Friday, March 2, 2018

The Frog Gig

Recently I was in a sporting goods store and I saw something that brought back a flood of memories.  It was a frog gig.  I’m certain it could find many uses other than for catching frogs, so I guess it makes sense for it to be in a store in an area that isn’t exactly known for bullfrogs, but when I see a frog gig, all I can think of is frog hunting.

When I was about six or seven years old I came across some photos from the late 1930’s of my grandfather and his son (my uncle I had never met) showing off the results of a night spent catching bullfrogs.  I asked a few questions about the frogs and why they hunted them, but all I got in return was a sad look and a sigh.  I didn’t understand what it was about, but I didn’t ask any more questions.  (I discovered a few years later my uncle had been a casualty of WWII’s Pacific theater.)

Some time passed and one day my grandfather brought home from somewhere a bunch of frog legs to cook up for me to try.  He showed me how to skin them, and how to cut the tendon between the drumstick and the thigh.  He said if we didn’t cut it, the frog leg would try to jump out of the frying pan.  Okay.  Well, he fried them up like chicken legs and let me try one.  Then I understood why he and my uncle hunted them.  They were good.  Really good.

A couple of years passed and I was now eight or nine, maybe ten, years old.  Papa brought me out to one of the old barns where he had some long bamboo poles with a three-pronged spike tied on each one (sort of like a trident but bent a little differently).  He told me we were going frog gigging in a couple of days.  Actually it would be at night with a flashlight, and I should expect to get muddy.

The evening finally came for the hunt.  I really didn’t know how this worked, but Papa assured me that if I just watched him for a few minutes, I would understand what to do.  We arrived at the big stock tank of one of the nearby ranches about the same time as the sun set, and Papa grabbed a pole and started off towards some reeds along the bank, and I just mimicked what he did.

At the edged of the reeds Papa held up his pole with both hands in a striking position and simply froze in place.  At first I thought something was wrong, but I quickly realized he was waiting for a frog to make his appearance.  Suddenly there was a loud croak, and Papa turned slightly and thrust his pole into the reeds.  Then he backed away pulling out a huge bullfrog.  I caught on quickly.  In about two hours we had a washtub full of frogs.

We drove home where I learned the joys of cleaning frogs.  But the results were a couple of meals of frog legs.  I like frog legs although I rarely find them on any menu.  And I also don’t live where I can easily hunt them, but that’s okay since I wouldn’t be physically able to do it anyway.

Papa and I went frog gigging a couple of more times before he became ill and couldn’t do it anymore.  I tried it on my own a few times, but it just wasn’t any fun by myself, and I couldn’t talk any of my friends into trying it.

Flash forward quite a few years and I began attending an annual event known in SoCal as the Wild Game Feed where frog legs are one of the appetizers served almost every year.  Needless to say, I’m always quick to get in line.  They are served with a couple of other interesting items, and every year I have some fun with someone who hasn’t tried them before.

One year I was in line with a guy who thought some of the items being served were not really as labeled.  I watched as he loaded up with what he called popcorn chicken, chicken drumsticks, and onion rings.  I took a small portion of each and stood nearby to watch as he tried each one.  First was the onion rings.

This guy chewed and chewed and finally swallowed, but he gave the rings a pass for eating any more.  Then he tried the drumsticks.  One bite, a strange look, and one more bite.  That was all.  Then for the popcorn chicken.  As he was chewing on the first bite, I walked up to him and simply said, “They really are labeled correctly.”

The man smiled at me and handed me his serving dish as he rinsed out his mouth with big swallows of beer.  “Please explain,” he choked out.

“Well the signs and labels are accurate.  The onion rings are actually calamari as stated.  Squid.  Very tasty, but not onion rings.  The frog legs really are frog legs, not chicken legs.  And the turkey nuts are actually turkey nuts.  This is a wild game feed, the real thing, not a fake.”

The guy was a bit pale for a few minutes, but he did ask for his dish back.  I encouraged him to sample in moderation, and ask questions if he was unsure.  I’ve seen him return year after year, and now he will try things I won’t. 

Speaking of things I won’t try, I was reading about how the Aztec’s served frog.  Basically they covered it is some kind of dough and wrapped that up in banana leaves.  A few hours of baking, and it was time to eat.  At first I thought it would be interesting until I read the frog was still alive when they wrapped it up.  Hmm…whole frog does not appeal to me.

Well, I stood there at the sporting goods store looking at that frog gig for quite a while reminiscing.  I was noticed by a sales clerk who came over to “help” me with my purchases.  At the moment he arrived I had taken the frog gig off the display hook and was actually considering buying it.

“Mister, that poker you’re holding is the best thing that ever happened to a fisherman.  You just put it on the end of your rod, and when the fish gets near you stick him with it.  Works every time.”

I looked at the clerk for a moment or two, replaced the frog gig on the display hook and left the store.  It just wasn’t worth trying to explain.

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