Bayou Vista resident Bobby Aucoin with his 80-pound alligator snapping turtle. (Submitted Photo)
Fisherman catches 80-pound alligator snapping turtle
When Bobby Aucoin grabbed hold of one of the lines he had set out for alligator snapping turtles this spring, he knew he was in for a tussle. The line was pulled tight and ran straight to the bottom of the swamp he was fishing, where the water is black as coal and often smells rotten, he says.
For 35 minutes, he fought a creature that resembles a prehistoric ankylosaurus and whose bite could cut your finger off at the knuckle. But, finally, when the alligator snapping turtle tired, Aucoin wrestled it into his boat.
Statistically speaking, adult males generally are larger than females and will weigh somewhere between 30 to 45 pounds. Believed to live 50 to 100 years, the oldest male alligator snapping turtles will reach upwards of 100 pounds, though some have been known to exceed 200 pounds. Aucoin’s turtle weighed 80 pounds.
According to Aucoin, he grew up hunting, fishing and catching regular snapping turtles with his grandfather, dad and other family members along the levee where their camp was. But, four years ago after seeing an upload online about catching alligator snapping turtles, he wanted to catch one for himself.
However, the endeavor turned out to be a struggle initially.
“The first year I didn’t catch anything,” Aucoin, 30, said. “So, I started asking the older generation people — older guys that used to do it a long time ago — and they started giving me tips and little secrets, where now I’m catching. Well, pretty much anyways.”
Alligator snapping turtles lead a secretive life. They’re found in the bowels of deep-water swamps and riverine forests of the southern United States. They’re active at night, able to stay submerged for approximately an hour and seldom get up on land except when it’s necessary for females to lay eggs.
Their reclusiveness is what makes them hard to catch, and Aucoin has had to learn through trial and error where to place a set, which includes a quarter-inch nylon line tied to a leader and No. 8 O’Shaughnessy hook.
“I look for washouts or a little ridge or something kind of sticking out of the water where there’s a little bit of moving water around it or through it,” he said. “If it’s a corner of a canal next to a bayou or kind of a four-way spot where a bayou intersects a canal, I will sometimes use 2 or 3 sets. I’ll put one on each corner just to see — just in case. Its hole might be closer to one corner, just as it is another.”
Depending on boat traffic and how hard the current runs, Aucoin said he’ll weight the set so it will rest on the bottom naturally. Typically in these cases, anywhere from one to two ounces of weight is sufficient, he mentions.
Alligator snapping turtles are carnivorous and not opposed to scavenging. Some turtle fishermen use cut baits like shad or mullet. Aucoin uses what he calls green or black eels that are actually three-toed amphiuma. Amphiuma can grow up to 40-inches long, and one of their preferred prey is crawfish.
“I get most of my eels from running crawfish traps,” said Aucoin, who lives in Bayou Vista. “They have little legs on them and look sort of creepy, honestly. But, I cut them up in 3- to 4-inch lengths and sink the hook deep in the pieces and toss them in the water.”
Aucoin said he puts out anywhere from 15 to 20 lines when he fishes alligator snapping turtles. So far this year, he has caught eight turtles. Besides his 80-pound turtle, he has caught a couple in the 50-pound range, three in the 40-pound range and one 35 pounds.
Due to a decline in population from habitat loss and over harvest, some states have listed the alligator snapping turtle as threatened. Currently in Louisiana, there is no commercial harvest allowed for this species of turtle, but there is a recreational harvest. And, though there is no size limit for alligator snapping turtles, there is a harvest limit.
The take is limited to no more than one alligator snapping turtle per day, per person, per vehicle or boat.
Alligator snapping turtles reach sexual maturity at approximately 12 years of age. What’s more, the meat is considered a delicacy, and a turtle sauce piquante is hard to beat.
And though Aucoin has harvested several large alligator snapping turtles this spring for the meat, he has released several of the larger animals to repopulate, he said.
“It’s exciting,” Aucoin said. “It’s like shooting a big buck. You get an adrenaline rush. But, it’s a lot like fishing for alligators. You see the line pulled tight. You grab it. You follow it. And, you don’t know what you’re going to pull up. It’s a challenge, but it’s an accomplishment when you do catch one.”