Words: Brent Rosen
Photos: Brent Rosen
On the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, just 45 minutes from New Orleans, froggers troll the bayous, swamps, and lakes in search of wild frogs. Experienced froggers can come back from an evening trip with hundreds of pounds of frogs. Last Monday, I joined Jeffrey Hansell of Ox Lot 9 and Smoke in Covington, his wife Amy, David Smith from Inland Seafood and David’s girlfriend Rachel Barnett on a gigging trip. We were not experienced froggers, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
It was Jeffrey who turned me on to locally caught frog. His restaurant serves excellent fried frog legs, and as we were eating them, he told me about the frogging areas just minutes from the restaurant. “You go out at night and spotlight frogs in the mud. One person holds the light on the frog, while another person circles around the back,” Jeffrey explains as I crunched on a leg. “The frog will freeze in the light, so the other person can just walk up and grab the frog. I don’t even gig them, I don’t want to mess up the meat.” Intrigued, I asked him to let me know the next time he went out.
The season lasts from June 1 to March 31; the frogs have some relief during April and May to breed. Beyond that, there are no limits. “Frogs are one of the most sustainable fish,” says David from Inland. They procreate frequently, grow quickly, and are prevalent along the banks of most bodies of water. I start thinking, “I should be eating more frog legs.”
The night of our excursion, we pull away from Ox Lot 9 in David’s pick-up, toward his childhood home and the lake where he frogged as a child. Climbing over the fence onto the property, David warns, “Climb close to the posts, this fence is old. I built it when I was a kid.” Past the fence was a sea of grass that glowed eerily green in the night; beyond the grass, the woods and the lake.
When we made it to the banks of the lake, we spread out and start scanning the muddy shallows for tell-tale signs of frog. “You want to see red eyes,” Jeffrey tells me, “and leave the flashlight on it. That will stun it.” Jeffrey went frogging a lot as a kid on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as had his wife Amy, with her family in Alabama. David, too, had frogged a good bit growing up on this property. Despite all of this know-how, we’d been out in the water for 30 minutes, but had yet to see a frog.
A frog hunt is a social hunt. There is no reason to be quiet, no need to hide. We chat and joke, warn each other about possible alligators, and drink a couple of beers. Our head lamps and flashlights criss-cross through the tree trunks while we walk, tripping on cypress stumps and dodging spider webs. Still, no frogs.
“I remember a lot more noise,” Amy says, poking around with her gig in the shallow water. David and Jeffrey agree. Their memories recalled choruses of frogs. Amy remembered her dad waking her up to go gigging, and being able to hear the frogs from as far away as the house. “When we used to camp out, we’d go and hear them too,” David says. It was about then that all three of them realize we’d gone gigging far too early at night. It was only around 8:30 p.m., and all of their memories involved gigging much closer to midnight. As I said, we were not exactly experienced hunters.
We stayed for another hour or so, and eventually caught a few little frogs. Nothing worth eating, so we released them back into the lake. The hunt itself may have been a bit of a bust, but the experience was incredible. Clomping through the swamp at night, avoiding the banana spiders, joking about alligators, and telling tales is really what it’s all about. Eating frog legs at the end would have been a bonus.