pound or measure significantly longer than a foot. Welcome to summer frog hunting.

Stable populations

The tradition of catching frogs on hot summer nights goes back centuries. Louisiana and Mississippi wetlands and waterways provide excellent habitat for the sonorous amphibians.

“Based on available data, American bullfrog populations appear to be stable with no apparent declines,” advised Keri Lejeune, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries state herpetologist in Lafayette. “The pig frog range in Louisiana is restricted to the southern half of the state.”

Not counting its legs, bullfrogs grow to about five to nine inches long. Their slightly smaller cousins, pig frogs or lagoon frogs, can grow to about 5.5 inches long. Bullfrogs bellow loud, low-pitched croaks that sound like “jug-o-rum.” Pig frogs sound like pigs grunting, giving this amphibian its name. In Mississippi, pig frogs generally range south of Hattiesburg.

A bullfrog on the gig means one more for the frying pan. (Picture by John N. Felsher)

“Bullfrogs and pig frogs look similar, but a pig frog has a narrower, pointed snout,” Lejeune said. “In addition, the webbing on the hind feet extends to the end of the toes. Bullfrogs have a more broad, rounded snout. The webbing on their hind feet do not reach the end of the toes. Pig frogs also have a white lateral stripe through the rear and middle of each thigh, which bullfrogs lack.”

A smaller cousin, bronze frogs also occur throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. They look similar to the others, but only grow to about four inches from snout to tail. Many people misidentify them as juvenile bullfrogs or pig frogs. Sometimes, called a banjo frog, bronze frogs make a “glunk” call that sounds like playing a loose string on a banjo.

Get a license

In Louisiana, recreational sportsmen can take frogs from June 1 through March 31 without limit. Bullfrogs must measure at least five inches from the tip of its muzzle to its posterior between its hind legs. Pig frogs must measure at least three inches. Just to stay on the safe side of the law, it’s a good practice to not keep anything shorter than five inches long.

“People need to possess a basic Louisiana fishing license to take frogs for recreational purposes,” Lejeune said. “To catch frogs recreationally, people can use any visible light. They can use mechanical devices known as frog catchers or devices that puncture the skin, such as gigs or spears. Possession of firearms while taking or hunting frogs at night is prohibited. For taking frogs, air rifles are considered firearms, so they are a prohibited method of take. Bows and scoop nets are acceptable methods for collection.”

Randall Terrebonne III went frogging with his dad around Walker, La., and this was the biggest and the smallest they caught. Not too bad for his first time.

In Mississippi, people can take frogs recreationally from April 1 through September 30 with a nightly bag limit of 25. Each person taking frogs must possess a valid Mississippi hunting or fishing license.

“Bullfrogs can be found throughout most of the state, but are more likely to be found in the Mississippi Delta and southwestern portions of the state,” said Darrin Hardesty, a biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “They live primarily in river systems and tributaries, flooded swamps, catfish ponds and areas that are managed for moist soil.”

Frogs generally turn more active on hot summer nights. They pick good spots in thick weeds or on shorelines, waiting for prey to pass close enough to snatch. They regularly bellow out their calls, giving away their positions. Rivers or lake shorelines provide unlimited frog habitat good for hunting the insatiable amphibians.

For people with the proper licenses and permits, many wildlife management areas and other public properties allow recreational frogging during designated times. Season dates and other regulations for various public lands could vary, so always check first.

Childhood memories

Some of my fondest childhood memories took place on hot summer evenings. Dad and I would fish the last three hours of daylight. If we caught enough fish to eat, we’d find a level, dry patch of shoreline to make a fire just as the sun began to set. We cut sticks and roasted the fish over the fire, telling stories until full darkness overtook us.

Steven Felsher admires a bullfrog he gigged near a swampy ditch. (Picture by John N. Felsher)

With our stomachs full and the night creatures beginning their evening symphony, we started the second half of our wetland adventure. We cruised the waterways scanning shorelines, lily pad patches, weed beds and other hiding spots with lights. When a light beam illuminates a frog, its white chin and eyes typically shine like two dots hovering over a bright cottony throat splotch. The light in its eyes temporarily stuns the normally wary frog so it freezes, allowing people to approach close enough to catch it.

One person runs the boat and shines while the other does the catching with nets, gigs or mechanical grabbers. Some people choose to sneak close to frogs and grab them by hand. Before grabbing anything at night, look closely because other things, like snakes, alligators or snapping turtles, might also want to catch that frog.

“I prefer to hand-grab frogs, without a gig or clamp,” Hardesty said. “It’s more of a challenge that way. Most people would presumably use a long pole with a fishing gig, a small net or a grabber-style attachment. Without a doubt, people can be much more successful with a gig. I have also been successful in catching bullfrogs during the middle of the day, using only a crappie pole and a small treble hook.”

Although most sportsmen hunt their favorite amphibians by boat, froggers on foot can still jump into the action. Ponds, stream shorelines, even roadside ditches or small canals coursing through agricultural areas can provide outstanding frog habitat.

In my teen years when Dad couldn’t take me, I walked along roadside and drainage ditches near my home. Frogs can thrive in the tiniest habitats as long as it remains reasonably wet with some access to dry ground or structure. During dry times, some ditches barely held a few inches of water. Frogs frequently gathered in slightly deeper pools near culverts or where two ditches intersected.

“Catch them all”

One crusty old veteran living in my neighborhood always welcomed me when I showed up with a frog gig and a headlamp. One of the better places to catch frogs in my neighborhood, a fairly wide, shallow, weedy drainage ditch ran through his property. It created excellent bullfrog habitat, perhaps too excellent!

“Those *&^#% things croaking loudly all night long keep me awake,” the salty veteran muttered. “Come onto my property and catch them all!”

Catching frogs is fun, but eating these tasty critters fried or sauteed…well, that just kicks up the fun a notch.

I didn’t catch them all, but I regularly made significant dents in the population.

When walking up frogs, we frequently worked in pairs. One person would shine lights into the frog’s eyes and keep its attention while the other crept up behind it to catch it.

Sometimes, we went “fly fishing” for frogs. This requires stealth and teamwork. We attached a red cloth to a panfish hook or tied on a small fishing fly. The “shiner” illuminated the frog and held its attention while the “angler” approached the amphibian from behind and dangled the bait in front of it. Frogs eat anything. It instinctively shoots out its tongue to snatch whatever comes in range. Of course, people can also use actual bait, such as a worm or cricket dangled in the same manner. A large, agitated bullfrog hooked on light tackle jumping around puts on quite a fight and an amazing show.

The tradition of eating sumptuous fried frog legs also goes back centuries. Dad, my mother and I learned something the first time we brought frogs home to eat. When my mother dropped the disembodied legs into the frying pan, hot grease touched the nerves and the legs vaulted from the pan. Apparently, that touched a nerve in my mother as well. She rather loudly and vociferously announced her displeasure at our discovery. You might say she was “hoppin’ mad.”

Hunting frogs on hot summer evenings builds great memories and can also provide excellent meals. Of course, always use needle-nosed pliers to pull the yellow nerves from the frog legs before frying, unless playing a trick on the unsuspecting cook!

About John N. Felsher 47 Articles
Originally from Louisiana, John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer, broadcaster, photographer and editor who now lives in Alabama. An avid sportsman, he’s written more than 3,600 articles for more than 173 different magazines on a wide variety of outdoors topics. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at j.felsher@hotmail.com or through Facebook.