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Feeling Froggy on the Big O
Captain Bobby and Norma Stafford’s three-year-old grandson has a pretty sophisticated palate for a pre-schooler: he loves nothing better to eat than fresh, deep-fried frog legs– accompanied, if you please, by some fresh deep-fried bluegill or speckled perch.
Fortunately, the Staffords are happy and able to provide his favorite dish without breaking the bank or going too much out of their way. Bobby, a longtime fishing and hunting guide with Okeechobee Charters, operates both an airboat and a bass boat on Lake Okeechobee near the couple’s home. So a few nights ago, under a quarter moon and brisk breezes, Bobby and Norma set out to procure item #1 on the menu– frog legs.
Departing the airboat launch at Okee-Tantie on the lake’s north end shortly after dark, Bobby at first was dismayed by what he DIDN’T hear when he shut down the airboat’s roaring engine: the croaking of pig frogs. The only sounds were those of night birds such as limpkins and moorhens.
“Wow. You usually hear them before you see them,” Stafford said, illuminating the marsh with the powerful beam of his headlamp.
But all the guide saw were dense clumps of brown and green lily pads and muddy mats of vegetation. He cranked the engine and headed across the open lake to check the next lily pad slough. And the next.
After a few minutes of fruitless scanning, Bobby spotted the first of his quarry perched on a shiny green pad. He idled up to it, freezing the frog in the headlamp’s beam, then impaling it with his ten-foot, four-prong gig. He pulled the frog off by hand and stuck it in a chute that emptied into a mesh catch bag.
Norma shook her head.
“I never even saw it,” she said wonderingly.
Spotting frogs in a swamp at night is an acquired skill, especially amid dense vegetation and high water levels.
“You’ll see the white throat more than anything else,” Bobby explained. “Then when I see a frog, I’m looking all around in the light to see if I can get that one, the next one and the next one.”
At first the pickings were slim, but upon entering a slough where a baby alligator popped up, Bobby found the plucking becoming more frequent.
“Wherever you see baby gators, you’ll see frogs,” he said. “The babies love to eat them.”
For the next several hours, the couple bounced from marsh to marsh and the harvest grew steadier. Bobby passed up plenty of frogs he felt were too small to be worth keeping.
Without about 50 frogs in the catch bag, they stopped the boat on a spoil island to let the engine cool down.
“Half the enjoyment of frogging is to shut down and just enjoy the night,” Bobby said as he and Norma gazed up at stars undimmed by city lights this far out in Florida’s heartland.
After a few minutes, they headed back toward Okee-Tantie, sticking a dozen more frogs along the way. Part two of their grandson’s feast would come in the next couple of days.