April 15 marks one of the most stressful deadlines in America – tax day. It also marks the kickoff to one of the most exciting summer pursuits in Arkansas bayous, the opening of bullfrog season.
Bullfrogs can be found across Arkansas, but the heaviest concentrations usually are found along the many ponds, slow-moving streams and fish farms in the east half of the state. It may take some door-knocking and asking for permission, but many small, private ponds can prove worth the effort once you break out the gigging gear.
Some froggers don waders or rubber boots to ease along the banks as quietly as possible, but many slide silently along in an aluminum johnboat or kayak, using only an electric trolling motor or a sculling paddle to get close to the easily spooked amphibians.
It’s possible to sneak up on a frog or two during the day, but the real action takes place at night, when spotlights and headlamps come into play. The reflective eyes of bullfrogs will shine brightly at the water’s edge, and the beam will daze the frog enough that a careful sneak can get you within arm’s reach. Then a fast stab with a gig or a quick grab of the hands will nab the fat frog before it can hop or swim away.
It’s usually a good idea to scan the bushes along the banks before making an approach on a frog as well. Plenty of spiders set up shop along the shore’s edge to catch their prey, and the webs can be a bit of a nuisance. More than one snake also has fallen into an unsuspecting frog gigger’s johnboat, causing him to nearly walk on water trying to get to the shore. Most water snakes are harmless and should be left alone, but that doesn’t make you feel any safer when they slide off a branch and thump down in the bottom of your boat.
Gigging frogs is more akin to hunting than angling, but participants need an Arkansas fishing license to participate. The limit is 18 bullfrogs per day, which runs from noon to noon. Along with grabbing them by hand and gigging, frogs may be taken by hand net, hook-and-line, spear or bow and arrow. Firearms and air guns may not be used.
Most folks who fry up a mess of frog’s legs may use the old “tastes like chicken” phrase to get a newcomer to try the delicacy. It usually doesn’t take any further prodding to get someone to eat more once they’ve tried them. Col. Sanders can’t compete with the tenderness and flavor of fresh frog’s legs done right.