As dusk melted into darkness, ol’ Froggy started croaking loudly from his marshy hiding place at the edge of a weedy pond.
And that gave Willie Lyles and Steve Rehrer a starting point on their nighttime hunt.
Lyles started paddling his kayak toward the sounds as Rehrer laid on his stomach over the bow, gig in hand. Both used head lamps to scan the weedy shallows where the sounds had come from.
Finally, they spotted two gleaming pearls in the darkness. Frog eyes.
The hunters kept their lights riveted on the frog, and Lyles paddled closer. When they were within feet of their target, Rehrer reached out with his gig — a long pole with a pitch-fork looking device on the end — and jabbed at the big bullfrog.
Then he lifted it out of the water and tossed it into the kayak’s live well that already was hopping with frogs.
“There’s a lot of good eating in there,” said Lyles, a retiree from the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Frog legs are a tasty treat.
“I think they’re just about my favorite meal.”
Rehrer, who owns the pond, nodded in agreement.
“There’s nothing like a fish and frog-leg fry,” said Rehrer, who hosted a group of friends Thursday night on his pond in rural Clay County.
But for Lyles, fellow Department of Conservation retiree Jeanne Pyland, and their longtime friend Rehrer, these nighttime outings are about much more than just the table fare. They’re about summer tradition — getting together with friends to pursue the big bullfrogs that call out their location on hot, humid nights. There always are plenty of stories, mishaps and laughs along the way. And Thursday night was no different than the past.
When Lyles and Rehrer had several frogs in the live well of Lyles’ kayak, one of the big daddies jumped out and tried to escape. He jumped into the pant leg of Rehrer’s shorts and the hunter rocked the kayak as he struggled to get the frog back to captivity.
Later, Pyland had a big frog in a fish basket on top of an overturned boat along the shore. The frog decided it wanted to make one last dash for freedom. It started jumping, still in the basket, and made it to the edge of the water before Pyland grabbed it.
The group took care of the fish part in the hour before dusk, catching bass that Rehrer wanted to keep for the table. By the time darkness fell, the group had 12 bass on stringers.
Then, their interest turned to the big boss bullfrogs that were croaking. Lyle and Rehrer slid their kayak into the water and stealthily began working the weedy shorelines. Pyland and I worked from land with a different approach.
When we spotted a frog sitting in the shallows, Pyland reached over with a long fishing rod and dangled a red piece of cloth in front of the big guy. The bullfrog reached up and snapped at the bait several times, missing. But he finally got it, Pyland set the hook and lifted the frog into the air and onto the bank.
“That brings back childhood memories,” said Pyland, who was an outreach and education regional supervisor for the Department of Conservation before retiring. “When I was a kid, my dad and I would catch frogs like this.
“It’s half fishing, half hunting. It was always a lot of fun.”
Lyles teamed with Jeanne’s husband, Jim, to lead several frogging expeditions in the past. They were featured in an article in The Star in the 1980s. Later, they had a television cameraman tag along with them as they took a limit of frogs on Cooley Lake.
Jim had planned a reunion with Lyles at the ol’ frogging pond, but back problems kept him at home. So Jeanne stepped in as a replacement.
Minutes into the nighttime trip, the frog patrol was reminded how much fun the nocturnal activity can be.
“I used to lead frog nights when I was with the Department of Conservation,” said Lyles, who lives in Liberty. “At first, some of the people who went along were afraid to touch them. And they couldn’t imagine eating them.
“But once I fried up some frog legs and fish, they couldn’t get enough. They were going back for more.”
Lyles learned frog hunting while attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City. He and his roommate shared an interest in the outdoors and they decided they wanted to try frogging for the first time. They launched a canoe on the Moreau River and set out with nothing more than a couple of spotlights and a bag for their catch.
They learned to keep the light focused on the frogs, which blinded them, then paddled close enough to take them by hand. By the end of the night, they each had a limit of frogs and Lyles was hooked on the offbeat pastime.
He has been frogging ever since, using his kayak to sneak up on the unsuspecting frogs.
“With this kayak, I can get to a lot of places that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” Lyles said. “And it’s a stealthy way to get to them.
“If you just slowly glide up there and keep the light on them, they won’t move.”
Can you say ‘ribbit?’: A look at frogging in Missouri and Kansas
▪ SEASON DATES: The season opened the night of June 30 in Missouri and on July 1 in Kansas and will run through Oct. 31.
▪ LIMITS: The daily limit is eight in both states. The possession limit is 16 in Missouri and 24 after the third day in Kansas.
▪ IS IT FISING?: In Missouri, froggers must possess a fishing license if they take frogs by hand, handnet, gig, bow, trotline, throwline, limb line, bank line, jug line, snagging, snaring, grabbling, pole and line or atlatl. In Kansas, a fishing license must be purchased if froggers intend to take their prey by hand, dip net, gig, hook and line, bow and arrow or crossbow.
▪ OR IS IT HUNTING? In Missouri, hunters with a small-game license can take frogs with a .22 or smaller caliber rimfire rifle or pistol, a pellet gun, bow, crossbow, by hand, handnet or by atlatal.
▪ INTO THE FRYING PAN: Frog legs are considered a delicacy by many outdoors enthusiasts. The most popular way to cook them is to dip the legs into egg, then a batter mix of flour, corn meal or crackers, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry the legs in grease until brown and serve.