If you are looking for some thing fun to do this summer that will yield a tasty meal, you may want to try catching a few snapping turtles especially since the season opened last week.
These ill-tempered reptiles can be found in most ponds and lakes around the area and can be easy and fun to catch. Over in the western part of the state, snapping turtle is considered a delicacy that resembles the taste of chicken breast and turtle soup is a favorite of many.
Catching a turtle doesn’t take much effort or equipment. If you are really brave, you can try the old fashioned method called noodling. A noodler walks along a stream and runs his arm into muskrat holes and tree roots. When he locates a turtle, he pulls them out by their tail. Personally, I am not sure I would recommend this method considering they are called snapping turtles for a reason, but this method has been carried out for generations and is quite popular in the south.
The more common methods of catching turtles include the use of bank lines, float lines, and traps. Bank lines are most successful on large lakes and long stream banks. Float lines seem to do best in farm ponds, and traps should be set in streams where there is a current.
For bank lines you need short lengths of heavy line with large hooks in the 5/0 to 10/0 size range. Make sure the line is long enough so that the baited hook can lie on the bottom. Beef necks, chicken livers, and chicken gizzards are popular baits. Snapping turtles find their meals by smell, so the bloodier the bait the better. Tie your bank lines near snags, stumps, or tree roots and wait. Snappers do most of their hunting at night, so set your lines at dusk and then check them again in the morning.
Float lines are very popular by many turtle hunters especially in farm ponds. All you need is a float, heavy string, a large hook, and your bait. Many hunters will use pieces of two by fours as their floats. Just tie the string onto the two by four (or other similar float) and bait your hook with as much meat as it will hold. Throw your set out into the pond and forget about them until the morning. When a snapper grabs your bait, he will head for shore to eat his catch swallowing the bait and hook. When the morning comes, locate the float and pull your prize out of the water.
Many turtle hunters prefer to catch their snappers in traps. Ohio laws say traps may be constructed of wire or twine with square mesh at least four inches on a side, and without wings or leads. Most traps are made to be about three feet long and two feet high and is shaped like a minnow trap. The opening is large enough for the turtle to get in but once in, he can’t find his way out. These traps seem to work best in waters with a strong current. Bait the trap with meat or a punctured can of sardines which is usually tied so that is suspends from the top of the trap. The odor of your bait will travel down stream with the current and catch the attention of a turtle. Make sure the trap is well anchored and placed near the shoreline.
Another trap that works well in ponds, is a square box made out of two by fours for the top and chicken wire for the sides that are wired together for the bottom. This trap floats and you bait it just like the trap mentioned above. The turtle climbs into the trap to get to the bait but large nails driven every few inches around the top keep the turtles from climbing out.
Once you have your turtle caught, the hard part is getting him killed and cleaned. I am told that this gets easier with experience. To kill the turtle, entice him with a stick in front of his face. When he clamps onto the stick, pull his head out as far as it will extend and chop his head off. Some say the neck meat is the best so cut close to the head. Now, just hang the turtle by the tail and allow it to “bleed out” for several hours. Next, you will need to cut off the claws and place the turtle in boiling water. Use a stiff brush to clean up the turtle as best you can. Once cleaned up, place the turtle on its back and, using a sharp knife, start cutting the body from the top shell. When the carcass has been removed, severe the legs and neck and discard the remainder.
If you have done a good job, there will be little meat left on the top shell. Now skin out the neck and legs and your job is done. If your turtle is one of those huge old ones you may want to tender up the meat by boiling it for half an hour or so before frying or roasting. If it is a smaller one, just fry it up like you would chicken or use any other recipe that you may like. Some believe it is the best meat that Mother Nature offers in Ohio.
Just be sure to check the ODNR laws and regulations before heading out for your first snapper. Turtle season is open from July 1 through April 30. Only snapping and softshell turtles may be legally taken. Snapping turtles and softshell turtles must have a straight-line carapace length of 13 inches or greater to be taken and there is no daily limit on the number that may be taken. A turtle trap with mesh less than 4 inches square must have an opening at least 6 inches in diameter leading from it. Wings and leads are unlawful. The trap must be marked with the name and address of the owner or user. All traps must be checked once every 24 hours.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.