Set­lines for Tur­tles


Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Ja­son Houser

Haul in gi­ant snap­pers with a $2 setup

Al­most ev­ery body of wa­ter—ponds, lakes, creeks, rivers, swamps and ditches—po­ten­tially holds snap­ping tur­tles. Since tur­tle traps can be ex­pen­sive (and il­le­gal in some states), the next best method—my pre­ferred method even over traps—is to catch snap­pers with set­lines.

The ma­te­ri­als needed for tur­tle “fish­ing” won’t break the piggy bank and are easy to find. To get started catch­ing tur­tles, you’ll need sharp fish­ing hooks, ny­lon cord, rub­ber boots and a knife.

The Tackle

Hooks must be at least 3 ½ inches long with at least a 1-inch gap. Make sure they’re sharp. Even new hooks straight out of the pack­age should be sharp­ened be­fore use. You want the tur­tle to hook it­self when it picks up the bait to eat it. A dull hook won’t do the job. Hooks can eas­ily be re­cov­ered from in­side the tur­tle’s stom­ach when you’re butcher­ing them. Make sure to sharpen the hooks be­fore us­ing them again. Also, from time to time, touch up the hooks on your lines.

When choos­ing cord for the set­line, look for these two things: non-rot­ting ny­lon and strength. I use braided-ny­lon twine, which many peo­ple use to make trot lines. The roll I cur­rently use is of 73-pound test, and I paid around $12 for a 1-pound spool (about 2,200 feet of cord). I set a lot of tur­tle lines each sum­mer. A spool this size is prob­a­bly more than most peo­ple would use in one sum­mer.

Rub­ber boots are im­por­tant when deal­ing with tur­tles. Run a tur­tle line once with­out wear­ing rub­ber boots, and you’ll un­der­stand why. Some­times you’ll have to walk through deep wa­ter to reach the best set lo­ca­tions. More times than not, you’ll end up in the

“I’ve pulled in some ex­cep­tional cat­fish through­out the years on tur­tle set­lines.”

wa­ter while haul­ing in a hooked tur­tle. I never run my line with­out my Pur­suit Stealth Cool hunt­ing boots by Muck Boots. Their Ex­press Cool tech­nol­ogy keeps my feet dry through all of the wa­ter I en­counter, and cool on hot days when other boots make your feet sweat.

A knife is a valu­able tool on the line, too. A knife can be used to cut bait and to cut the ny­lon cord af­ter you catch a tur­tle. Cut the line a cou­ple of feet above the tur­tle’s mouth to keep your hand out of reach of its bone-crush­ing jaws. As I men­tioned ear­lier, the hook can be re­cov­ered dur­ing the butcher­ing process.

Great Bait

I’ve had good luck with sev­eral dif­fer­ent bait types. Fish heads, beef lung, chicken, deer and even tur­tle liv­ers are all tough baits that’ll stay on a hook.

When clean­ing out my deep freezer to pre­pare for the up­com­ing deer sea­son, I usu­ally find a few pack­ages of deer liver. Next sum­mer, that deer liver will ac­count for many of my tur­tles. That’s just fine with me; I’ll eat tur­tle over liver any day.

Later in the sea­son, once I start butcher­ing tur­tles, I re­tain their liv­ers. I do not eat tur­tle liver, but as un­pleas­ant as it might sound, other tur­tles do, so why not use them?

Beef lung can be found at butcher shops for lit­tle or noth­ing. Most butch­ers will hap­pily give you all you want. Beef lung floats, and I be­lieve that makes it eas­ier for tur­tles to find.

When us­ing fish for bait, I only use small pieces of the head. The rest of the fish is too soft, and tur­tles can yank it off with­out be­ing hooked.

Bait­ing the Hook

Through­out the years, I’ve found that I catch more tur­tles on fresh bait than I do with rot­ten meat. Re­frig­er­ate your bait un­til you’re ready to use it. When you start mak­ing your sets, take only the amount of bait you need and leave the rest at home. On es­pe­cially hot days, store your bait in a cooler with a few cubes of ice while you’re work­ing the line. Also, af­ter bait sits in the wa­ter for two or three days, re­move it and re­place it with fresh bait.

When us­ing liver and lung, each per­son has their pre­ferred method of at­tach­ing it to the hook. Prac­tice un­til you find what works for you. Re­gard­less, a wal­nut-sized piece of bait should cover the bend and point of the hook. It’s not nec­es­sary to cover the shank.

