This summer many campers will enjoy fish fries over their campfires on their float trips. But a select few will enjoy frog legs. There’s nothing like trudging along river banks or ponds with your flashlight in one hand and gig in the other as you and your kids search for iridescent pink bullfrog eyes. Missouri’s frog season opens at sunset on June 30th and closes October 31st.
Most frog hunters, or froggers, look for bullfrogs because they have more meat, weighing up to several pounds. Olive in color with white or yellow bellies and dark brown stripes on their hind legs, their reflective pink eyes and light-colored bellies will help you to identify and locate them in farm ponds, rivers, sloughs, swamps and marshes. Bullfrogs prefer permanent wetlands without fish, making them the top aquatic predators with little or no competition for food. This is what allows them to grow large and become abundant.
Bullfrogs are most active at night with Missouri’s seasonal temperatures dictating where you’re most likely to find them. In May and June bullfrogs are often found in shallow water where they call, breed and lay eggs. But as the weather gets hotter, you’re more likely to find them along the banks where it’s cooler and the food is more abundant. Bullfrogs aren’t able to regulate their internal body temperature so in August and September when shallow ponds can reach 85 degrees they leave the water at night to cool off along the shore and slow their metabolism. By late September when temperatures drop, frogs nestle in the aquatic vegetation because the deeper water is warmer than the air. By late October bullfrogs are burrowing in the mud, readying for winter. This is about the same time Missouri’s frogging season ends.
Harvesting frogs can be done using a variety of methods. The Wildlife Code of Missouri allows artificial lights, grabbing, hand nets, gigs, crossbows, longbows, trotlines, throw lines, limb lines, bank lines, jug lines, pole and line, snagging, snaring, .22 caliber firearms or pellet guns. Missouri’s daily limit is 8 frogs and you can only have 16 in your possession at any given time. Hunting or fishing licenses are required by all persons except those under the age of 16 or over the age of 65.
The key to harvesting frogs is to creep up slowly and dazzle them with your light. Headlamps like those used by cave explorers are ideal. Once a frog is dazzled by your light, it won’t move unless you startle it. Get as close as you can to the frog. Use your body weight to thrust the spear right behind its head. Once you’ve speared a frog you must harvest it as Missouri Wildlife code considers releasing an injured frog “wanton waste” since it’s not likely to survive. This is why many frog hunters prefer grabbing. Catching frogs with your hands gives you the chance to let it go if you’d prefer to catch a bigger one.
Once you’ve harvested your frogs, you’re ready to clean them and fry up some succulent frog legs. First, rinse the frog. Then place its head in your hands, grasping it behind its front legs, belly down on a cutting board. Stretch out its hind legs and cut them with a cleaver or heavy knife just above the hip. Keeping the legs attached as a pair will make for easier cooking. Pull down the skin to the ankles like your peeling down a pair of tube socks. Cut off the skin and feet. Then place the legs into a freezer bag with a tablespoon of salt per gallon bag of frog legs and fill the bag with water. Refrigerate or freeze until you’re ready to cook them. When you’re ready to fry them combine 1 cup flour, 1 cup crushed saltine crackers, ¼ cup corn starch, 1 TBSP black pepper, 1 TBSP salt and 1 TBSP lemon pepper salt in a bowl. In another bowl mix 2 eggs and 1 cup milk. Heat ¼ cup oil on your skillet. Drop frog legs into the egg and milk mixture. Remove legs and then place into the dry mixture until coated before placing on skillet. Fry until golden brown.
You’ll create lifelong memories this summer when hunting Missouri bullfrogs with your friends and family while enjoying the delectable taste of Missouri’s plentiful resources.