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The Old Gig: Catching Frogs On Warm Summer Nights

Tommy Peebles shines a light on the pond. With the help of Bick Boyte, the two Tennesseans catch frogs with homemade "gigs" for a frog leg fry they hold every year.
Stephen Jerkins
for NPR
Tommy Peebles shines a light on the pond. With the help of Bick Boyte, the two Tennesseans catch frogs with homemade "gigs" for a frog leg fry they hold every year.

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 2021 WPLN News. To see more, visit WPLN News.

Blake Farmer
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