It is a season that opens at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, August 15th. It is an unusual season, but one that reeks of adventure, challenge and tremendous entertainment value. And, trust me, this is season that will create memories and stories like no other!
No, it is not a hunting season.
IT is Nebraska’s bullfrog season.
Bullfrog season. Really?
I know what you’re thinking at this point. Why would any sane, rational person trudge through backwater areas at night, risk getting bitten on the legs by creatures that you can hardly see, and getting extremely muddy, slimy and nasty. Why?
Stay with me here.
When it comes to catching bullfrogs, the more you know, the more you’ll understand why folks like me who participate this outdoor activity are so passionate about it. That stated, here are the whys, wherefores and basics of catching bullfrogs in Nebraska.
Seriously, why go “bullfrogging?”
Simply put, the legs and other meat of bullfrogs are definitely worth the effort to catch them! Granted, most of the meat on a bullfrog is the hind legs but you can eat other parts, too! Bullfrog legs and meat are nutritious, flavorful, tender, juicy, delicious, and no, they don’t taste like chicken! They are far tastier!
Beyond the legs and other meat, attempting to catch bullfrogs is one-of-a-kind outdoor activity that allows individuals to fully experience nature, day or night!
Getting to spend those late hours under the stars and the moon, listening to insects a buzz over a pond or wetland, feeling a cool summer breeze, and perhaps acquiring some fresh, delicious wild fare for the dinner table, all make the work to catch bullfrogs very rewarding.
This time-honored, late-summer/early fall outdoor pursuit is also a wonderful way to introduce kids to an aquatic environment. Catching frogs by hand, hand net and hook and line, is super exciting, since kids can get real close to their quarry. The bullfrogs can be caught and released, too! After all, don’t most kids love to chase after and attempt to grab a big frog that is jumping and splashing around the water?
Over the years, I have enjoyed trying to catch bullfrogs with friends and family in late summer at night in Nebraska! In high school, I even took a couple dates out for after-dark bullfrog expeditions! Believe me, those dates were far cheaper than pizza and a movie!
And, get this: Coming up on August 21st during the low light before and after total solar eclipse, I am planning to look for bullfrogs amid the cattails on my brother-in-law’s lake southwest of Lincoln, NE.
Bullfrog hunting is really a misnomer here in the Cornhusker State. Yes, there is a season on bullfrogs which runs from August 15 through October 31. However, bullfrogs are aquatic creatures (amphibians) and you need to have a current, valid Nebraska fishing permit in order to take or attempt to take them.
There are specific regulations on harvesting bullfrogs. A size limit or a minimum length limit has been put on the bullfrogs. They have to be 4 1/2-inches long from snout to vent to be able to be kept. Additionally, there are limits on how many legal-sized bullfrogs one can have which are eight in the daily bag and sixteen in possession. The season and limits are in place allow bullfrogs to reach maturity and reproduce at least once or twice before they are harvested.
By the way, if you’re wondering, you can catch bullfrogs by hand, hand net or hook and line day or night. Gigging and spearing them are not allowed nor is shooting them with a firearm or bow since there is a minimum length limit established on the frogs and the smaller ones need to be released alive. You can catch and immediately release all of them, if you so choose. Artificial lights may be used to capture bullfrogs, as well. Bullfrogs can be transported live or field dressed but the body must be left intact due to that length limit.
Research has been done on bullfrogs and bullfrog harvest in Nebraska for conservation purposes and the regulations (also found in the Nebraska Fishing Guide) are in place to keep bullfrog populations healthy and renewable.
The items needed for bullfrogging are pretty basic: T-shirt (camouflage or earth tone color patterns are preferred), swim trunks or old pair of shorts, water shoes, river sandals or old pair of tennis shoes, large mesh or burlap bag that can be cinched, dip net or fishing tackle (optional), powerful hand-held flashlight, head lamp or ball cap lights, and insect repellent.
Please remember to prevent the spread of invasive species by cleaning your equipment before you bring it in to or out of an aquatic habitat location. Remove seeds and other living material. This can include your clothing and footwear, your nets, boats, bags used to carry the frogs, etc.
The Location and the Times
The largest frog in Nebraska, the North American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), is found in many aquatic habitats statewide. The bullfrog is almost always hanging out near some source of water such as a lake, pond, reservoir, river or marsh. Warm, still, shallow waters with a lot of aquatic cover, vegetation and algae favor bullfrogs by providing suitable habitats for their food, growth, reproduction and escape from predators. Look for areas with cattails, willows and young cottonwoods. Bullfrogs are most active at dawn, dusk and nighttime in these areas. They like to move during humid, rainy evenings. Listen for the male bullfrog’s unique call which is deep, loud and unmistakable. It is a distinctive low-toned bass-like call, (sounds like a low “Ru-u-umm – Ru-u-umm”).
The North American Bullfrog is an aquatic game species that demands craftiness, stealth and absolute quiet to nab, but one that is not dangerous and doesn’t stink when handled.
An effective method to catch a bunch of bullfrogs is to move slowly shining shorelines with a good flashlight after dark.
Spot the frogs on land, keep the light directly on them so they’ll freeze in position, and then ease in close enough to catch them with a net or even by hand. Be careful and try to approach low from the blind spot of the bullfrog located in the center of the back of its head. Be sure when you commit to catching one, you are fast and firm with your grip. Hold the bullfrog by grasping around the “upper thighs” with its legs together. Keep in mind that bullfrogs can easily slip out of hands due to their strong hind legs and slippery skin!
Also, our Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Fish/Fishing Guru, Daryl Bauer, uses his angling gear to hook bullfrogs. Here’s a video of Daryl talking about catching bullfrogs with his fishing tackle.
The Cleaning of the Frog
Once at home, the appropriate way to clean a bullfrog is to first dispatch it quickly and humanely. The next step involves cutting the skin around the back and the belly with a sharp knife. Following that, skin the the legs with a pair of pliers. Then, cut the legs from the torso and trim off the toes. A pair of poultry shears (or game shears) comes in handy for dressing bullfrogs.
The Cooking of the Frog Legs
The consistency of bullfrog legs is best described as a cross between sweet chicken-wing meat, and flaky white fish. They have no fat on them. The biggest challenge with cooking frog legs is the same one that’s common to most seafood preparations, namely overcooking. There a several different ways to cook frog legs after washing them off with cold water. Some folks simmer them in white wine, olive oil and garlic. Here’s one of my favorite recipes.
FABULOUS FRIED FROG LEGS
Sprinkle frog legs with lemon pepper, pepper and lemon juice. Dip in favorite breading or cracker crumb/egg mixture. Chill 1 hour. Saute in butter until brown, or fry in very hot canola oil for 3 minutes. Allow 1/2 pound per person. Savor every bite!
Have fun bullfroggin’!
FACT: Amphibians, such as bullfrogs, are an indicator species of a clean environment.