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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Bullfrog season opens today; delicacy has been enjoyed by generations of Kyians


Bullfrog season opens in spring, but the nightly chorus is considered by many to be the song of summer.

In the still night air the bullfrog’s deep, raspy call sounds like “jug-o-rum, jug-o-rum.”

The allure of the season is being outdoors at night — listening to the sounds of whippoorwills and crickets, walking through fields of tall grass by the light of the moon and stars, marveling at the glow of fireflies across a fog-shrouded field.

As a teenager, and later with my young son, I spent many a night sloshing through ponds and creeks gigging bullfrogs, returning home before dawn. Then I would clean the frogs, and refrigerate the frog legs in a bowl of lightly-salted cool water.

Next came a much-welcomed warm shower and a catnap until noon, waking refreshed and ready for a hardy late breakfast.

Bullfrog season opens in spring, but the nightly chorus is considered by many to be the song of summer (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bullfrog Season Regulations

Kentucky’s bullfrog season is about 5 1/2-months long, mostly during warm weather.

By regulation (301 KAR 1:082), the taking of bullfrogs opens at noon on the third Friday in May (this year May 17) and runs through October 31.

If a gun (.22 rifle) or bow and arrow are used, a hunting license is required.

If frogs are taken by pole and line, a fishing license is required.

If frogs are taken by gig or by hand, then either a hunting or fishing license is valid.

The daily noon-to-noon creel limit for bullfrogs is 15.

Try and Pole and Line, Instead of a Gig

For a couple of reasons, my personal choice is pole and line, a six-to-seven-foot pole of river cane, a short piece of monofilament line and small dry or wet fly, typically used to catch trout or sunfish.

When a bullfrog is spotted in the light, dangle the fly a few inches above its head. The bullfrog will grab it, thinking it’s a flying insect, and all you have to do is bring in your hooked frog.

One advantage of “fishing” for bullfrogs is the long pole. You don’t have to get real close to the frog, which means there’s less chance of spooking him. The second advantage is there’s no risk of damaging the meaty, tasty frog legs.

Taking frogs with a barbed gig there are times the frog legs get punctured and mangled.

I put my bullfrogs on a stringer, which I snap to the belt loop on my pants, and carry a small spool of extra line and a few flies, in case my line gets snagged in a tree or brush.

The powerful beam of a spotlight or flashlight is needed to mesmerize frogs so that they can be approached and taken. Usually, bullfrogs are up on the bank, at the water’s edge.

They are taken by wading, or from a small boat, or kayak.

When froggin’ solo a headlamp comes in handy because it allows you to work hands-free. When froggin’ from a boat it’s easier for one person to hold the light while the other gigs or fishes.

Life History Information

In Kentucky, bullfrogs are a common frog species, found practically everywhere there’s water, including the state’s 13,000 miles of streams, and 16 major reservoirs. Bullfrogs are most abundant in shallow farm ponds, small lakes and wetlands.

Kentucky’s bullfrog season opens at noon on the third Friday in May (this year May 17), and runs through October 31 (Photo by John R. Mac Gregor, KDFWR)

The American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is native to the eastern and central United States but has been widely introduced across North America and many countries around the world.

Bullfrogs primarily feed on insects, but it’s not uncommon for them to consume small snakes, snails, worms, fish or even tadpoles. Adults may have a body length of up to six inches with their legs adding another 7 to 10 inches.

Their breeding season is May through July, but females can lay eggs as early as April and as late as August, under ideal weather conditions. After their eggs hatch, there are swarms of tadpoles. In 12 to 14 months the tadpoles transform into froglets. Bullfrogs reach maturity in three to five years.

The bullfrog’s distinctive deep call is partly to lure females and to ward off other males. Male bullfrogs are very territorial.

It’s not hard to tell the two sexes apart. Males have a huge eardrum (noted by a flat, green circle on the side of their head) which is much bigger than their eye.

Bullfrogs are amphibians. They spend the cold weather months wherever they can get below the frost line, burrowing into the mud, or crawling into a muskrat hole.

At present, 57 amphibian species are known to occur in Kentucky, including 22 frogs and toads.

The white meat of the bullfrogs’ legs are a tender, juicy delicacy that tastes like sweet chicken (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Frog Legs a Delicacy

The white meat of the bullfrogs’ legs is a tender, juicy delicacy that tastes like sweet chicken.

The proper way to clean a bullfrog is to cut the skin around the back and belly, skin the legs with a pair of pliers, 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.

Frog legs are typically breaded in cornmeal, with a little flour, seasoned salt and pepper added, then fried in vegetable oil in an iron skillet. To spice up the breading, add some Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.

A platter of fried frog legs with potato salad, cole slaw and corn on the cob is a delicacy enjoyed by generations of Kentuckians.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.


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