The night noise was deafening as hundreds of bullfrogs rendered their best mating call in a deep baritone "awwar awwar awwar."
The darkness, the flickering shadows and the eerie noise had me spooked. When one of the pasture cows sneaked up behind me and snorted, I broke and ran for the nearest flashlight beam. In the confusion my bag came open and all the frogs escaped.
The bullfrog, a native of the central and eastern United States and parts of Canada, has been transplanted to most states in our union. When stretched out they may measure up to 18 inches long and weigh more than 1 pound. Their ability to jump almost six feet allows them to escape from danger. Bullfrogs feed on insects, fish, young birds and other frogs. A clear eyelid, which closes when submerged, is optically designed to see underwater.
In California, there is no season or limit on bullfrogs. It is legal to take them using a light, spear, gig, grab, paddle, hook and line, dip net, bow and arrow or by hand.
In the Valley, the hot summer nights seem to be the best time for frog-gigging. I prefer a three-pronged barbed spear since it is easier to penetrate a frog, but if you're not careful the prongs can easily be broken on rocks. Others prefer the heavier four- and five-prong spears that are less prone to break. Mount the gig on a long bamboo pole or lightweight ¾-inch electrical conduit or PVC water pipe.
The key to gigging frogs is to temporarily blind them with a powerful light and quickly move in with the spear. This is easier said than done. As you all know, we are rather flush with bugs during the summertime, so when the spotlight is turned on, it funnels every bug within 200 yards to the light.
I bought one of those neat miner's lights that mounts on your head and thought it would be perfect until I turned it on. Instantly I had bugs in my eyes, bugs up my nose, bugs in my mouth and a big black beetle that flew in my ear. For those of you who have never had a bug in your ear there is no better form of torture as you hear and feel the bug, at full volume, clawing against your eardrum.
It took three of my buddies to get the bug out. While two held me down as I was kicking and screaming, the third poured warm beer in my ear to float the little critter out. By the time it was all over, I had confessed to everything wrong I had ever done.
It's much better if you wear a bee veil and not have the light mounted on your head and use plenty of insect repellent. Working as a team, one person holds the light on the frog and the other sneaks in for the stab. A gunny sack with a good means of closing works best to hold the frogs.
The best spots to find bullfrogs are in drain ditches or along the edges of stock ponds. I like to key on the downsteam side of drain ditches where they cross under county roads.
Prepare your frogs by dispatching them with a blow to the head and then making a slash across their back at the waistline, just above the thigh muscles. With a good pair of pliers, grip the skin and pull it down the legs. Then cut the legs from the body and let the legs soak in salted water all night.
Try to find the white tendons and remove them so the legs don't kick hot grease all over you while cooking. Dredge the legs in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and fry in clarified butter. Serve hot with cole slaw and fried potatoes.
For grown-ups, the drink to build courage and improve your dinner? A bullfrog, of course. It consists of 1 ½ ounces of vodka and 5 ounces of lemonade poured over cracked ice.
Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.