Georgia-Florida Fishing Report - Fishing Tips, Trips, Tricks and Techniques
Georgia-Florida Fishing Report

Snapping Turtles 101
 
Here’s a little background on Georgia’s 2 Snapping Turtle Species:
Alligator 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.

The Common 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.

Both the 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.

I was 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.

Go to this link for some turtle recipes:  http://www.ehow.com/how_2303746_cook-snapping-turtle.html


See some turtle photos below this article:
 


















 “Papa” 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.
 









This photo 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.









Wow, that’s some catch of snapping turtles.  No, these are not Alligator snapping turtles which are a protected species, but rather Common Snapping Turtles.

 
Another big 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 Snapping Turtle

(Author’s note: Thanks to Randy Hancock of Nashville, Georgia for an assist with this column.)

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.

For the 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. 

This 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 radial tire.

There are 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.

All that 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 judgment.

First, 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. 
  
Those who 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.
The flesh 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
 
By Alvin Richardson (dar8589@bellsouth.net)
 
My 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. 
 
Now 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.
 
Uncle 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.
 
Turtles 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.
I 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.
 
A 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 humored loggerhead.
 
 
Without 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.
 

After 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.
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