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snapping turtle

Occasionally when fishing, we caught something other than fish, although not intentionally. One day at Horseshoe Pond, we were fishing for catfish; so it was earthworms on a treble hook weighted down to the bottom with a few split sinkers. With the pole placed in the V of a stick we’d pounded into the ground, Timmy and I sat staring out at the water.

After a while, the undulating waves and the glare from the sun on the water created a mesmerizing effect, and we entered into an almost trancelike state. It was hard to concentrate on the line as it stretched out from the end of the pole to the point where it entered the water. To alter the effect, you either had to close your eyes for a few seconds or change your gaze from the line to the end of the pole. Again, fishing is all about patience, and fishing this way required all that I had to give. I have to admit that from time to time, I wandered down the bank, looking for something interesting along the shore; the tadpoles or spawning fish being a couple of examples, but even with the distraction, I would look back at my pole to make sure the tip wasn’t bent down, indicating that a fish was on.

Suddenly, I jumped up with excitement as the pole tip bent down and stayed there. The line was fairly taut, but it was not pulling like it usually did when a fish was on. I still thought something had to be on the end of the line. I grabbed the pole, thinking I may have on a large catfish, and began to reel it in. I shouted to Timmy, “I’ve got one! Come over here and see.” As usual, I yelled out that I had one, but knew that it could be a rock or stick that was causing the resistance, and just in case it really was a fish, my excitement level was amped up to fit the moment. Timmy had to interrupt his rock throwing so that he could see what was going on with me.

As I reeled it in, the look on my face was one of confusion. Whatever was on the other end of my line was heavy, but it wasn’t giving me much of a fight. The normal tug of war that ensues when a fish is hooked wasn’t occurring. I wondered if I had snagged a log or large rock. I continued to pull hard and reel even harder, and finally, something broke the surface. Timmy was helpful and said, “That’s not a fish. That wooks wike a wock with wegs covehed in mud.” It did look like a rock covered in mud until the rock began walking onto the bank. The snapping turtle without warning opened its large jaws, with sharp beak visible, and hissed. We both jumped back, and my initial instinct was to run, but I couldn’t; I still had the fishing pole in my hand, and it was now hooked to this large prehistoric looking creature.

By now, the “smart one,” Vicki, had walked up and commented, “That creature is the common snapping turtle, scientific name Chelydra Serpentina, not to be confused with the alligator snapping turtle. It is a member of the reptile family, and the female can lay as many as fifty eggs at a time. They can grow as large as eighteen inches in shell length, and this one looks to be among the larger ones.”

Timmy and I noticed that she was saying this from a safe distance, and due to her being herpetologically sophisticated, we didn’t question Vicki’s knowledge. What I saw was a scary-looking monster turtle—looking to inflict damage on anyone dumb enough to get within striking distance of that sharp beak at the end of its snout. It stood about two feet high from the ground to the top of its head. Chunks of mud were falling at its feet as it began to dry out in the hot sun, its color going from a moist dark green to a dry and dusty brown.

At this point, it was a standoff. The turtle stared at us, occasionally opening its mouth to keep us honest, and we stared at it, at one moment, thinking its eyes were a glowing red. Not sure exactly what we were going to do next, we did nothing. I just stood there, contemplating. Timmy thought of an easy way out and suggested, “Wonnie, bweak the wine and the tuhtuh wiwh go back into the pond.” I had thought of that option, but due to the limited availability of fishing tackle, I didn’t want to lose any just yet. I came up with another plan. “Timmy, go find a stick and try to knock the hook loose from its mouth.”

“Why don’t you twy it?” he replied.

Although he had asked a good question, I had a better answer. “I have to hold onto my pole and reel the line in when you knock the hook loose.” He fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

As Timmy approached the beast with stick in hand, we all braced ourselves for the quick getaway, just in case my plan didn’t work. Timmy maneuvered the stick within inches of the turtle’s mouth, and then the turtle lunged forward with mouth wide-open, and chomped down on the stick, snapping it in half. Timmy ran one way, and Vicki another. I was stuck. The turtle glared my way as I was the only tormentor remaining. I didn’t take my eyes off the creature, and as the stalemate wore on, I knew that Timmy’s idea was going to be the only option in the end.

I finally pulled my line as tight as I could, in an attempt to break it and free myself, when the turtle jerked its head from side to side—and the line snapped. The giant snapping turtle realized its freedom and turned to walk back into the pond, to return to the muddy depths from whence it came.

We began throwing rocks at the retreating turtle, as if we were the victors in this encounter, and yelled a few epithets: “Go back to where you came from, you stupid turtle.”

“Yeah, we hate you.”

I’m sure the turtle was thinking: What a bunch of knucklehead kids. I made a mental note at the time to never swim in Horseshoe Pond. If creatures like that were lurking around unseen on the bottom of the pond, I wasn’t going anywhere near them. Vicki and Timmy approached the area once again, and we spent a few minutes recapping the experience. The ordeal left me drained, and Timmy asked me “Ah, we going to fish some moh?”

“Not today,” I answered. “I’m out of hooks and sinkers. I’m going home and eat a baloney sandwich.”