It was about fifty degrees, a slight fog rising from
the surface of the "glass calm" water
as we row around the lake.
Stealth is the word for the morning as I take a pull on
the oars,...let the boat glide along the edge of the lily
pads for a ten count,...then pull again.
This would appear to be a couple of guys going about their
business of fishing like normal on a perfect summer morning,
till you see the elderly gent in the front of the boat is
wearing a white dress shirt and tie, and is peering around
the weed edge with binoculars.
White shirt and tie?
Yup," it's "the retirement home escapee" Paul, (On another
fake job interview!) and yours truly being the oarsman.
The prey for the day - Turtle.
Now when you first think of these creatures,...you envision
those cute little painted turtles. Or maybe those mild
looking/funny-swimming leather backs. We are after the
species that when looked at closely seems to be from
the prehistoric past.
That's right, the dreaded mossback snapping turtle.
Stories of them biting onto something and not letting
go till the moon comes out, springs to mind doesn't it?
"X" amount of different flavored meats seems to be in
the back of your mind somewhere also,
but you just can't remember the correct amount.
Different ways to clean the catch are as numerous as the stars!
From using a garden hose to loosen the skin,...to boiling
in a garbage can over an open fire, (While still whole!)
to loosen the shell, come up often in turtle conversation,
but nobody seems exactly sure how to go about the total
I had used jug fishing to clean out populations of snappers
in farm ponds as a kid, but I always left the cleaning to
my dad. I used cheap "butt" steak chunks for bait, and
this seemed to work great. I never imagined I would
someday be using flies to catch these ugly things when
I got older.
Paul had shown me a new way to go about the process of
"doodle socking" a few weekends ago, and had recently
told me he was hungry for turtle. And as he couldn't
talk the "powers that be" at the home to add it to his
menu, we would go out and catch a few for the other
"detainees at Wrinkle Haven," as he calls them.
"All ya' need is a strong Musky weight pole."... He rattles
off as he tries to dig to the bottom of my cooler for a pop.
"Line of bout' fifteen pound test, wire leader, and a
big/bright colored fly of any kind that has rubber legs,
or marabou for movement tied on a 1/0 hook."
"Ya' glide around the edge of the lake, scannin' the
surface for what seems to be the end of
a tree limb as big as yer' fist stickin' up," as he
waves his fist at me, to show the proper size.
"When ya' spot one,...ya' row up real slow,...jes'
closenuff' ta' reach it with yer' cast." He demonstrates
by casting his fly onto an actual limb and proceeds to get hung
After the swearing binge,...his getting unhooked manually,...and
then having me row into the weeds to release his catch high
into the air, (with some choice words of good-bye!)
we row further down the weed line.
"Now if ya' cast at the limb and it goes under, ya' know
it's a turtle!" He is now a little grumpy while casting
to another limb that gradually disappears. "Jes' let
the fly sit there, cause' it'll take him a minute to get
a-swimming round' to see what it actually is."
"Now after a wait, ya' twitch the line to make the fly
seem alive." He demonstrates as he turns in his seat,
while trying to unwrap a sandwich.
"Iff'en yer' line gets tight, or starts a goin' away slow,...
ya' put the steel to him!" He says from the bottom of the
boat, while grinning up at me.
"Just how hard DO you set the hook?" I ask sheepishly.
"Well now boy, their jaw is all bone, so ya' gotta' jerk
real hard!" Paul says while getting
up, AND trying to keep tension on his line.
"Now all ya' got to do is bring the critter to the boat
without breaking anything!" He says to me, and all the
while I am thinking, "yeah, like your butt on the bottom
of the boat!"
"Ya' have to remember what's on the end of your line is jes'
like a ten pound sack of taters' with little swim fins!"
He is leaning back and reeling like he has a Marlin on, and
he is in the "client's chair."
He gets the garbage-can-lid-sized monstrosity to the side
of the boat and yells for the pliers. "If'n ya' can get
a big pair of pliers into his mouth, ya' can lift him up
enough to get a hold of his tail and bring him in!" He
yells at me like I am a block away.
"Open up that there gunny sack and we'll stick him in." He
is wrestling with the mean looking turtle trying to get
him turned so it will go in tail first.
"Now jes' cut the line above the leader, and pull up the
edges of the sack, and wire it shut!"
"Just remember that when ya' get done fishing, don't throw
the sack over yer' shoulder to carry him home cause' he'll
do this to ya!" He unbuttons his shirt and pulls the tail out,
and shows me a NASTY scar in the middle of his back that
is shaped like my two fingers making the "peace" sign, ...
and about the same length as my fingers!
"Now my granddad thought THAT was a funny sight." He says,
buttoning up his shirt. "Me a running around, wavin' both
arms, a screamin', with a gunny sack hanging off'n my back!"
My face must have shown my despair, because he clears his
throat, and then quickly changes the subject.
"Ya' kin' either pull his head clear outta' his shell with
the pliers and cut it off, or jes' keep the bag in the back
of the boat." He says with a glare. "Or ya' kin' tie the sack
to the anchor rope, and hang it over the side."
I opt for the latter, and swing the bag over,...all the
while keeping away from the rapidly darting part of said bag!
"They're faster bite'n than most people think." He says
with a chuckle. "Ask old Walter, how he lost his big toe!"
"We'd caught a fairly big'un like this'n here." He says while
putting his foot on top of the cooler. "And old Walt was
lettin' it crawl around in the front of the boat, whil'st he
teased it with the toe of his Red-ball-jet gym shoe."
"Next thing ya' know, he's a screechin' and a stompin',
and there is blood all over!" Paul grins. "And sure'nuff
his big toe was a'missin!
"I still remind him once in a while, that i'ffen twernt'
fer' me he'd a bled ta'death!" He slurs in his neat southern
"Ya' jes' ask him sometime why they call'um snappin' turtles,
and ya' jes' watch'n see how red his face gets!" He is
laughing uncontrollably now.
We go back to the landing, (Because just this one turtle
is big enough for those he had promised fried turtle to.)
and I couldn't get him to stop laughing long enough to
Now I see where Paul had gotten his strange sense of humor,...
from his granddad! ~ John McBride