Georgia-Florida Fishing Report
Snapping Turtles 101
little background on Georgia’s 2 Snapping Turtle Species:
Snapping Turtle adults weigh an average of 175 pounds. Due to this fact, they are the largest North
American freshwater turtles but have no natural predators. However, due to the exotic pet trade, they
are listed as a threatened species. The
turtles have a tongue with a wormlike appendage that attracts fish, frogs, and
other aquatic creatures close enough for the turtles to grab the prey in
lightening quick fashion with its powerful beak (mouth). They spend the majority of their time
submerged, but the females have to leave the water to lay their eggs on
land. Turtle eggs have a leathery shell,
unlike the hard, calcified shell of birds.
Snapping Turtle is a much smaller species gaining weights as adults up to 40
pounds or more. They have long, blunt
claws and are found in rivers, lakes, and ponds of Georgia where they frequent
the shorelines and the banks of rivers.
Fairly shy creatures, they will attack when threatened (especially on
land) with a painful bite strong enough to take off a finger. They generally feed on the same things as the
Alligator Snapping Turtle like fish, frogs, and small birds. We actually have had ducks lose a leg due to
the bite of these predators.
Common and Alligator Snapping turtle species have some similar features like
large beaks, long digging claws, and a long tail that resembles that of some of
the earlier ancestor dinosaurs. Neither
species has the ability to completely withdraw into its shell, so their main
defense is their bite. The young can
fall victim to many other animals like large birds (herons) and alligators.
Now, I know
that most of you have probably never eaten any fried snapping turtle or
Brunswick stew made with turtle meat, but you really don’t know what you’re
missing. My Grandfather (L. C. Lindsey),
my uncle (Ben Lindsey, Sr.), and my Dad as the helper who knew absolutely
nothing about this type of “fishing/catching” were the best turtle
fishermen/catchers on the planet. They
didn’t do it for sport, but rather for the tasty white meat that came from
these prehistoric looking creatures.
fortunate enough to be asked to come along on these snapping turtle catching trips
at a very early age along with my two brothers, Alvin and Terry, as well as my
cousin, Ben Lindsey, Jr. The
anticipation surrounding these events for the 4 of us was indescribable. The following are some of the earliest
memories and images I came away with from those trips:
1. The briars and thickets we had to trek
through to get to the hallowed ground of the turtle’s lair. At 6 or 7 years old, I was so short that when
I farted, I blew sand in my shoes. That
hasn’t changed a whole lot in adulthood for me unfortunately. Getting to the perfect “spot” was usually
performed with chainsaws, hacksaws, blow torches, bulldozers, machetes, and
other industrial strength cutting devices.
I guess the “spot” was chosen based on how difficult it was to get to
it, usually on the upper end of the determined body of water. At that age it resembled a tropical rain
forest of Brazil or Venezuela to me. I
never understood the reasoning behind this, but it never failed to produce some
monster snapping turtles the following day.
2. The smell of live chickens and Jack Mackerel
used as the bait in the turtle baskets. As
I recall the chickens were held in chicken coops or crates until at the
aforementioned “spot”, and they had been relieving themselves the entire
trip. That smell along with a few cans
of Jack Mackerel with holes punched in them was enough to make a pig puke, but
again, it always seemed to work in attracting our targeted species. The turtle baskets were of a homemade variety
that Papa and Uncle Bennie made. If you’ve
ever seen a fish basket, these were similar except for the cone on the end
where the fish swim in. Turtle baskets
don’t have a wire cone. Instead the cone
is made of twine or cord to allow for the turtles to get into the basket and
bait, but make it very difficult for them to get out.
3. The beheading of said chickens and bleeding
them into the water like we were chumming for sharks. I really can’t recall how the chickens were
beheaded, but it was most likely done with a swift cut of an ax or the old
tried and true sling method. That method
involved grabbing the chicken by the head and slinging it around until the head
was ripped off and the chicken ran around somewhat like you’ve heard (runnin’
around like a chicken with his head cut off).
Once the chicken body realized it was without its head, the chumming
would commence. Afterwards the chicken
body was tied up inside the turtle basket along with the cans of Jack Mackerel
to entice the turtles to come inside.
4. The Bennie Sweat. This is what it came to be called in Rutledge
Redneck Richardson language. The Bennie
Sweat was the sweat worked up by Uncle Bennie and Papa on these
excursions. It was usually about as hot
as the surface of the sun when we got to our “spot” and with all the work that
had to be done, these two would start sweating like a prostitute in
church. Their faces were covered,
glasses were fogged up, head was shiny, and shirt was completely soaked. You know it’s a Bennie Sweat when you get
that crack sweat going on through your pants.
Now that’s a true Bennie Sweat.
