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Fri August 2, 2013
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The Old Gig: Catching Frogs On Warm Summer Nights

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 6:05 pm

Bick Boyte plops a 1-pound bullfrog in his aluminum canoe, still half alive. He resumes his kneeling position, perched upfront, on the hunt for a big bellower. Boyte hears the "wom, wom, wom" and knows frogs are within reach.

Boyte and Tommy Peebles have been "gigging" Tennessee ponds together since their daddies first taught them. Boyte now owns a truck dealership. Peebles is a real estate lawyer. But in the warm moonlight, they revert to their boyhoods. Peebles does the paddling.

The more deadly half of this duo is Boyte. Instead of a paddle, he wields a 12-foot bamboo cane with four barbed tines on the end — his homemade frog gig. On his head, Boyte wears a miner's headlamp. The light freezes the frogs.

"We're looking for their eyes," Boyte says. "And you'll see that white chest on them facing you."

With the target in his sights, Peebles swings the boat toward the bank. And Boyte gets his gig about 6 inches from the dazed frog before it's "lights out."

When the gig pierces the water and spikes the frog, it doesn't die right away. Not until it's time to clean it for cooking. The legs are the only part worth eating. And for nearly 40 years, Boyte and Peebles have held a frog leg fry at the end of the summer.

"I guess you could buy 'em, but we've never had to do that," Boyte says. "We've always gigged 'em."

Boyte now feels an obligation to supply his annual get-together. But he also still loves staying out all night, drinking beers and catching up with old buddies. Much like fishermen, giggers share tales of the one that got away or of sinking their boat.

The stories go back three and four generations for some in the South. While frogs live just about anywhere there's standing water, gigging is more popular in states like Arkansas and Louisiana. It's hardly a thriving activity, but there is a new generation coming up.

Twenty-year-old C.J. Adams takes his girlfriend, Melissa Perinne, tromping through ponds with him. Their first date was frog gigging.

"We was just sitting around, bored," he says. "And I said, 'Have you ever been frog gigging?' She said, 'No.' So I said, 'Tonight is a good night to learn.' "

And like that, frog gigging lives on.

Copyright 2013 Nashville Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wpln.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. With summer in full swing, we thought we'd revisit a series we brought you last year around this time, Summer Nights. We took you to places around the country and around the world that spring to life when the sun goes down. Well, we've got some new summer night stories for you and our first one takes us to a pond in Tennessee, in the middle of the night where outdoorsmen gather to hunt frogs.

They call it gigging and it's peak season. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN in Nashville has more on this Southern pastime.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: A very small group of folks who like spending their summer nights right here, knee deep in the nastiest pond you have seen. Pond scum, lilies, reeds, snakes and some pretty rowdy frogs.

TOMMY PEEBLES: That is a behemoth, Bick, like a monster.

BICK BOYTE: Yeah, that's a good one there.

FARMER: Bick Boyte plops a 1-pound bullfrog in his aluminum canoe, still half-alive. He resumes his kneeling position, perched up front, on the hunt for a big bellower.

BOYTE: Did you hear that - wom, wom, wom - that's what we want.

FARMER: Boyte and Tommy Peebles have been "gigging" Tennessee ponds together since their daddies first taught them. Boyte now owns a truck dealership. Peebles is a real estate lawyer. But in the warm moonlight, they revert to their boyhoods. Peebles does the paddling.

PEEBLES: I was coming in as fast as I could.

FARMER: The more deadly half of this duo is Boyte. Instead of a paddle, he wields a 12-foot bamboo cane with four barbed tines on the end, his homemade frog gig. On his head, Boyte wears a miner's headlamp. The light freezes the frogs.

BOYTE: We're looking for their eyes. And you'll see that white chest on them facing you.

FARMER: With the target in his sights, Peebles swings the boat toward the bank. And Boyte gets his gig about 6 inches from the dazed frog before it's lights out. Actually, they don't die right away, usually not until it's time to clean them for cooking. The legs are the only part worth eating. And for nearly 40 years, Boyte and Peebles have held a frog leg fry at the end of the summer.

BOYTE: I guess you could buy 'em, but we've never had to do that. We've always gigged 'em.

FARMER: Boyte now feels an obligation to supply his annual get-together. But he also still loves staying out all night, drinking beers and catching up with old buddies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What are you doing?

BOYTE: Hey, buddy. What are you doing?

FARMER: This evening is slightly more organized than the typical gigging expedition. It's a competition with a 3:00 a.m. weigh-in.

PEEBLES: Hey, we got a couple of behemoths, too.

FARMER: Much like fishermen, giggers share tales of the one that got away or sinking their boat. Billy Alexander is still trying to dry out.

BILLY ALEXANDER: Water's coming over the side. I was like - and I can't turn around to see what's - I can just feel the water on my knees, you know.

FARMER: The stories go back three and four generations for some in the South. While frogs live just about anywhere there's standing water, gigging is more popular in states like Arkansas and Louisiana. It's hardly a thriving activity, but there is a new generation coming up.

C.J. ADAMS: It's a coincidence. Our first date was frog gigging.

FARMER: Twenty-year-old C.J. Adams takes his girlfriend, Melissa Perinne, tromping through ponds with him.

MELISSA PERINNE: Yeah. It was us here together like today, probably.

ADAMS: We was just sitting around bored. And I said, Have you ever been frog gigging? She said, no. I said, Tonight is a good night to learn.

FARMER: And like that, frog gigging lives on. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.