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Key Feature Homepage Stories
A Return To Frog Gigging
For fun and fine eating, rediscover a great Southern tradition.
 
By Mike Bolton
Originally published in the August 2017 issue of AON
 
This is what a good night of frog gigging looks like. These bullfrogs were taken by Hunter Denmark and his crew during a long night on the Mobile Delta. Once the legs were removed and skinned, they found their way to a skillet of hot grease.
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The rapid growth of the white-tailed deer population during the late 1960s unquestionably triggered a shift in the focus of Alabama outdoorsmen. The overwhelming popularity of deer hunting greatly diminished the role of several long-standing Southern traditions.

Squirrel hunting—the most popular type of hunting in Alabama until 1972 when deer hunting first became No. 1¬—eventually became an afterthought for many. Quail hunting and rabbit hunting, both proud Alabama traditions, no longer are the main talk around hunting camps.

Another Southern tradition—frog gigging—may have suffered the worst. It was eventually relegated to the, “I’ve heard of people doing that” status. Once a way that rural Alabamians put a unique and tasty meal on their tables, frog gigging slowly faded away as those who loved the sport were replaced by a younger generation that lives for deer hunting.

Surprisingly, frog gigging is experiencing a rebirth of sorts, especially in the southern half of the state. A new generation is rediscovering the simplicity of frog gigging, and the joy of finding a big croaking bullfrog in their headlamps.

It is an endeavor where many hear about the snakes and alligators and say “no way,” while others are intrigued by the thought of a new challenge. Hearing the stories of the light-night antics and experiencing the results in the form of a plate full of deep-fried delicacy is enough to prod some into giving it a try.

Hunter Denmark hails from Saraland in Mobile County, and he lives a short-distance from the frog-rich Bayou Sara in the Mobile Delta. The 25-year-old started gigging frogs about 10 years ago out of boredom, and it has since tuned into a passion for him.

“Our hunting club is on the river, and when I was 16, we were sitting around the club with nothing to do and somebody said suggested we go shine some frogs,” said Hunter.

“It’s a great getaway. We get all the guys together and hang out all night. Sometimes we take the women, and they love it, too.

“It has gotten pretty popular down here. Just about any time we go, we’ll see three or four other boats out frog gigging.”

If frog gigging sounds like something you might want to learn about, don’t waste your time searching for how-to videos or how-to articles in major hunting and fishing magazines. The process is so simple a video might last only a minute or two, and a how-to article might be only a few paragraphs long.

“All you need is a boat, a decent light, a box with ice to put the frogs in, and a good boat driver,” said Quinton Pearson, of Pinehill in Wilcox County. “You get up in the sloughs and listen for bullfrogs and ride the banks until you see one in your headlamp. They are mesmerized by the blinding light, and they’ll let you get right on them as long as you don’t let something come between them and that light.”

At 45 years old, Walt Pope, of Coffeeville in Clarke County, is considered an old veteran in a venture that is primarily dominated by 20-somethings these days. He began frog gigging when he was 8 or 9 years old with uncles, and he says it now provides a perfect way to spend quality time with his 18- and 20-year-old sons.

“We go about two weekends a month,” Walt said. “We go to the river and hunt frogs in the backwater swamps of the Tombigbee and Alabama rivers, and really, you’ll find frogs in any backwater pond.”

Many of those who hear frog-gigging stories cringe and swear they’ll never go because of two reasons. They believe anyone who would purposely get into a boat at night in the presence of snakes and alligators must be a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

“Everybody now is scared of snakes,” Walt said. “You’re going to see snakes and alligators, but you’ve got to be smart and look out for them.

“The real danger is in the gig. That’s what will hurt you. I allow only one of my sons to have a gig in their hands at a time.

“I worked with a man when I was younger who was leaving after a night of frog gigging and had the gig hanging out of the car window. He went to open a gate and his buddies acted like they were going to drive off and leave him, and he went running back to the car and he didn’t see the gig. It got him in the neck. He survived, but you have to be careful.”

Hunter Denmark says encountering snakes and alligators is just part of frog gigging, and neither pose any real danger if you are careful and smart.

“We see a lot of snakes,” he said. “I believe snakes eat frogs because I saw a moccasins 3 inches away from a frog once, and I assume he was about to eat him.

“Alligators have red eyes, snakes have yellow eyes, but you don’t go by the eyes. You can always tell a bullfrog because he’s sitting there with that big white chest poked out.”

Walt said he has had a few tense moments with snakes.

 

“You have to watch out for snakes in tree limbs,” he said. “I’ve had several fall into the boat with me, and I had to give them the boat for awhile.

“Alligators are more scared of you than you are of them. I did have a 10-footer to follow me around all night one time, but he never really caused a problem.”

