The sacrificial frog

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The Independent Online
CAUGHT in a mood of whimsy last week, I was struck by man's inhumanity to frogs.

This profound thought was inspired by several seemingly unconnected incidents, the first being a sad little discovery as I was walking the dogs. On the road, flat as a Shrove Tuesday special, was the first frog of the year. Goodness knows what the little chap was doing out this early: they don't normally leave the safety of our local gravel pit for another month. Pioneer or not, he went the same way as many others will within a few weeks - he was squished by a passing car.

My bedtime reading this week has been The Compleat Angler, to see if it really is as awful as I remembered it. My chapter that night was "Observations of the Luce or Pike, with Directions how to fish for him", and of course that section includes Izaak Walton's memorable advice on using frogs for bait.

"If you intend to fish with a frog for a Pike, you are to choose the yellowest that you can get, for that the pike ever likes best, and thus use your Frog, that he may continue long alive: Put your hook into his mouth, and out at his gills; and then with a fine needle and silk sew the upper part of his leg, with only one stitch, to the arming-wire of your hook, or tie the frog's leg, above the upper joint, to the armed-wire; and, in doing so, use him as though you loved him."

Isn't that horrible? I've never met anyone in Britain who uses live (or even dead) frogs for bait, though in New York state a few years ago, I met some rednecks who did. But as they appeared to be only marginally higher on the evolutionary tree than the frogs themselves, and because they all carried guns, I didn't say anything.

Over there, you can actually go a-hunting for them, and need a permit to do so. Sporting-wise, bagging frogs seems about as challenging as shooting buffalo from a helicopter, but I was assured that what they lack in guile, they make up for in taste. Bullfrogs, so the locals told me, taste like chicken, and a man protects his bullfrog patch with tooth and nail. Yes, I suppose you could say they love them. I met one hunter who blasted them with a .22. Later, in another part of the state, I told a fishing guide who seemed to have a little more intelligence about the issue.

"Ridiculous!" he said. We laughed.

"No good hunting them frogs like that," he said. "You'd shoot them to bits."

Realising that he too was a frog-lover in the widest sense, I inquired how he felt they should be hunted.

"With a club," he said.

I'm not kidding. He creeps slowly through shallow water and when he sees a frog sunning itself on a lily pad, he whacks it like a caveman dispatching a dinosaur. A subtle lot, those crackers . . .

There was more bad froggy news in Fish Farming International, which revealed that the president of the Indian Seafood Exporters' Association is trying to get a ban on frog-leg imports lifted. Mr C Cherian also wants his government to allow scientific and commercial culture of frogs, his argument being that it would earn India an extra 200 million rupees (about pounds 7m) and create jobs. Strange, isn't it, that a nation that will not eat cows sees nothing wrong with consuming frogs?

For my part, I love the little chaps, and not in a pie either. They are harmless, enthusiastic singers and eat mosquitoes. What better bankside company could an angler ask? Eating or putting a hook in one would be like baiting up with the family hamster. Newts or toads, now, that's a different thing . . .