Saturday, May 30, 2009

And now for a change of pace: Frog gigging

When I was a little kid growing up in the San Joaquin Valley, I hated the neighbor boys.

We lived next to an irrigation ditch that was teeming with life - especially carp, crawdads and bullfrogs - and it was like my own personal aquarium. So of course, it really pissed me off when I'd walk to the ditch and see a bullfrog floating, innards spilling out of a hole in its belly. The boys had been doing target practice again.

This is what I was thinking about Friday afternoon as I sped east on the Jackson Highway toward Rancho Murieta to meet Boyfriend and our friend Peter to try something we'd never done before: frog gigging. Read more...
Of course, what we would be doing wasn't the same thing. Little boys kill wantonly because they're little boys. We kill things because we want to eat them - not for target practice.

But I wondered what it would be like. Would I feel pangs of guilt killing my old friend the bullfrog? Would it be different - harder? - killing by hand, rather than hiding behind a gun?

Of course it would turn out exactly the same - but I would be surprised nonetheless.

* * *

I was unusually unprepared for this hunt. I'd spent the afternoon at school tying up loose ends and had to rush home to pack everything we'd need. Boyfriend sent me the list:

- Both our waders
- the trident and rod in the living room
- Blue cooler with ice in it. Maybe a few beers.
- crayfish trap in the garage. It is a black cylindrical thing near the garden equipment.
- Some twist ties. I think there are a bunch in the "junk" drawer in the kitchen.
- The bag o'shad heads in the box freezer. They should be in a white grocery bag in the upper left-hand corner at the top of the freezer.
- Bug spray

We were heading to a bass club where there were stocked farm ponds that had crawdads and bullfrogs in addition to the prized bass. We planned to use daylight to fish and drop in the crawdad trap, then shift to frog gigging - which Peter had done before - at nightfall.

I bolted out the door wearing blue camo BDU's (night camo - ha!) and flip flops. As I headed down the street, already 20 minutes late, I realized I'd left my socks lying on the bed. Mmmmmm ... waders without socks. Cool.

The flip flop thing should've been fine. Farm ponds are pretty accessible - there's usually a road to them, and there are paths beat down by cattle.

But the first pond we sought out was oh, maybe 200 yards across mostly untouched grasses, which, this being California, have all dried up and gone to seed. Every step I took wedged more and more thorns into my flip flops and my feet.

I stopped periodically to shake off what I could. But I was a wreck. And the pond we were looking for wasn't there, so the whole trek was for nothing.

No problem, Peter said - there's another pond with a road going right up to it. We'll go there.

We drove across the ranch and there it was - perfect!

It was getting late enough that there wasn't much time to fish, so I just donned my waders and stalked around the pond with my gig while Boyfriend and Peter cast their lines into the water a few times.

We could hear some really big bullfrogs the whole time, so we were feeling optimistic.

After about 50 yards, though, I had rubbed the skin over my un-socked anklebones raw.







Idiot! I should've turned around and gotten the socks when I was just a block from the house.

When it got dark enough, we got serious about the frogs. Boyfriend donned his waders. Peter got the flashlight. He ran through what we would do: Shine the light around the edge of the pond trying to spot yellow eyes, which will be about all that sticks up. One person shines the light in the frog's eyes, immobilizing him, while the other moves around to the side or back and gigs the frog.

(Tangent: Why can we spotlight frogs but not deer? They only answer I've gotten so far is, "Because they're frogs.")

For our first run, Boyfriend would hold the light and I'd hold the gig.

We crept along the edge of the pond, being as quiet as we could walking through crackly grass wearing waders, but we didn't see any eyes.

Up. Down. Up. Down.

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.

A couple times frogs busted us - we heard them jumping into the water before we could see them, and we would all groan.

Finally, the beam of the flashlight found two yellow eyes.

"Move in closer," Peter told Boyfriend. You need a good strong beam of light to make the frog freeze.

I crept around and moved in behind the frog. The pain in my ankles disappeared. All thoughts of what the neighbor boys had done to my old bullfrog friends were gone. This was business.

I put the barbed prongs of the gig about five inches behind his head - wondering if I would be able to miss something that seems so obvious and easy, as I have done so many times with guns.

Peter was right. Poor little bugger was transfixed by the light. He had no clue I was so close.

