Snapping Turtles (Snappy McSnapperson)

When you fish urban water, you will run into snapping turtles. They range from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains, and from Florida up to Canada. They can live almost anywhere, and travel large distances from water to find ideal spots to lay eggs. This allows them to end up in the middle of cities and some of the last places you would ever expect. Sometimes they steal your bait, and sometimes you snag one on a bass lure. Sometimes you try to catch em, and sometimes you crap your pants when you randomly step on one in tall grass. I hope you enjoy this article on snapping turtles and how to handle them.

Snapping turtles are solitary animals. Even though many turtles may be found in a small area, their social interactions are limited to aggression between individuals, usually males. The number of turtles found living in the same area depends on the amount of available food. Snapping turtles can be very vicious when removed from the water, but they become docile when placed back into the water. They like to bury themselves in mud with only their nostrils and eyes exposed. This burying is used to surprise prey.

Snapping turtles will eat nearly anything that they can get their jaws around. They feed on dead animals, insects, fish, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and a surprisingly large amount of aquatic plants. Snapping turtles will eat other turtles and small ducks & birds.
If you are targeting turtles, chicken livers or chunks of fresh cut fish and random meat are the best baits to use.


I always used to pick snapping turtles up by the tail. It was the safest way to handle them and keep the “snappy” end away from you. But it turns out it can cause damage to the spine/vertebrae of the turtle, especially on the heavier ones. I used to keep most of the turtles I caught so a little tail damage didn’t matter since they were being consumed. But if you catch one and want to release it, the safest way to control/handle the turtle is to grab it by the tail, but do not pick it up by its tail. Holding the base of the tail while the turtle is still on the ground or in the water can help you control it and keep its head away from you. Then use your other hand to slide up and under the base of the tail to its underbelly just between its hind legs. The hardness of a turtle’s shell continues under its belly and a firm ridge is available to hold on to. The turtle will be able to claw and scratch your hand and arm at this point but it will not break the skin and it’s mouth can not reach you. Holding it from below distributes the weight and does not injure the turtle.

Another benefit of this technique is that you can actually hold the turtle closer to your body while keeping its head pointed away from you. When you hold it by the tail, you have to keep your arms outstretched away from your body. As your arms start to slack, the head of the turtle gets closer to your legs. It is much easy to hold a heavier amount of weight closer to your core than further away from your body.

If you reel one in and the hook is in its mouth, keep the turtle on the ground and hold the base of its tail to stop it from turning towards you. Bring a needle nose pliers over it shell from behind to attempt to remove the hook. I have had a lot of turtles calm down and allow me to successfully remove the hook, but do not ever give them a clear shot at something to bite. Stay to the side or back of the turtle with the pliers. If it is an extra fiesty turtle, let it snap onto the frame of your net and keep it in its jaw while you remove the hook. Just cutting the line and keeping the hook in their mouth/throat can cause the turtle to starve to death or choke on its next meal.

If a snapping turtle ever latches onto you, the best way to release the bite is to push something between their jaws and rotate to open the bite. A pocket knife can be slid in flat and then turn the blade to wedge open the jaws.

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