Gigging on the Big Piney

Posted July 1st, 2017

Bill Cooper once told me, “There’s nothing like being on the river at night.” I found out just what he meant by that statement when he, my husband and I went for a frog gigging session on the Big Piney River near Duke a while back. With frog season nearing, I cannot help but think of the first time I set out in a canoe on the river at night.

Actually, the evening started as we sat on a gravel bar beside the river, along with several other members of the Missouri Outdoor Communicators association. We had been swimming, fishing and cooking in bits and spurts all day. By evening, we were famished and ready to partake of the bring-a-dish-to-share affair. 

We dined on marinated venison tenderloin bits, pan-fried wild turkey breast and wild turkey/venison/fresh veggie kebobs. The sun started to set and the frogs started to sing. 

babbs-frogging copy MO gigging

Here we are, preparing for the stick.

Frog Gigging — What Happened

At about 11 p.m., we set out in a canoe with my husband in the front holding the gig (long stick with prongs on the end) and me in the middle sitting on an ice chest with a lantern. Bill stood in the back, poling the canoe as he guided us around big rocks and under tree branches.

Jim Lowe from the State Conservation Department decided to tag along in a canoe to photograph our sporting adventure. Bob Todd, publisher of “The River Hills Traveler” paddled that canoe. 

Gigging is simple. I shined the lantern on the riverbank, while Bill poled the canoe close to the riverbank. Whenever we would spot a frog, Bill maneuvered the canoe close to the frog. Then, my husband would make the decision of whether or not the frog sported a good set of gams. 

Meanwhile, I had to keep a steady beam on the frog. Frogs love the limelight, and will not move from center stage. If the frog’s legs looked big enough, my husband would go for the kill.

If a frog was too small, Bill would tell it that we’d be back next year and that in the meantime, it should eat a lot of flies. I tried not to think about a frog’s diet too much, and to remember the words uttered by so many, “It just tastes like chicken.”

After gigging a frog, my husband would either deliver the frog to Bill or hand it to squeamish little ole’ me to give to Bill. He’d put it on the stringer.

My husband kept trying, hitting a couple of frogs and missing a lot of frogs. In the meantime, he started breaking tines off the gig–first one, then two, by jamming them against rocks. Since there were only three tines, the loss quickly hindered his gigging abilities.

Meanwhile, Jim kept snapping photos. At one point, my husband posed the frog, while Jim lay flat on the canoe under a tulip tree, clicking the camera shutter. After this photo session, Jim started whining about having a stick in his ear, and Bob maneuvered the craft carefully to disengage the branch from Jim’s ear.

Right after gigging a big frog, Bill decided he’d back the canoe out of the narrow slough where we caught the frog. All went smoothly until we hit a big log in the water that had somehow managed to spring up behind our canoe, unbeknownst to our poleman—who had been bragging earlier about the fact that he had never once, in all his 50 years, fallen out of a canoe.

Babbs Ozarkian with Bill cooper

Here I am with Bill, with a look of trepidation on my face and a pixelated old photo.

Bill fell first. In the process, he flipped the canoe and dumped my husband and me into the water. Jim and Bob’s laughter echoed off the bluffs and made the others at camp wonder what we were doing that could be so funny.

Fortunately, we fell into only two feet of water. Unfortunately, Jim had composed himself and was taking pictures of us while we were flailing around.

For the rest of the evening, a bemused Bill kept saying, “I’ve never fallen out of a canoe. I’ve never fallen out of a canoe.”

Now you might suppose that the evening’s fun had ended, since we were stuck with a one-pronged gig, wet clothes and a dose of humiliation. But Jim encouraged us to catch frogs barehanded. He said, “Just slap ‘em.” My husband slapped the first one too hard, and it got away. The second one wasn’t so lucky.

Jason and frog copy

Jim got into the act, too and slapped up a nice-sized frog. He and Bob worked one side of the riverbank while we worked the other. When we finally arrived back in camp, we had a grand total of four frogs.

And no, they didn’t taste like chicken. They tasted like the sweet and succulent fruits of our labors. And yes, Bill was right. There’s nothing like a river at night—but I’d prefer to do my swimming during the day. 


First published in 2003.

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