Catching snapping turtles during the summer is a tradition in many areas of the United States. Unlike fish, which may grow lethargic, turtles become most active during the hottest season of the year. You will find late June through the dog days of summer to be most productive. In early summer, a few weeks of warm weather can really turn on the turtles.
When searching for areas to set out turtle lines, learn to identify areas that are most likely to harbor turtles. Snapping turtles like silty or muddy bottoms. Bodies of water with all rock or sandy bottoms hold few turtles, sometimes none at all. When looking for a place to set lines, look for water that is murky, moss covered, or even stagnant. Farm ponds are some of the best places to set for snapping turtles. Especially, where livestock keeps the water stirred.
When it comes to setting the actual lines, a lot depends on the type of waterway and the structure in and around the water. At a pond that is for the most part free of snags, use jug lines. Jug lines are made from gallon milk jugs or detergent bottles. About 15 inches of heavy nylon line is tied to the jug’s handle, and a hook is tied to the other end of the line.
The only problem with milk jugs is they are very light. When there is a breeze, they tend to blow into the bank faster than do the detergent jugs. Being heavier, detergent jugs stay in place a little better. Never tie more than 15 inches of line to a jug. Snapping turtles may lurk on bottom, but they readily come up to take a bait. By keeping the line short, it will be harder for a caught snapper to wrap the line around a snag, which helps to prevent the turtle from escaping or drowning. To assure tasty meat that is also safe to eat, it is important that all turtles be captured alive.
A gallon jug is very buoyant and can hold up to even the largest snapping turtle. Fighting to pull the jug under, quickly tires the snapper. This will cause the snapping turtle to move toward the bank in search of shallow water to rest in. In shallow water, snapping turtles can lie on bottom then with little effort surface for a gulp of air.
To retrieve jugs that are close to the bank, use a 8-foot section of 1/2-inch metal pipe. On one end, attach a medium size utility hook. The pipe and hook are then used to reach out and hook the jug handles. Also, you should carry another 8-foot section of 3/4-inch pipe. This will slip over the end of the first pipe which will allow you to reach out close to 20 feet.
If the pipe trick don’t work and you need more distance use a rod and reel. Any length rod should work, as long as it’s somewhat stiff. The reel should be spooled with 30-pound braided line, outfitted with a 6-inch stick bobber. Tie a large barrel swivel to the end of the line. On the other end of this swivel, attach a 12-inch length of steel leader and the largest treble hook you can find. It’s important the hook be a treble to quickly snag the jug lines.
Rivers can be good places to catch snapping turtles, too. Though with different methods. Snappers prefer the slowest flows in a river. Focus on sloughs and muddy backwaters. Also, don’t overlook any small streams or ditches that empty into the river. These are favorite places for snappers to go to get out of the current.
In rivers don’t use jugs. Instead, set lines to limbs or other fixed objects on the bank. The only problem with set lines is they don’t have any give. This sometimes makes it possible for a big snapper to pull off or even straighten the hook. When the snapper becomes hooked to a limb line, the branch gives with a springing action that helps to fight the turtle. This springing action makes it difficult for the turtle to put enough pressure on the line to pull free.
Whatever method you use, jug or fixed line the hook should be plenty strong yet small enough for a snapper to swallow easily without detecting. If the hook is too large, the turtle may feel it and nibble off the bait. You want the hook to be swallowed. Snapping turtle mouths are hard and bony, and snappers hooked in the mouth rarely stay hooked for long. Stainless steel hooks in sizes 1 through 3 are most efficient.
Snapping turtles aren’t particular eaters, but bait selection is very important. Bait has to be small enough to be easily swallowed yet tough enough so it can’t be easily stripped from the hook. Fish is the mainstay of a snapping turtle’s natural diet, but fish flesh is too easily stripped from a hook to make a good turtle bait.
Chicken gizzard is the best bait . It is very tough, and it requires no cutting or shaping when placing on the hook. If chicken gizzard is not available, use tough cuts of beef.
To hold snappers live in the field use large plastic containers, like trash cans or storage totes. Fill the barrel with just enough fresh water to cover the turtles’ backs. Then leave the turtles in the container for at least three days. This allows the snapper adequate time to clean out. Depending on the number and size of turtles in the container, you may change the water several times a day. It doesn’t take long for snappers to foul the water. Be sure to put the turtles in a cool basement or other shady spot. Being confined in a pool of water in direct sunlight can prove deadly. When the water stays clear and the snappers appear to be clean, they are ready to be dressed out. As always, before setting turtle lines, check state and local game laws for any restrictions, and always get permission before setting on private property. Good luck !
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