I thrust, pushing the gig a foot into the water until I met the mushy bottom.

I'd hit him!

I held for a second, then pulled the gig out, and I'll be damned if there wasn't a heavy, wiggling bullfrog on the prongs!

Boyfriend and Peter cheered as I pulled the gig back to shore, a big grin on my face. I hadn't screwed it up!

Then the bullfrog wiggled off the prongs and leapt away.


I could see his shadowy figure, dimly lit by the first quarter moon, as he bounced further and further away.

Then, in confusion, he bounced back toward us. Boyfriend spotlighted him again and I tried to stab, but he leapt. I tried again and hit dirt as he finally aligned himself properly, burst into the water, dove and swam away, doing little underwater frog kicks illuminated by the flashlight.

I'm not sure how long my jaw hung open, but there were lots of bugs out so I finally had to shut my mouth.

"Uh, what the hell?"

This was exactly like the first pheasant I shot and the first duck I shot: He did not meekly fall dead like an actor in a melodrama. He fought for his life.

But unlike my first pheasant and my first duck, he won.

We walked the pond's edge a few more times, and we got busted a few more times, but we didn't see anymore telltale yellow eyes.

"This is tough," Peter said. "Usually there are a lot more frogs."

We considered searching for another pond, but it was getting late, and we'd all worked that day, so we called it quits.

But I got the answer to my question: Frog gigging was like every other form of hunting. When the time came, I had no problem doing what I needed to do. But just because I hit my target didn't mean it was in the bag.

And that failure left me craving another chance to see if I could get it right.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Josh said...

Great story! Now I'm harkening back to my days as a boy, both wantonly killing things (and learning from it, eventually), and eating frog legs that my Dad had gigged the night before, after his night shift on the rig and while I slept. They were delicious. I also remember the big ol' gopher snake that 'Bird' brought me (that was his nickname because he worked at the top of the rig).

Thanks, Holly.

And funny, I just thought of gigging the other night as I brought my kayak in after dark. I heard bullfrogs... they are not nearly as common on the Delta as they used to be.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

'I'm not sure how long my jaw hung open, but there were lots of bugs out so I finally had to shut my mouth.'
Great line.

The only frogs of a size worth eating here are on a plate at a setzuan restaurant - where they are indeed Yummy. The asian wholesaler (he's a wholesaler who is asian and sells the foods of the region- rather than a wholesaler of asians) has them frozen so I hope you get some soon and we can learn how hank cooks them

Ken and Joanne said...

How nice to gig frogs in a pond where you're invited.


Anonymous said...

Here's a little tip for you on this...

I used to do a lot of Skin Diving and Spearfishing. One of the Skin Diving Spearfisherman's items is a thing called a Pole Spear.

It's different than a Speargun and is simply a long Fiberglass shaft, somewhat like a longer version of a Ski Pole.

On one end is a threaded adapter to fit various types of spearheads onto. On the other is a loop of rubber tubing.

There's one type of spear head called a "Paralyzer" point. it's a set of 3 pointed prongs that diverge in a triangle pattern, about 1" apart at their points. They don't have any barbs on them, however when they hit their target they naturally splay out and this causes the prey to be held tightly on the spear. It also has the advantage of causing the prey to "freeze" and not move as it does on a regular spear point.

How the Pole Spear is operated is to place the rubber tubing loop in you shooting hand so that the loop is located between your fingers and you thumb. Then when preparing to shoot you pull the Spear back to the desired length (and amount of thrust) and grasp it with the fingers of the same hand.

This done you point the Spear's point within ~12"-16" of your quarry and ease your grip. (pretty hard to miss at that distance) You don't let go of the Spear's pole, it just shoots forward, the "tube" your fingers create is the "barrel" that's doing the aiming.

Living far north of warmer waters now, my Skin and SCUBA diving is now diminished, however I'd discovered that my spearfishing Pole Spear makes a really excellent tool for gigging frogs; far more efficient than the cheap little painted steel gig tips that you find sold in fishing shops.

Also that Paralyzer tip works great in stunning and holding the frogs onto it without squirming off.

The real beauty of it is how easily they come off.

Here again a Spearfisherman's net bag with its suitcase-like closing jaws works great. You stick you quarry into the bag, close the jaws onto the spear above the quarry and simply retract your spear point back out, using the bags jaws to pull the quarry off the tip, where it falls to the bottom of the bag.

