In the late spring, when the nights turn muggy and the bugs come out, you can find Tim Reed and Rodney Smith paddling their 14-foot canoe—called Frogzilla—through the swamps, streams, and hidden backwaters of northern New York in search of giant bullfrogs. These guys routinely fill freezers with outsize frog legs , and the tactics they use will work anywhere frogs are found. Last summer, they shared their secrets with me. Meet the Frog Kings.
Stay Wide Eyed: Reed and Smith are after meat frogs: the 1-pounders and better. “You can judge a frog’s size by its eyes,” Smith says. “If they’re big and set wide, that’s a good frog.” You can also tell males from females by the tympanum—the disk-shaped eardrum on the side of a bullfrog’s head. If it’s larger than the eye, it’s a male. Smaller and it’s a female.
Heed The Call: Bullfrogs breed from late spring through early summer, during which time males will call together in a chorus. The male frog’s deep breeding roar, which old-timers likened to that of an angry bull, gave bullfrogs their name. Hunt with your ears, as if in the gobbler woods, to find frogs worth grabbing.
Clean Up: Frogs are easy to butcher. Cut the legs off above the pelvis with shears or a sharp knife. Grab the skin with pliers and peel down toward the feet. It’ll come off like pants. Cut off the toes, and remove the legs from the pelvis at the hip joints. The Frog Kings prefer their legs rolled in pancake batter, deep-fried, and served with maple syrup.
Get The Big Gig: There are lots of ways to boat frogs, but the Kings prefer to grab them barehanded. “That way we can look at them and let the little ones go,” Reed says. But if a big frog is out of arm’s reach, they go to a five-prong pike spear they call the Devil’s Tines. “A big frog will kick off those little 2-inch frog gigs,” Smith says. “They’re no good.”
Float Close: Frogs can feel the vibration of feet on the bank and will often spook, so a canoe is perfect for sneaking through shallow water and getting close. Work the bank with a headlamp or spotlight, looking for eyes that glow when the light hits them, then glide on in for the kill. Like a deer in headlights, frogs will freeze in the glare.
Paddle Whacker: Frogs that are free floating in the water call for a special tool that the Frog Kings nicknamed .22 Magnum. It’s actually not a firearm at all but a short aluminum canoe paddle with a piece of rebar inside the hollow handle, used for clubbing frogs. The rebar simply adds more weight for extra thud atop a floating frog’s head.
Fish for Frogs
You can catch big bullfrogs in daylight with a fishing rod. Get the longest old rod you can find (like a crappie pole). String it with a heavy nylon line and a small treble hook. Put a piece of red cloth over the hook barbs, and dangle it in front of a sitting frog. Most of the time, the frog can’t resist grabbing it—and then you can grab him.