It’s im­por­tant, though, to not leave any loose pieces of bait dan­gling. A snap­per can eas­ily steal the bait and avoid the hook by pulling on loose bait ends.

Set Lo­ca­tions

As you fish for tur­tles, you’ll be­gin to no­tice where they pre­fer to live. I’ve dis­cov­ered that tur­tles choose calm wa­ter over rough wa­ter. Slow-mov­ing creeks and rivers hold a lot of tur­tles. Look for mud bot­toms com­bined with slow-mov­ing wa­ter.

Big tur­tles pre­fer deep wa­ter edges where they hunt for food. You won’t catch as many small tur­tles out there, but you’ll still catch a few. Also, be­cause there aren’t as many small tur­tles on the deep edges, you’ll find that you have fewer bait-stripped hooks. Small tur­tles pre­fer to stay close to thick, weedy cover in the shal­lows.

Many ponds and lakes have weeds in the shal­low wa­ter along the shore. If pos­si­ble, place your bait in the open wa­ter on the in­side edge of the weeds.

I’ve caught more tur­tles on points than on any other part of the wa­ter. Snap­pers swim along bank edges and around the point, hug­ging close to the bank at the point’s tip. Never walk by the tip of a point with­out wet­ting a line.

“Us­ing set­lines for tur­tles is an ex­cit­ing and suc­cess­ful way to get some great-tast­ing meat.”

The Setup

Set­ting lines is easy. Make sure all knots are tight, and that the ny­lon cord you’re us­ing isn’t frayed.

When set­ting a short line, sim­ply give the line a toss, or drop it where you want. Set­ting a long line is quite sim­ple, too. With your setup baited, loop the cord loosely in your left hand. Take the looped cord in your left hand and, with your right hand, grab it about 18 inches above the bait. Keep­ing the cord looped in your left hand, use your right hand to toss it where you want it. If ev­ery­thing works prop­erly, the cord in your left hand should smoothly peel out with­out tan­gling.

Tie the cord to an an­chor; a live tree works well. Ty­ing the cord to a tree limb works some­what like a fish­ing pole. It will bend with­out break­ing un­til you’re able to land your catch. Don’t use a dead tree or limb. A strong tur­tle could eas­ily break off the weak an­chor. If you’re con­cerned with your catch be­ing stolen, an­chor your cord un­der­wa­ter to a bush or some other sturdy ob­ject. When check­ing your lines, it feels good to see your cord bounc­ing vi­o­lently back and forth. You just never know what might be at the other end; it could be a 5- or a 30-pound tur­tle. How­ever, it’s not al­ways a tur­tle at the other end. I’ve pulled in some ex­cep­tional cat­fish through­out the years on tur­tle set­lines.

One Big Catch

A word of cau­tion: it’s pos­si­ble for tur­tles to drown. This hap­pens when a snap­per gets the cord wrapped around de­bris un­der­wa­ter and can­not get its head to the sur­face. The only way to avoid this is by set­ting your lines in wa­ter free of ob­jects that could cause en­tan­gle­ment. If us­ing a shorter line will help pre­vent the tur­tle from get­ting tan­gled, use it.

Take your time when pulling a tur­tle in. A tur­tle can eas­ily be­come tan­gled up in the brush. Even though you’re us­ing a cord with high-test poundage, tur­tles are very ag­gres­sive and could eas­ily fray it. If you need to get in the wa­ter to help re­trieve your tur­tle, do it. Af­ter all, you should be wear­ing rub­ber boots.

Tur­tle for Din­ner, Any­one?

Us­ing set­lines for tur­tles is an ex­cit­ing and suc­cess­ful way to get some great-tast­ing meat. For less than $2 apiece, you can make set­lines all day long. Can you think of a bet­ter way to spend the sum­mer?

(right) Cat­fish are a bonus species that can be caught on a tur­tle set­line. (be­low, left) An­chor your set­line to a nearby tree so the tur­tle doesn’t take off with your bait and line. PHOTO BY JA­SON HOUSER (be­low, right) When us­ing fish as tur­tle bait,...

Snap­ping tur­tles can grow large and boast an at­ti­tude. Never at­tempt to un­hook a snap­per, or your fin­gers could be­come vic­tims of its bone-crush­ing jaws. PHOTO BY JA­SON HOUSER

Don’t over­look points. Tur­tles of­ten hug the bank as they travel around points. These can be killer set­line lo­ca­tions. PHOTO BY JA­SON HOUSER

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