How to Catch an Alligator Snapping Turtle

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The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America, and one of the largest in the world, growing to be over 175 pounds. Some have gotten to be 220 pounds. The turtle, which is found in the southern United States, is easily distinguished from other turtles. It looks prehistoric, with a large head and three rows of spiked scales on its back. Catching one is fairly easy, as long as the turtle goes for your bait. Be warned though, that these animals are listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a declining species, which indicates that possessing one in many states is illegal.

Things You'll Need

  • Thin rope
  • Medium to large fishing hook
  • Trap
  • Chicken or fish bait

Trapping Alligator Snapping Turtles

Buy or make a turtle trap. You can purchase turtle traps that are suitable for catching alligator snappers or you can make your own using chicken wire or rabbit fence material cut into rectangular panels. To make a trap, tie four panels together to make a box and then tie a panel to one end to close it off. You want the trap to be large enough for the turtle to climb in, but narrow enough that the turtle doesn't have enough room to turn around and escape.

Tie a string to the trap and to an object on the shore, like a rock, a tree limb, or a bush, so that the trap stays in the same place.

Tie a string to the inside of the back of the trap and then tie bait meat--chicken or fish--to the string. Alligator snappers are attracted to meat that smells foul, so let the meat sit out a bit before using it.

Drop the trap in water that's about waist-high or drop if off the edge of a pier.

Check the trap every 30 minutes or so. If you've caught an alligator snapper, or something of similar size, you'll know immediately just from tugging on the rope, because they weigh so much and put up such a fight when they're being caught.

Pull the trap all the way out of the water and remove the turtle by approaching it from behind and grabbing it on both sides of the shell, between the front and back legs, to pick it up. When you handle it this way, it can't bite you. (You really don't want this animal to bite you, as it boasts one of the strongest bites of all animals.)

Tips & Warnings

  • According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee, possessing an alligator snapping turtle is illegal. Be sure to check with your state wildlife agency for laws in your state. Though the meat from alligator snappers is said to be delicious, the price you'll pay if you're found to have killed one of these animals probably isn't worth the meal. Common snapping turtles, which are not endangered, also grow to a large size, and it's edible as well, so if you want a comparable amount of meat with a similar taste, go for the common cousin of the alligator snapper.

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