5. The return to the baskets the next day and
the anticipation of catching a truck tire sized giant snapping turtle. It was always ultra-exciting to return the next
day and wait for the 3 adults to pull up those baskets. Sometimes there would be other smaller
species of turtles in with the giant prehistoric looking beasts we were
after. A well-place basket could produce
from 1-10 snapping turtles from 10-40 pounds each. The men had us boys scared to death of those
deadly beak-like mouths, but we always seemed to find a way to aggravate the
monsters by poking sticks at them and producing a bite that would sometimes
shatter the branches.
6. Putting the beasts into a crate without
getting a finger or worse removed. I
promise you this one thing. If you’ve
ever seen snapping turtles taken from a body of water, you’ll never go skinny
dipping in that same place again. The
adults would empty the baskets on the ground and turtles would be
everywhere. An adult snapping turtle is
a formidable opponent, but they would grab the hissing and angry creatures by
the tail while the neck of the turtle would extend to reach around to bite the
enemy. It always amazed me at them
grabbing the tails, but also how far back the head and neck of the turtles could
extend. They would then deliver the
turtles to the crates and lock them down.
7. Cleaning the critters by boiling them alive
or cutting the heads off. I’ve seen both
of the preferred methods of killing and ain’t neither one pretty, especially to
the turtle. The boiling water method
involves a large vat of boiling water, obviously, that the live turtle is
strategically placed into. Along with
some severe thrashing about, the turtle actually cleans its own skin and
removes the hide that is so difficult to cut through. The second method involves enticing the
turtle to bite down on a stick or other implement and pulling that long neck
out as far as you can as it hangs on for dear life. A hatchet is then used to remove the head
from the body. Be careful though as the
head will continue to bite you for several minutes after being severed. I know this is a vivid image, but it’s hard
to clean it up.
8. The arduous task of getting the meat out of
the shell. It’s kind of like the guy who
was the first one to eat a raw oyster.
That takes some courage and resolve.
Well, the same could be said about eating something as ugly as a common
snapping turtle. Removing turtle meat
from the shell in itself is a work of art that most need not even attempt. If you don’t have the right tools for the job
and the inside scoop and experience, it will make you look downright foolish. Just ask Dad. Turtle catching 101 is a lost art, but the
finished product of fried white turtle meat or turtle stew is well worth the
effort!! If you don’t believe me, just
call Uncle Bennie at 1-800-EAT-TURTLE.
He’ll give you the inside skinny on how it’s done.
turtle photos below this article:
as his Grandchildren called him, or “Papa C”, as his Great-Grandchildren called
him is seen here on the left of the photo with some nice sized Snapping Turtles
caught in homemade turtle baskets he manufactured himself.
shows the day’s catch in a crate where the turtles where kept while they were
hauled off and readied for butchering.
Many times they used chicken crates or homemade crates for hauling them.
some catch of snapping turtles. No,
these are not Alligator snapping turtles which are a protected species, but
rather Common Snapping Turtles.
catch of Common Snapping Turtles. Notice
the difference in the coloration of these turtles compared to the previous
photo. I would assume that the
coloration is due to the type of water (river vs. pond vs. lake) and water
coloration they were taken from. All of
these photos were taken by Ben Lindsey, Sr. and were sent to me after I
requested some for my fishing website.
I didn't even know until after I had written this article that my more talented writer of a big brother, Alvin Richardson, had written 2 similar articles. I'll include those here.
Capturing and Cleaning the Greater
note: Thanks to Randy Hancock of Nashville, Georgia for an assist with this
A few weeks
ago before the weather turned cool my youngster-at-heart dad decided that he
wanted to apprehend a quantity of snapping turtles. Whether it was for entertainment, adventure
or just plain old lust for some turtle mull I cannot say for sure but nonetheless
he was highly successful in his quest and that’s where today’s saga begins.
scientific minded the greater snapping turtle (Latin name biteus fastust) is an
animal that might best be described as one with a fierce and belligerent
attitude, powerful jaws, a highly mobile head and neck, and a quickness of strike that would make an
NBA point guard jealous. To further
enhance the peril snapping turtles have sharp claws. It’s not like the turtle won’t warn you –
they will emit an evil sounding hiss when agitated and that basically means to
proceed with extreme caution.
prehistoric looking beast can live to be nearly a half century old and is
particularly ornery as he reaches his dotage.
Snapping turtles can grow to be upwards of fifty or sixty pounds but are
typically measured by the size of their shells.
Daddy’s prize specimen in this latest batch was about the size of a
also a few relevant tips to remember about the early portion of this
process. When transporting the
collection of turtles from the basket in the lake to the back of the truck take
care that you shake the reptiles down to the bottom of the basket. The creatures will be in a fairly grumpy mood
and will injure your hand if it is positioned improperly. Also keep a close watch on the group after
you dump them out of the basket into the truck bed. One of daddy’s collection climbed out after
he got home and went on a rampage. He
slew a cat, an unsuspecting domesticated rabbit, and a small beagle before
escaping back into the pond behind the house.
