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  • Robert Loewendick

Snapping Turtle Tango


The turtle’s rear claws were flailing about and attempting to clamp onto whatever had a grip on its tail. The turtle’s powerful jaws were also looking for a target and freedom. My older brother seemed to be enjoying himself as I observed from the creek bank. I was the designated bag holder, a burlap grain bag which served as the take-home bounty sack of the sibling turtle noodler. Brother’s quick reflexes outmatched the turtle’s attempt of escaping this day, but that wasn’t always the case. Occasionally the snapping turtle won the grappling contest.

From the flathead catfish to the American snapping turtle, the sport of noodling, or grappling, has become quite popular thanks to a few television shows and entertaining characters. If you don’t have an idea what I’m talking about, to noodle, or “feel for” is to locate, grapple, and remove a catfish or snapping turtle from its underwater habitat – by hand. Who in their right mind would try this? One can’t help but to think of a stubby fingered individual cruising creeks and small rivers on foot attempting to wrestle the quarry to the surface. If I didn’t have a noodler in my family, I would have the same impression in mind. It does take a special type of adventurer. Brave? Hmm. Clever? Well, some knowledge is needed to keep all fingers and thumbs attached.

I was intrigued by the act of plunging one’s hand into the dark water and under a creek bank and not know for certain what was to be found. Enjoyed watching but I appreciated the use of my hand and digits too much to offer them to a snapping machine. I chose to carry the bag and offer my brother’s hands as a sacrifice instead.

The snapping turtle. Now this creature is a pure beast of excitement with razor sharp claws and jaws. Noodling for snappers is a great way to get your adrenaline flowing. Simply reach under a creek bank with your arm extended and the side of your face resting on the water surface, searching for a shell. Or tail. Or SNAP!

The snapper is found under the creek bank edges, mainly around tree roots and overhanging sod. Typically the turtle will crawl in headfirst and remain that way until it’s ready to leave – but not always. Simply slide a hand under the bank and feel for the snapper’s tail. Once the tail is found (if the head is found first, there’s no need to explain how one should react), get a firm grip on the tail and pull. The quicker the pull, the easier the retrieve. Simple as that. (I’m grinning out loud as I write this.)

Brother has since retired as a veteran turtle noodler. I’ve made several attempts to lure him out of retirement to wrangle a couple of turtles to entertain me and my video cameras. I’ll keep on working on him, but pulling him out to the turtle creek is like pulling a mature snapper from his muddy lair.

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