By Ryan Graden
It’s one of the sounds that you always hear in the outdoor setting of a movie, the low-bellowing undertone of that long-legged-lakeside sitter. He carefully studies his surroundings for any danger as he patiently waits for his next meal. I’m talking about the great bullfrog, one of nature’s bountiful delicacies. A delicacy that many Midwesterners don’t even realize they are missing out on!
Bullfrog hunting or “gigging” doesn’t get much attention these days and often gets tagged as a “yesteryear” activity. Something the old timers did back when most of us weren’t even knee high to a grasshopper yet. Don’t get me wrong there are still plenty of people out there that pursue these distinctly vocal waterside critters, but that fact is other than a few days as a kid messing around on the bank most people probably haven’t been “gigging” frogs in a very long time.
A few years back I made frog hunting one of my summer “to-do’s” during July and August. I wanted to get a good number of those tasty legs in my freezer for the months to come. I had eaten frog legs before but honestly I didn’t know much about harvesting my own. I had remembered seeing my grandfather catch a few when I was a kid, but I never really knew what he did with them after that. But, as I said, a few years ago I knew that I was going to make an effort to collect some for my family to enjoy through the colder months of the year.
Frog fishing is a versatile activity that allows for anyone to participate. All you really need is a few pieces of equipment and you are ready to go. There are many ways to harvest bullfrogs, but I will cover the most common ways I have heard about collecting frogs for the dinner table. The fact of the matter is that there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot that goes into bullfrog hunting. It is one of the simplest outdoor pursuits around. You simply pick your method of choice, find a pond that has a good frog population and have at it.
I remember watching my granddad while we were out fishing. Our goal, usually, was to catch a bunch of bluegill or crappie for grandma to prepare as we were all out camping together. I always had a great time sitting and talking with him as we watched our bobbers bounce on the surface of the water. Occasionally, as we would be walking the bank to look for a new place to fish, we would come upon one of those giant hoppers just sitting on the edge of the water. I remember my granddad’s posture would immediately change when he saw it.
Grandpa would go from walking straight and tall to stopping in his tracks, hunching over as if he was taking cover, and slowly dropping to a knee. Then we would simply pull, out of his tackle box, a small one-inch by one inch cut piece of red handkerchief. He would then carefully push that hook through the piece of material and then slowly dangle his line that right off the nose of the frog he had spotted. Usually the hopper wouldn’t even move. But grandpa knew what he was doing! He would slowly move that piece from side to side. Sometimes pulling it further and further away from the front of the bullfrog he was taunting. Then, in the blink-of-an-eye, wham! The line would go tight and grandpa would be pulling of a large bullfrog from the side of the bank.
I’ll never forget the excitement of those moments. It was if we had just harvested the buck of a lifetime! It was so exciting to see those long lanky legs hanging from the end of his line and a smile on his face. I don’t remember much about what he did with those frogs after those exciting moments. But knowing my grandfather, I’m sure he used them well!
Grandpa used that old red handkerchief because that was what he had always done. And it worked! I have used a variety of things on the end of my hooks. Things like pieces of worm, rubber worms, stink bait, and even small spinners. It’s odd to see the ferocity that these bullfrogs attack with, but it is so satisfying to have a heavy one hanging from your line. If this is a method that you choose, I suggest opening up your tackle box and trying a few different things. Once you find something that works for you, continue using it till your basket is full.
Spearing frogs or “gigging frogs” is probably the easiest way of catching bullfrogs. You don’t have to wait for a strike, there is no mess and muck of catching them by hand, and your weapon is extremely accurate as it is an extension of your arms. Gigging frogs can be done by land or wading, but it is most fun by a boat or canoe. The best time to gig for frogs is during the night hours when a spotlight can easily give up a frog’s hiding spot. When you shine the banks the reflective lens of a frogs eyes is a dead give away and will provide you with your next target.
For equipment, other than a boat all you need is a bucket to put frogs in, a spear (aka: gig, hence the term “Gigging Frogs”) and a light source. Companies actually manufacture “gigs” specifically for frog hunting. They typically have four or five sharps prongs at the end and most bait shops carry them even though they are probably mislabeled as fishing spears.
Start out by taking your spotlight…I suggest a strong headlamp. Headlamps are a great idea because they allow you to have use of both of your hands. Then simply cruise the banks from land, water or boat and shine the banks looking for the two shiny eyes of a bullfrog. Once you find your target glide into striking distance and let the gig fly. Its always a good idea to have a tether on your spear, since some shots might be out of arms length you may need to throw the spear a few feet. That is really all there is to it, I don’t mean to make it sound like a walk in the park, because you will have plenty of misses, but in large part it is not rocket science.
The second method is probably the most exciting and requires the most skill of the all the methods that I am mentioning. With a little practice and the will to get a little dirty, you will have plenty of opportunities for success. It is the hand-catch method.
As previously stated the best time to hunt bullfrogs is at nighttime with a spotlight, and the same holds true for this method. I usually start by wading the water around the bank of the lake or pond of my choice. In the evening, frogs like to tuck up under the edge of ponds and lakes for the night. Any overhang that they can get under, they will try. Simply move at a very slow pace and try not to make any “splashing” sounds as you take your steps through the water. Use your headlamp as you walk slowly along the bank. Constantly watch the bank ahead of you for the reflection of those eyes that sit on top of a head. That is the dead giveaway of a large frog!