I told you these old boys were bad to the bone.
translates roughly into this piece of advice: Be exceedingly careful when the
time comes to prepare the loggerhead for butchering. Most people don’t know bear crap from fancy
candy when it comes to this part of the proceedings (including myself) and if
you are an amateur in this area of cuisine preparation I would further advise
that you stand down and don’t let your testosterone level overrun your
someone has to get the snapper out of the truck bed and onto the ground in the
back yard which is no small feat in itself.
Grabbing him by the tail would seem to make the most sense but don’t
forget that in the aforementioned description that the turtle has a highly
mobile head and neck. For the less
educated that means that he’ll swell up and bite you even from that position.
actually know how to handle the ensuing steps in this delicate activity have to
start off with the most important and dangerous one: How to dispatch the cantankerous
creature without suffering bodily injury and / or digit amputation. The most common method is by decapitation but
that in itself is problematic. How do
you get him to stick his head out for the fatal blow? Getting him to grab hold of a stick
(preferably a long one) and hang on to it while one person pulls on it is an
acceptable method but do be careful.
There have been reports that the person with the axe became over-excited
and missed badly while trying to deal the death blow thereby putting innocent
by-standers at risk.
If you are
lucky enough to accomplish this most hazardous step without incident you still
have to figure out how to get the meat out of the shell and though less
perilous is still a job for a very sharp knife and a skilled, patient butcher.
that is gleaned from this multi-step process can ultimately be used for several
purposes. One can turn this into turtle
mull, turtle stew, fried turtle or as an additive in Brunswick stew. Some of it can also be turned into a piquante’
sauce much like the alligator sauce used in southern Louisiana. It consists of a tomato base, roux, and Cajun
seasoning and makes a chocolate brown mixture that can be served over chunks of
turtle flesh. Umm good.
The moral of
today’s fully truthful story is simply this: If you decide to get you up a mess
of snapping turtles to eat be sure you have someone experienced in the art of
cleaning them to help you. Failing that
find some idiot who has never done it before but has a high opinion of their
ability to clean any wild game. Do not –
under any circumstances try to do it yourself.
I hope that you
will soon enjoy some tasty turtle meat slathered in yummy picquante’ sauce and
be able to relish it with all your body parts still intact.
Here's the second article:
In Pursuit of the Great Loggerhead Turtle
Uncle Bennie is a multi-talented man. He
can fix a boat motor or build a house.
He is a virtuoso with a shotgun in his hand and he can tie a sheepshank
knot that a navy commander would be proud of.
He can catch enough catfish in a month to supply any restaurant for a
year and he can catch loggerhead turtles in quite an impressive manner.
he does not get all the credit. My
grandfather, L.C. Lindsey was the man who taught Uncle Bennie many of these
things. Papa was part Cherokee Indian
and a full-blooded outdoorsman of the first order. When I was young he took me with him on many
of his outings and told me stories of his life in the outdoors. One that always fascinated me was describing
how they used to wade rivers and reach up into the undercut banks, and grab
turtles bare-handed. I consider myself a
country boy, but there is no way my hand would have gone under those
banks. But let me get back to the story.
Bennie fashions his own baskets (none of this store bought stuff) and seemingly
has permission from every landowner in ten counties to put his baskets in their
lakes. He baits the baskets with the finest
meal cake and bloody tidbits that
turtles enjoy munching on. He picks
locations with an unerring eye born of experience. The results are quite impressive.
are measured by the size of their shells.
The lower limit runs about the size of a soup bowl and the upper limit
is about like a Michelin radial tire.
Uncle Bennie is very adept at catching those upper limit specimens.
saw one just this past week that would not fit comfortably in the bottom of an
industrial size trash can to give you an example.
distinct disadvantage to catching the greater loggerhead variety (reptilius
colossus) is that one must eventually clean the brute in order to make turtle
mull, turtle soup, fried turtle, or just as an ingredient in a tasty stew. Now I have witnessed three pond drainings, a
bunch of coach’s conventions, and even a goat killing. None of those are nearly as interesting as
watching a group of people (it is not a task for one person) try to clean a bad
going into the grisly details try to envision step one. How do you deal with an animal that would
willingly bite multiple fingers off with one lightning quick snap? At the risk of being indelicate, imagine a
battle scene from the movie Bravehart.
You know heads are going to roll at some point. Such is the case here. The problem is how to do it. Who will draw the short straw? Who will entice the turtle to stick his neck
out for another to deliver the telling blow?
It is said that when the loggerhead bites he grimly hangs on until
lightning strikes (or so the story goes).
So there is some quality danger in this process.
much sweating, grunting and anxiety, the deed is done and cooking can
commence. The table is finally set for a
fine turtle supper. Of course Uncle
Bennie did the cooking. As you might
have guessed, he is also highly skilled at putting the finishing touch on his
masterpiece. He has no peer in this
area. The pursuit of the great
loggerhead has reached its logical conclusion.