The throaty bellowing of a bullfrog cracks the stillness of a warm spring night. It's a good sign. The hunters have not ventured out prematurely this year.
Shining the beam of light shoreward, they scan where meets ground. Grass, brush, a large rock - there gleaming eyes stare back at the light. The helmsman sculls the johnboat in to shore and the man at the bowrivets his spotlight on the eyes and brilliant white throat of the frog; cocked in his right hand is a makeshift spear of broom handle with blue steel tines.
The boat draws close - three feet, two feet, then the spear thrusts forward . Thhkk! The frog is impaled, then grasped firmly in hand, rapped sharply on the sunwale and deposited in a burlap coffee bag stashed between the seats.
The bullfrogging night has begun. The first catch is a plump, heavy-legged specimen weighing perhaps 10 ounces. Tasty dining lies ahead if a mess of frogs this size can be taken from the seculded farm pond.
Frog-gigging is an outdoor pastime that has nearly been bypassed time. Commercial frog farms havemade it an archaic practice to venture out in small boat with a crude spear to try to capture your own.
It's much easier to cruise down to a restaurant and order a batch of skillfully prepared legs than go thru all the trouble of catching your own - stumbling through pitch-dark cornfields and briar-infested woods toting 100 pounds of johnboats and equipment, stepping on snakes, tramping through poison ivy, getting bit by every known kind of insect and generally wasting time on a swampy pond at night.
But there are a few practitioners of the old craft remaining. For those who would like to get in on this forgotten sport, very little in the way of equipment is needed and almost any farm pond, lake or quiet-flowing river will have its share of fat frogs.
A johnboat of eight to 12 feet is the key ingredients.Stalking the amphibians on foot has been tried by many, and many have failed. Frogs sense the hunter's approach and the light cannot be shone directly into their eyes to immobilize them. Almost without exception, the big bulls will be facing out toward the middle of the pond, where they crouch in wait for insects to fly within reach.
Gig tips can be purchased in most tackle shops. Don't try to economize here since a cheap gig may bend or brake and leave you in the lurch some moonlight when the frogs are bellowing louder than a pack of hounds. Buy a good solid spearhead, preferably with four or five barbed point on end.
The gig is fastened onto the end of a broom handle or a discarded cane pole section. It can be screwes, bolted or epoxied into place. Tape adds security.
Don't make the mistake of choosing too short a handle. Experienced frog hunters don't need much length here, some expert teams even capture frogs with bare hands. But for novices, a four to eight-foot length is best.
A strong six-volt spotlight helps you get to the water and find the frogs. The only other item needed is burlap gunnysack to put the frogs in.
The hunting technique is easy in the telling but not quite so easy in the doing.
Two people are required. The basic strategy puts one man in the stern handling the paddle while the person in the bow wields the spotlight and gig.
Frogs seldom will be more than a few inches from the water which makes locating them fairly simple. Shine the light on the edge of the pond or river and work it slowly along the shore. The tipoff usually is the eyes, which glow errily in the beam of light. The porominent throat that house a bullfrog's powerful vocal cords shows up as a luminous patch of white.
When a frog is spotted, the light should be kept riveted on his eyes as the boat is sculled toward him. if the beam slips aside, you'll hear a sudden kerplunk and the frog will have vanished.
Take spotlight frogs with a clean, quick jab at the base of the head. That is supposed to kill the forg instantly; unfortunately it rarely does. Keep the frog pinned until you can grab him; a quick tap on the side of the boat dispatches him.
It's doubtful that gigers could clean out a pond's population, but conservation-minded frog hunters will be sure they leave behind some of the amphibians they see, particularly the smaller ones.
Ponds usually are the most productive waters for frog gigging, but some of the heftiest frogs I've taken came from the South Fork of the Shenandoah near Stanley, Va.
After the hunts, the frogs should be put on ice for the night and cleaned in the morning. With a sharp knife cut lightly through the skin where legs join bady. Grab the skin with a pair of pliers and yank down. The legs are then severed from the body.
Washed, seasoned, floured and fried gently in butter, fresh frog's legs are a gourmet's delight.