Alligator snapping turtle is surprising catch by angler

Fisherman holds up the alligator snapping turtle he caught while
for catfish. Photo from Oklahoma Department of Wildlife
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Dave Harrell was fishing for catfish when he hooked largest freshwater turtle

By David Strege, GrindTV, May 14, 2014

A fisherman in Oklahoma was targeting catfish in Mill Creek at Eufala Lake when he got a huge surprise at the end of his line. Emphasis on huge.

Dave Harrell of Edmond, Oklahoma, hooked into a gigantic, scary, prehistoric-looking, can-do-damage-with-its-jaws alligator snapping turtle, known as the largest freshwater turtle by weight in the world.

Harrell hooked the beast and brought it to the boat. Then, his friend Audey Clark of Norman somehow wrestled it into the boat so a photo could be taken of Harrell holding up his catch, which isn’t recommended, by the way.

The photo was sent to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and it was subsequently posted on its Facebook page where it has been getting a lot of attention. These turtles are not uncommon in Oklahoma, but something this big doesn’t become news that often, a ODWC spokesman told GrindTV Outdoor.

As is protocol for this protected species, the anglers released the turtle back into the water.

Harrell is a weightlifter, so he estimated the weight of the alligator snapping turtle as being about 100 pounds. They generally reach 150 to 175 pounds.

Profile of an alligator snapping turtle. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It is believed that alligator snapping turtles, which get their name from the keels on their shells that look like ridges on an alligator’s back, are capable of living to 200 years old, though an estimate of 80 to 120 years is more likely. They’ve lived up to 70 years in captivity.

And yes, they can be dangerous, according to Michael Bergin of the ODWC information and education division.

“As a general rule, they’re not dangerous if you avoid them, and they will avoid you as well,” Bergin told GrindTV Outdoor in a phone interview. “If you do go to messing with one or if maybe you get too close to one and you don’t see it and it does decide to bite you, it can be very dangerous.

“They have some real powerful jaws that can really injure a person. Because of the strength in their jaws, they can easily damage the skin and sometimes worse. You hear stories of people getting their finger nearly bit off by a turtle and that’s not an exaggeration.

“For the most part, they’re going to avoid people. I would certainly never advise anyone to handle the turtle as that guy did. He had it in a way it wasn’t going to get him, but most people aren’t going to be able to [handle] a turtle like that.

“You can’t tell, but the neck on that turtle can come out a lot further than that and they can definitely injure a person.”

Bergin advises anyone hooking into a turtle like this to simply cut the line and leave the hook.

“That hook inside the turtle will eventually work itself out or rust itself out, and the turtle will be fine,” Bergin said.

And so will all your body parts.

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