Quinton said he knows for a fact that snakes eat frogs because he has seen snakes with frogs in their mouths.  He suspects alligators probably eat them, too, because he has seen a decline in the number of frogs as the alligator population has increased.



Where To Go Frog Gigging

Years ago, if you had access to a farm pond for frog gigging, you had access to a gold mine. Frog giggers seem to agree that those days are gone as pond and lake owners have become much more liability conscious these days.

That leaves public waterways are your best option. Any public body of water that has sloughs and large creeks probably has bullfrogs, but giggers are quick to point out that just because you can hear the deep-throated “barrruuummmmps” of bullfrogs doesn’t mean it’s a good place to hunt them.

“Where I hunt, there are plenty of frogs everywhere, but there are a lot of places where you just can’t get to them,” said Hunter. “If it’s real swampy, there’s going to be a lot of tall grass on the banks, and the frogs will be behind that thick grass where you just can’t gig them.”

Quinton also warns that you have to be particular where you hunt because high numbers of bullfrogs and bullfrogs that you can get to are two different things.

“I go frog gigging on the Alabama River and the Tombigbee River, and not all stretches are the same,” he said. “There are frogs all over Miller’s Ferry, but there’s so much thick grass, you’re better off going above Miller’s Ferry or below it.

“What you are looking for are clean, muddy banks.”



The Boat

You’ll definitely need a boat, but not any boat will do. A roomy fiberglass bass boat would seem nice, but it has no place in the debris-strewn shallow water where the big bullfrogs like to hang out. A wide 16-foot aluminum fishing boat might seem the best bet because of stability, but serious frog giggers opt for something much smaller.

Despite carrying his two sons with him, Walt uses a 12-foot aluminum boat with a trolling motor. Such rigs are popular.

“It’s small, but it allows us to get into the tight places where we can get to the frogs,” Walt said of his rig.

The even more courageous chase frogs in canoes and kayaks.



The Gig

Every type of fishing and hunting known to man requires some must-have equipment. Much of it can be very expensive. A frog gig is probably the least expensive must-have component you will ever purchase. You can pick up a basic model at Walmart for a little more than $5.

If you get serious about frog gigging, you’ll probably want a gig that is a little more substantial. A heavy-duty  stainless-steel model will last for years, and at less than $25, its a bargain. It will also save the hassle of continually having to re-straighten the tines.

“I use a 4-prong flounder gig,” said Walt. “Cypress knees are havoc on cheap gigs.”

You’ll also need a pole, usually about 10 feet long, to attach to the gig. Bamboo is the old standard, and that is what Hunter uses, but custom-made gig poles are available from Walmart, Bass Pro Shops and other outlets.

Or you can make your own.

“I use an extendable pole made for a paint roller,” Walt said.

Keep in mind to take a flat file along because sharpening gig points frequently is a must as they dull easily from hitting rocks and other objects.

Some will even tell you that gigs are not entirely necessary.

Quinton is among the rare breed who grabs his frogs by hand.

“I’ve found it easier to catch them with your hand,” Quinton said. “You get someone to drive the boat and ease you to up to the bank. I lay out on the front of the boat and lean out with my headlight shining on the frog, and I reach down and grab them.”

Hunter also has a trick where he sometimes doesn’t use a gig.

“Sometimes you can hear them, but you can’t see them because of grass and other things,” he said. “You can take a piece of a 2-inch white (plastic) worm on a fish hook and drop it in front of him, and he’ll come get it, and you reel him in like a fish.”



Frog-Gigging Lights

A spotlight such as a Q-Beam attached to a 12-volt battery has served frog giggers well for decades and are still popular, but the advent of high-intensity LED lights has changed the game for many. You’ll want an LED headlamp if you don’t have one already. They will free up your hands.

Choose a headlamp with multiple beam settings. You may want a wide beam for searching the banks for frogs and then switch to a blinding, focused beam once a frog is pinpointed.

A headlamp’s brightness is an important measure of its usefulness.  The amount of light that a headlight produces is measured in lumens, so the higher lumens, the better.


Your Basic Recipe For Frog Legs

2 dozen frog legs, skinned
1 packet saltine crackers, crushed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. minced onion
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. black pepper
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
3 cups peanut oil

Cut the frog legs from the body at the hip joint and skin. Rinse thoroughly under cold, running water and pat dry, Set aside on paper towels. In a large Zip-Loc bag, smash the saltine crackers until fine. Then add the flour, cornmeal, onion, salt and pepper to the bag. Shake to mix, and then pour into a dry bowl.
In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. The oil should be at least 1/2 inch deep. Dip the frog legs into the milk and egg mixture, and then dip into the cracker mixture until evenly coated. Carefully place them in the hot oil. Cook until golden brown on both sides Drain on paper towels before serving.
 
 
 
 
 
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