How to Catch a Frog
by Ernest Troost
If you tumble out of bed one morning in the autumn of your life and smack your palm to your forehead in the realization that you’ve never experienced catching a bullfrog with your bare hands, you’re not alone. But you’re in luck. After you finish your morning coffee, I’ll guide you through the steps.
First, you’ll want to outfit yourself with waterproof shoes or rubber boots, and an effective mosquito repellant wouldn’t go amiss. After you’re suitably dressed, the next step in catching a frog is finding one. Look in the marshy ends of fresh water ponds or drainage ditches along country roads. Try flooded sections of farmland where runoff has created large semi-permanent puddles. These are good spots to search and where you’ll eventually spy the big yellow, inscrutable eyes of Lithobates catesbeianus. It can sit motionless for hours, waiting patiently for a dragonfly or a curious wasp to come within range of its sticky tongue and voracious appetite. At dusk it starts up the racket that’s made it famous, deep rumblings that ricochet across the swamp and meadows, serenading its mates, who are devotees of “drum and bass.” During the day you’ll find it resting on a lily pad, its fat body mostly in the cool water, its head in the warm sun.
Once you’ve selected your target, move cautiously and get as close as possible, being sure to stay out of the frog’s line of sight. Squat down low at the swamp’s soft edge near your frog and wait. This is where those boots and repellant will come in handy. We want it to forget you are there, and it might take a while. What’s that slight methane smell bubbling up from the stagnant water? Don’t be put off, as this is just decomposing organic matter and is the primordial perfume that our prey prefers.
Now that you’re sure it has forgotten all about you, raise your arm ever so slowly and with your hand formed into an open claw-like shape, move it into position, inch-by-inch, close behind the frog. Be sure not to cast a shadow, as that is a clear sign to the frog that a predator approaches. Now, how fast the frog will react will be influenced by how long the frog has been sitting in the sun. If it’s sleeping and enjoying froggy dreams of life as a tadpole, you have a fighting chance. The most important thing to remember, besides striking quickly, is to aim where you anticipate the frog will be once it jumps, not where it now sits on the lily pad. You will need to lead the receiver here. You’ll want to try a lightening grab for a spot six inches ahead of where it’s facing. Hopefully, it will jump straight ahead--sometimes they jump to the side, and if it does, you’re out of luck. If your aim is true, you will be rewarded with a hand full of sinewy, jerking frog. Hold tight. It will snap and hiss, but it’s harmless, and after it kicks a few times it will give up quietly.
I’m reminded of a cub scout telling his fellow cubs about a boy who caught an exceptionally large frog. The boy held it up and looked it straight in the eyes, and the frog’s tongue shot out and grabbed the boy’s eyeball and pulled it right out of the socket. Even as a cub I never believed this story, but I never again looked a frog straight in the eyes.
Now is your big moment. Your nerves and muscles twitch with electricity, your arm flashes forward, the frog leaps straight ahead into your grasping hand, and you’ve got him. Congratulations!
You’ve caught the frog you’ve dreamed of, but what do you do with it? I don’t recommend eating it. I’ve never tasted one myself, but I hear it tastes like stringy chicken. Stuffed and mounted on your library wall is a little presumptuous. You might take a snapshot to show your grandchildren, but it would be best to simply plop it back into the water. With a few pumps of its powerful legs it will glide beneath the surface like an Olympian and then float up and delicately grasp the edge of a lily pad with its tiny webbed fingers, staring back at you blankly, like nothing’s happened, like it didn’t narrowly escape being breaded and fried.
But you are now the uncontested, benevolent master of the swamp. You’ve demonstrated your superior hunting skills and you’re feeling decades younger, and ready for bigger challenges more suitable to your well-honed and lightening-fast reflexes.
Notice the large snapping turtle that’s sleeping in the weeds at the pond’s edge. Should you decide to try to catch it, you might want to read my Capturing Snapping Turtles instruction pamphlet, which states emphatically on page one, STAY AWAY FROM SNAPPING TURTLES. However, if you are not a manual reader and prefer to plunge ahead and learn by trial and error, I leave you to your own devices. Go ahead. Give it your best shot, big guy.
Dedicated to Andy Hatem, for whom I caught a large bullfrog when he was eight years old.