Once you have located your frog, carefully and stealthfully lower yourself closer to the surface of the water and inch your way toward him as if you were coming in to go nose-to-nose with him. The more you can use your light to shine on him, the better off you will be. Once you are within an arm’s length or shorter, make one quick lunge towards that frog, preferably using both of your hands, to grab him. Now, as I said earlier, be prepared to get wet and dirty because if this is the method of your choice, I assure you there is no clean way of doing it. But holding those slippery legs between your fingers after a successful catch will make you tremendously proud of your accomplishment.
Bow hunting for rough fish in Iowa is widely popular, but how many of you actually have frog hunted with a bow? I assume not many hands are raised after reading that question. Using a bow-fishing rig to hunt bullfrogs is a blast! Not only will it hone your skills it will allow you to try something completely out of the ordinary. The best thing is you don’t have to change a thing to your set up. The absolute best time to bowfish frogs is during the night hours from a boat…just like regular rough fishing excursions. So next times you go out to shoot some carp take notice of that ominous croaking sound and go stick some frogs. Who knows next time the carp may be your secondary option!
Fishing or hunting for bullfrogs as I previously stated is a bit of a thing of the past, and that is really too bad. People are missing out on a simple yet fun sport, a sport that will provide not only you, but also your children a great time in the outdoors…not to mention a tasty meal. So if the fishing is slow or you want to try something from yesteryear give frog fishing a try…trust me you won’t be let down. Something so simple will yield a lifetime of memories not only for you, but anyone you chose to take with you. Have fun and good luck!
Cleaning a harvested frog is actually pretty simple. If you have a filet knife and a pair of pliers, you are set to go! Iowa law states that you may have a combined daily limit and possession of 12 bullfrogs. You can also have a daily limit of 48 frogs and a possession limit of 96. So make sure you can differentiate between the two.
The way you choose to clean a frog really depends on what parts you want to eat. Most people will only harvest the back legs of the frog they catch. These are the parts that carry the most meat and certainly are the ones that you don’t want to miss. However, if you have caught some very large bullfrogs, I would suggest to keep as much of the frog intact and cook it whole.
If you are choosing to just harvest the back legs, find the hip of the frog and visualize a line across their back from the top of one hip to the top of the other. Take your filet knife and cut firmly down and across that line. Once this is complete, discard the top half of the frog and keep the legs. Next, take a pair of pliers in one hand and the frog legs in the other. With the pliers try to grab the very edge of the cut skin. Once you grip it, simply peel the skin down towards the ankles of the frog. Most of the time, the skin will peel as one complete piece. You can choose to take this clear down their feet or just down to the ankles and cut. There is really no advantage one way or another. It just depends on your preference.
Now, if you’ve landed a large bullfrog and you’ve decided that you’d like to keep the front legs intact, just do the same process but start at the head. Once you’ve removed the head, cut down through the belly and remove the innards. Once you’ve completed this, take your pliers again and catch the cut edge of the skin and pull down towards the feet. It should come as a complete piece but if it breaks just re-grab with your pliers and pull off the remaining skin.
When you’ve finished skinning them, give the meat a good washing and store in a refrigerator of a freezer depending on how soon you plan on eating them!
If you’ve never tasted frog meat before, you don’t know what you’re missing! It is one of the most delightful tasting meats that you could ever taste. And to think that this was just sitting on the edge of a pond! The meat is white, light, and sweet. It’s very tender and once you have some I promise that you will go back for more!
Most of my experience has been self-taught and I have learned that the easiest way to treat the meat is to think of them as “wings” or “drummies”. Most of us are pretty familiar with how these types of meats are prepared and how to eat them. Well, hopper legs are pretty similar. You can batter fry them, skillet fry them, boil them, and even steam them. It just depends on your preference. Just remember, they will look a bit different then the wings we eat during game time!
My family’s favorite is to make a batter mix and dip them in the batter. Then we gently lay them in our fryer and let them cook for only two or three minutes. Remember, they are pretty delicate so they won’t take long to cook. Once they are finished, let them cool, and enjoy! My daughters use hot sauce or ranch dressing to dip them in before they take a bite. It has become something of a treat to partake in at our dinner table. And when my daughters have a hand in the whole process, somehow the table fair tastes even better!
Iowa Bullfrog and Frog Regulations
• You need a fishing license to take frogs.
• You cannot shoot a frog in the water with a rifle.
• Frogs may be used for food or bait.
• You cannot use any device, net barrier, or fence that prevent frogs from having free access to and from the water.
• You cannot transport any frogs, taken in Iowa, out of state.
• You can purchase, sell, or possess frogs or any portion of their carcasses that have been legally taken and shipped in from outside the state.
• Frog Limits and Seasons: All frogs except bullfrogs and crawfish frogs: Continuous open season in inland and boundary waters.
• 48 frogs in daily bag limit
• 96 frogs in possession limit
• No minimum length limit
• Bullfrogs: Continuous open season in inland and boundary waters.
• 12 bullfrogs in daily bag limit
• 12 bullfrogs in possession limit
• No minimum length limit
DID YOU KNOW: The Goliath Frog is the world’s largest species of frog and can weigh up to 7 pounds!