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David Sparks Ph.d Frog Kings
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Sportsman's Spotlight
Date: July 09, 2019

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Well past midnight, Tim Reed and Rodney Smith paddle down a skinny stretch of water in northern New York, to a spot where the high-cut riverbank transitions to flood plain. As Smith makes one last quiet push, gliding the yard-sale canoe toward a tangle of lily pads and skunk cabbage, Reed leans over the bow. The wide-set eyes of a big bullfrog glow in the beam of his headlamp, and just as the canoe reaches the jacklighted frog, Reed strikes.

Reed and Smith have been next-door neighbors for almost 20 years. They spend their summers in small seasonal cabins elevated on concrete pillars on a river in Upstate New York that they made me swear not to name. "We don't need everyone and their brother knowing where we frog," Reed tells me.

Smith, the older of the two, was born in 1945 in Auburn, New York, and grew up in Montezuma, New York, on the northern edge of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. As a kid, he'd catch frogs by hand in pastures bordering the refuge and use them for bass bait. By high school, he knew the Seneca River better than his own backyard.

In those early years, Reed and Smith fished together in the spring, hunted together in the fall, and chased frogs together in the summer, snagging big males with poles and treble hooks during the day. Then in 2008, New York changed its harvest regs for reptiles and amphibians, and made targeting frogs at night legal. ­After- hours frog hunts sounded like fun, so Reed bought a little three-tined frog gig at Walmart. It didn't take them long to smash and ­mangle that toy spear down to a single tine. "Piece of junk," Reed recalls. They tossed it and tried taking frogs by hand in Reed's old Grumman canoe. Smith, who's ­pencil- thin, paddled Reed, who's a self-described "short, fat, and bald guy," around from the stern. Reed would dangle off the bow, jacklighting frogs in his headlamp. That first night, after the first few grabs, Reed looked back at Smith and said, "This is gonna work!" Later that weekend, because they'd had so much fun hunting frogs at night, they decided to give their canoe a name, painting in white letters on each side, Frogzilla.

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