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by Tamara Mullen — last modified Oct 30, 2012
Gentle reminder: this story, albeit true, is not for the faint of heart.
It was a warm summer night, the moon was full, and the hunt was on… Three guys, loaded with gigs, headed to the nearby ponds of the Willamette Valley in search of the infamous invasive bullfrog. Dr. Tom Kaye, IAE’s Executive Director, Matt Blakeley-Smith of IAE’s Habitat Restoration Program; and Steve Gisler of the Oregon Department of Transportation were on a mission critical to the preparation of Cajun-fried Bullfrog Legs, a delicacy they planned to serve at IAE’s inaugural ‘Invasive Species Cook-off.’
As tradition has it, bullfrog hunters do not wear waders. It’s rather a primitive exercise to sink into the pond with not much more than a torchlight and gig – a ten foot pole with a multi-prong spear tip; but one that is entirely authentic. Once the three hunters experienced full pond immersion, the talk began about having no fear…
Blakeley-Smith aptly attempted to diminish any fears that a carnivorous frog could possibly threaten three grown men: “Despite the darkness, the water, I think we were the most menacing thing out there. I think the biggest risk was tripping on something and spearing your partner with the gig or yourself.” After that, everyone felt much calmer.
Then Gisler imparted his directions for a successful hunt: “You lurk around in the dark water until you see the characteristic ’eye shine‘ of your prey reflected in the beam of the light, a stunning effect. After slowly stalking within range and assuming the frog hasn’t already detected you and sprung away, you spear with the gig.”
Confidence was flying high now – this was going to be a piece of cake. “I remember Gisler shining the light in the frog’s eyes. I was creeping and creeping until I was right there in gig’s range. Then ‘whoosh’, I pierced the pond and mud with the prongs, but the darn frog was long gone. After quite a bit of lurking and whooshing, I finally got the hang of it. By evening’s end, I was the embodiment of Gisler’s directions – I wasn’t missing any,” reminisced Dr. Kaye.
What Gisler described as “an irresistibly compelling hunt,” had now turned to quiet recount… 24 hind legs were now nestled in the harvest bag – that’s 12 less invaders in the wild land – a worthy result from the often messy ordeal. It was beyond midnight, and time for the threesome to head back to a more civilized world, where familiar cars and roads waited to take them home. Before getting into the SUV, Blakeley-Smith glanced at the bag of legs lying in the back seat, knowing his job was not quite done…
From Pond to Plate – the preparation of Cajun-fried Bullfrog Legs
The sun rose and Blakeley-Smith went to work – he had willingly volunteered to process the frog legs. “I washed them and peeled the skin, it was kind of gruesome. In hopes of some relief, I searched the web to find a recipe to process the meat. One suggested salt water, so I dropped them into the mix. Then it began… the convulsing, flopping, jumping – here I was all alone with these legs, and they were coming back to life for literally 5 minutes! I freaked!” reported Blakeley-Smith, who has since recovered, and can fully recall the memory at any moment.
The last that Blakeley-Smith saw of the raw legs was Dr. Kaye taking the frozen parts to fry them up. “I followed the Cajun-fried Bullfrog Legs recipe from ‘The Joy of Cooking’ Invasive Species Cookbook’ and served them up.” The leg demand was so high at the Invasive Species Cook-off that Dr. Kaye got one bite of someone else’s leg; and Blakeley-Smith had none. The hot legs simply went to the crowd along with the popcorn sparrows…
The bullfrog, an invasive species that thrives in freshwater lakes, marshes, ponds and streams, devours native species such as snakes, mice, frogs, crustaceans, and eggs of fish and frogs causing chaos to their habitats. It originated in Eastern North American, and found its way into the waters of Oregon, disrupting biodiversity over its 7-9 year life span.