November 12, 2004
FrogFest 2003 ...In which we have good cheap fun...and I learn a hot new way to paddle a canoe.
We had Martha's dad's birthday campout last weekend and a great time it was. He has some woodsy acres near their house that are situated with a little pond on one side and a millpond on the other. You get there by a gorgeous road and there are gorgeous, twisty roads leading away from it as well. Great biking country! The millpond is full of cattails and lilypads and irises and two swans and their babies and ducks and whopper bluegills on their clean, sandy beds. It's just lovely. We had the birthday picnic party at night. Grampa, Gramma and the kids camped out. We drove back out the next day and the even bigger fun started. The party is fun, but exploring beautiful territory in the day is even better. The party people could've showed back up if they wanted. The more the merrier. The main thing is that we got out in the boat finally. There's a creek that leads out of the millpond that is clear and pretty. But it deadended into a fence! Grrr. The creek turns into the Kalamazoo River, I believe and it's illegal to fence a navigable stream. I'll look into it some more, then cut that sucker if it's outta bounds. I'll do it sneaky, though, just make cuts, use the access and bend the fence back into place. If no one else cares, that's their prob. For now. I'd rather the absentee landowners weren't the wiser. There's no house anywhere around. I just love flowing water. And all that greenery. And the critters swarming in and around it.
So we spent our time on the big millpond itself. No house in sight. There's one on the far end. To get the canoe out of the marshy section by shore and into the water we had to do some paddle-shoving. When Martha and I went out on our own, I just stood up and pole/shoved with her dad's really long 5'6" paddle. Then I just kept on paddling while standing. Man, stand-up paddling is the greatest thing! For flatwater anyway. I could really get an allbody feel into the stroke. When you're standing, you can really move with the boat and there is no stress or pressure point. And the views are just the best. I'll try it with a race boat next. I think that at 6 feet tall that I need a 6 foot long paddle to do it right. Or a canoe pole with narrow, long blades on each end. Time to test!
So we saw the big bluegills. Then I saw a lilypad waving around and what looked like a snake in the water, a curvey line, which I then saw was the fin and tail of a bass, or was it a turtle? --It was so broad. Then I saw it was indeed the back of a bass and it went SWOOSH and gave Martha a start because we were so close to it. Martha was mostly reading while I swooshed along. So romantic.
We came back in awhile later, then Grampa and I went out with Henry. We saw a squirrel swimming across the pond and followed it a bit. It did a little muffled chatter at us and kept on like a motorboat. It kept its front paws held out straight like Superman. And held his tail partly dry out of the water. Very funny and unusual to see!
The biggest part of the day, though---other than the new paddle method discovery---was the BULLFROGS. We looked around for frogs for some reason. I forget why. I guess we heard a big bull drum a few times. We went into a nearly cut-off pond next to the big mill pond that had lots of frog banjo sounds coming out of it. Twang, twang, brum, brum.
We scanned the bank then suddenly I saw a biggie! Wow, they sure are big sometimes. He looked like a green/yellow woodchuck squatting there. I had a sapling along with a 2' length of fishline on it with bluegill spider. I held it over him and he wouldn't bite so I jerked it up under his chin. He squealed and I hoisted him into the boat and removed the hook. Just a tiny hole. I'd pressed the barb flat. It was nothing compared to the green heron hole that a beak had clearly put into his temple recently. He didn't seem to mind. We put him in a bucket. We had both kids with us. They were thrilled.
We looked for more but they wouldn't bite or flipped off the hook. We went back and got better gear. I tried an orange spider instead of the black one. Still no bite. Then I tried the traditional red strip of hanky. They loved that and jumped for it with a croak. I used a barbed treble hook for better snagging. It worked great. And I used a longer sapling about 14' long. I set the hook too hard on a huge one and the hook snapped off. I think they tend to rust/rot out after a week and the critters do OK. I then put a single hook on with red strip. Henry, Grampa and I went out to stalk. We found some real whoppers. I set the hook too hard again and broke the line. The frog plopped into the swampy muck. We thought maybe the line would still be around, as a very far stretch of the odds. No line in sight. I thought what the heck and lifted around in the swill with the handle of the canoe paddle. A few tries later and I was going to give up when suddenly I lifted up a small length of fishline from the mud! I grinned at my cohorts and wrapped a couple turns around my finger then gave a hoist and sure enough our biggest bull yet came kicking out of the muck. Yeehaw! Henry said "That was worth a million trophies!"
After that we found one more biggy. They are very hard to see. Grampa kept marveling at my ability to spot them, but he saw a couple himself.
Suddenly, as we scrutinized our way slowly along, one materialized sitting on a small log in the sun amidst plush green plants, sitting out in the open, in a bright green and yellow ball, bigger than a softball. A lovely Buddha pose. And we hadn't seen him til then. He wouldn't bite, but just kept hopping away along the shore, amazingly. The hook would point the wrong way, the strip would foul it. I kept changing the wrap of the line, the position of the knot on the eye, to keep the hook in an expert pose. Oh the details and vagaries of bullfrog hunting! I finally hoisted it way out and lowered the hook under his chin one last time, 14 feet away, in the arrowhead plants, with the wind blowing the boat around. Surely, he'd go under if I blew it one last time. Henry was getting fidgety. I'd already lifted the hook maybe 5 times in vain, with Grampa saying Oh no! So close! Sweat and tension and one last lift: hooked! Sproing, sproing on the end of the big sapling. We had our big bucket of bulls.
What was so great is that my brother was really wanting bullfrogs for his new farm pond and he wasn't able to get any yet. So we brought them to his place. Of course his wanting frogs made the whole mission feel useful. He was very pleased. So were the kids! Such a big wild passle of rubber they'd never seen the likes of! They were about a pound each and maybe a foot long toe to toe.
We went back to camp and had a beer. Whenever we'd peek at the bulls they'd hop around and make a ruckus of roars and croaks and squeals for a few seconds until they settled down. They'd really make the grill-top lid on the bucket bounce around until they quieted.
When we finally let them go into Kelvin's pond they all jumped away like Calavaras champions and the dogs went nuts.
Low-tech is such a fun way to go.
I bet with a finer line and smaller hook and some little worms that you could get a bucket of HUGE and ever-so-scrumptious bluegills with the sapling approach as well.
If we ever want to eat froglegs, I'd say the way to go would be to go out at night with a red flashlight and sharp little frog-gig on the end of a 12-foot sapling. You could get a nice bucket in short order that way. But there'd probably be some testing involved with that as well. I heard you see their eyes as red glowing embers. I bet it gets loud out there at night.