Good fishing weather... for turtles
The hot, steamy weather on Monday afternoon was not great for catching fish at Capon Springs, W.V., but it seemed to be just fine for hooking a jumbo-sized snapping turtle. This is one of those unusual fishing stories that I won't soon forget, and one of those rare occasions in which the big one did not get away. My kids and I were hoping to reel in a catfish but we ended up with a much larger fight than expected. Ultimately, the story ended well for the turtle; it was safely unhooked and relocated to a much larger body of water.
Keep reading for the story of the catch -- and release -- and for more photos of the giant snapping turtle..
This story begins Sunday afternoon when I was fishing with my kids at a pond in Capon Springs and Farms, a historic resort located in eastern West Virginia. The weather that afternoon was hot and humid and the fish were not biting. Mid-afternoon sunshine combined with August heat is not a good recipe for fishing. Despite the poor fishing conditions, my kids and I still managed to catch two channel catfish using grilled chicken for bait (leftovers from a previous dinner). We kept the largest fish, about 15" in length, and gave it to the Capon Springs kitchen staff to cook for breakfast. Catfish fillets, lightly battered and fried, are actually quite good when served with scrambled eggs and bacon. I had to try it myself to believe it.
The weather on Monday was very similar to Sunday, perhaps slightly hotter, and we decided to try the same fishing techniques that rewarded us with the catfish the previous day. It didn't take long before we got a strike, but the fish got away with the bait. More grilled chicken was added to the hook and the line was cast back to the middle of the pond. I felt a gentle strike and I set the hook hard. The line didn't budge. I then felt two strong tugs and could see the fishing line moving slowly sideways across the pond. I gave the fishing rod to my youngest son to experience the fight of what I hoped was a giant catfish.
My son worked quite hard to reel in the trophy. As it neared the surface, he exclaimed in a very disappointed voice that we had just caught a log. From a distance, it appeared he was correct, as a muddy, round object came into view. Then, a second later, I saw legs paddling furiously and a head thrashing downward. We had hooked a large snapping turtle in the mouth and one of its legs had already become wrapped in the fishing line.
I pulled the snapping turtle up onto the shore and it started to thrash violently, becoming even more entangled in the fishing line. I used an oar to flip the turtle on its back. The snapper quickly settled down, but not before it gave the oar two very hard bites. The bite of the snapping turtle was impressive; it could easily take off a finger or perhaps crush a bone.
The barb of the fishing hook hadn't penetrated the turtle's bony mouth and the hook was easily removed. I sent my son to the resort's front desk to ask if they wanted us to release the turtle back into the pond or if they wanted to transport it elsewhere. I had previously heard that the resort had issues with snapping turtles eating ducklings in its fishing pond, so I thought they might want to relocate the turtle to another body of water.
My son arrived back at the pond carrying a large, rubber trash can. He was told that they wanted to release the turtle in the nearby Cacapon River, about five miles away. I loaded the turtle into the trash can with some pond water and waited for the resort staff.
The giant turtle in the trash can attracted plenty of attention from the guests of Capon Springs. Kids were amazed at the size. Within 30 minutes, a resort staff member arrived at the pond, loaded the trash can and turtle in his truck, and headed toward the river. We decided to follow in our car. After the unusual fishing ordeal, my kids wanted to watch the turtle swim away.
When we arrived at the river, we gently turned over the trash can at the river's edge and the turtle swam slowly away, as if nothing had happened. The river was much larger than the pond and would be a suitable home for a snapping turtle. I took photos as the turtle swam away. We never did catch another fish that day, but it really didn't matter. We had landed the snapper.
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