I'm thinking that searching a site like Craig's List might find some unwanted Spearfishing gear for sale for cheaps. You'd be amazed at what a great Frog Giggin implement this is.

Up here in Orygun Bullfrogs are an invasive species in great numbers that have almost eaten the native Leopard Frogs into extinction.

The Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife encouranges froggers to aggressively target Bullfrogs.

I don't think many here hunt Frogs, which makes it great for those of us that do for this great Gourmet delicacy.

Bill C.-Orygun

Holly Heyser said...

Josh, you're right. Little boys theoretically are learning from that wanton killing; it's just play as practice. But to a little girl it looks so awful!

SBW, I've never eaten frog legs, but I sure am looking forward to trying them. When we drove home Friday night, Hank said, "Better to have none than just one." That would've been a smalld dinner indeed. But having never tried them, I would've been happy with one.

Ken, I was going to try not to rub it in about your escapade with my dad ... ;-)

And Bill, you are just chock full of advice. If it looks like I can make a habit of this, I'll definitely look into that equipment. I do like to do things the right way...

Blessed said...

Frog legs are awesome. Hubby used to do a lot of gigging, he hasn't done any lately - once the kids get bigger I'm sure that activity will come back into our lives :)

Anonymous said...

Albert A Rasch said...


I think they call it a Hawaiian Sling... in Florida...

Boar Hunting Calibers: Part I

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Bill C and Albert,

they call them Hawaiian Slings here in CA too. It was the first setup I spearfished with after learning to dive.

Anonymous said...

Yep, they ARE Hawaiian Slings!

The work well both in and out of the Frog Giggin setup I've ever used.

Oh and the main thought was that Paralyzer Point...easy off with your quarry and back to gigging pronto!

SimplyOutdoors said...

I can already hear the replies to this comment, but at my own expense, I'm going with it anyway.

Here it goes. I had never heard of frog gigging until they mentioned it in a Big And Rich country song.

There, I said it.

I honestly had to look it up at the time, and was very intrigued by it. It actually sounds like a lot of fun, especially since I didn't randomly kill frogs when I was a little kid.

Apparently I missed that stage:):)

Phillip said...

I haven't been gigging frogs in years, so your adventure sure brought back some memories.

I love me some froglegs.

Holly Heyser said...

Well, Simply, ya learn something new every day - can't know everything by the time we're 21, can we?

I am really hoping I can go out again soon. Right after the skin grows back on my ankles.

I will not forget socks next time.

I will not forget socks next time.

I will not forget socks next time.


Ken and Joanne said...

I wasn't going to comment here, but I have to now. When we lived on Guam, my wife and I were heavily into scuba diving and, yes, spear fishing. I had the latest in diving gear and, while it wasn't a top of the line spear gun, it was good for most purposes. On some occasions, I could even spear a fish.

Then I met a young Micronesian, from Ponape, I think, who didn't bother with scuba gear or even a snorkle and certainly no fins. For a spear he had a length of rebar ground down to a point. He made a Hawaiian sling by using the strap from an old thong sandal. He'd come back with dozens of fish while I might have one dinky little thing that wouldn't even look good in a kid's aquarium.

Really pissed me off. But there's more to spear fishing (or frog gigging) than the equipment. Experience seems to help a little, too.


Holly Heyser said...

And clearly I need a lot more experience! The look on my face when that thing jumped off the prongs must've been priceless.

Kinda when Harlequin the cat proudly brings Hank a bird she's just caught and drops it on the porch, only to see it fly away.

Huh?Live and learn. For the frog, too.

Potter said...

Heck yea! Just went gigging for first time tonight: came home with a half dozen. kudos on giggin'!

Wicked fun. Good eats. What's not to love?

Jules said...

We gig in the canals around Los Banos at least yearly - my father-in-law goes several times in the spring, but the frog legs are usually all gone by the time I can get to his place. Delicious!

My friend Kate (who writes for Sunset) sent me to read you and your boyfriend, and I've been enthralled. Thank you!

Holly Heyser said...

Jules, glad you're enjoying it!

We have not been out gigging since this trip, and I've been itching to go again. I've never eaten frog legs before, and I figure there's no better way to get them on my menu...

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