When I say my parents have a turtle problem, I mean they have a TURTLE PROBLEM. Little painted and box turtles, while harmless and fairly picturesque as they sun themselves on the banks and half-submerged snags, exist in numbers that are only found in zoos and other artificial habitats. The real problem, however, are the alligator snappers that have moved in and taken hold. We find them from time to time crawling through the yard, angry at the world and ready to lop off an errant toe or finger that strays too close for comfort. Snappers in large numbers can also wreak havoc on fish populations, and without any natural predators to take care of them, our ponds have been blessed with more than our fair share of these prehistoric pains in the neck.
Long ago, my grandpa used to butcher snappers as a delicacy during family fish frys. I swear, that man would eat an iron skillet if it was battered and fried, but turtle was one of his favorites. In the summer, he kept a bucket and wire in the back of the truck to pick up any turtle unlucky enough to be crossing the road as we passed by. Now that grandpa is gone, no one is interested in going through the work of cleaning a turtle, even though he left us a nifty instructional video to guide us along the way…not to mention the fact that eating turtle is strongly frowned upon by the IDNR (and the law). I’m not about to shoot them in the pond, so catch and release is pretty much the only option I have left.
A month into trapping and I’ve netted ten turtles: seven painted, two snapper, and one hybrid that didn’t look quite like either category but was super feisty and smelled like rotten fish. They seem to like my bait of cheap hotdogs, particularly after they have marinated in the warm pond scum for about a day. Sometimes, little bluegill fry work their way into the trap as well, and I find their half-eaten carcasses floating among my turtles like the unwanted tidbits left on a toddler’s plate. My favorite turtle was the one that somehow passed through the pond overflow after one of our rare rains, landing in the scour hole pit installed at the bottom of the dam to stop the bank from eroding. Who knows how many days he had been there, but as I laid on my stomach with a dip net to fish him out, I could almost see his little turtle lips mouthing “it’s about freaking time, lady.”
All my catches get carefully relocated to area creeks and streams, except for one particularly sassy specimen that I deposited in a friend’s backyard. I hope they all find a happier life away from Broken Arrow Farms, and I’ll continue baiting my Turtle Catcher Pro for the rest of the summer, checking it daily for fresh meat like a kid on Christmas morning.