Tonight is a Good Night for Frogs
Josh Wolfe 06.26.14
He sat on the front porch rocking, listening; the distinguishing remarks of the bullfrog singing from the pond in front of his cabin. It was almost ethereal when the crickets clicked to the rhythm and the lightning bugs danced in step. He thought of the male’s low and distinguished, “want some, want some.” And the female’s higher, “come n’ get it, come n’ get it.” Arthur Farrell laughed. It was a joke he’d heard ages ago.
Back through those ages he remembered the hot summer nights in the South when frog gigging was one of the few activities a 16-year-old boy could participate in without causing trouble. There weren’t video games or Internet in those days. Anything you did was outside.
Built in ’59, Arthur’s red Volkswagen Beetle never really smelled the same after he discovered frog gigging—not bad, just not the same. He and his older brother Grover never minded spending their summer nights running through swamps and frequenting the local ponds of their little community in Alabama. Those ponds are long gone in the wake of commercial development; the swamps were drained when people moved into town and needed a place to live.
They’d assembled their gigs beginning with a piece of eight-foot-long conduit. They then ran three screws through a three-inch dowel. The screw, with its external thread, kept the frogs from slipping off after they were stuck. With some strips of plain cotton duck cloth, they bound the trident to the staff. This was far from top of the line and broke regularly, but was hard to beat for just a few cents. High-powered spotlights weren’t readily available, or cheap, so the boys mostly relied on flashlights and bright moons, about half to full. The myriad of tools available today for frog gigging makes it less of a sport and more of a trip to the grocery store.
In the darkness on one of their best nights, the boys moved silently through Mr. Hughes’ pasture toward the pond behind his house. Waste-high grass just around the outside of the pond made sneaking up to the water’s edge easy. Arthur with the flashlight, giving honors to his older brother, held it steady in the eyes of a large frog while Grover eased the gig down, ready to strike. He drove the middle prong into the top of its head, just between the eyes. Frogs don’t have especially large brains, but it can be found. Stick a few in other places and you’ll soon learn to aim true.
What a mess they compiled that night. Every few feet they’d be on a frog, one with the flashlight, the other with the gig, and rarely did they miss. Not when you hold the gig perpendicular to the frog and aim for its head. If you miss slightly to the left or right, the prongs on either side will lower the margin of error.
Skinning frogs isn’t so bad. Snip off the feet, then cut the skin around the belly area with scissors and pull it back, down his legs, and off—like removing his pants. Separate the legs from the body, then cut them in half. Arthur and Grover typically saved the rest for their trotlines or jugs. Throw them in the trash and let it bake for a few days under the hot sun, well…they knew their mother better than that!
They could only hope for a couple hours sleep after the long night, but that was rarely in the cards. Teenage boys on summer break are busy, you see. Work, sports (baseball and summer football workouts), girls, and fishing are by far more important.
But on an evening when the humidity was down and it wasn’t too hot inside the house, their mother would have a little treat waiting for them when they got home. Fried frog legs are a simple but delicious meal; almost a delicacy. Not too many Americans then, and only a few more now, ate frog legs or ever considered gigging frogs. Some hot grease in the pan, flour, salt and pepper; now that’s some kind of fine.
Arthur rose from his rocker, collecting himself from his distant thoughts. He loved to sit out here in the late evening or early morning and just listen to the bullfrogs croak. How many times had he caught Jack (Farrell, his son) sneaking down to the pond with his gig or .22? Boy, don’t you kill my frogs, he’d shout, I need them for serenading! This too, made him smile as he rummaged through some old belongings in his tool shed. The old rusted trident was right where he left it, next to his spotlight. Nobody would ever need to know.