How To Avoid Catching Turtles While Fishing

How To Avoid Catching Turtles While Fishing

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It’s not uncommon to snag a turtle while fishing, though many people don’t know how to deal with the situation correctly and most importantly how to avoid catching turtles while fishing.

Today we want to talk about 6 easy ways to avoid catching them and also what you should do if you do catch one to avoid harming it.

In order to avoid catching turtles, it will help if you;

  • Avoid heavy vegetation.
  • Avoid certain baits.
  • Avoid live baits.
  • Stop fishing if you see a turtle.
  • Do not use barbed hooks.
  • Avoid turtle hot spots.

6 Ways To Avoid Catching Turtles

water turtle

Catching a turtle on the line is not fun for a variety of reasons. Of course, you can’t eat the thing, and in some cases, it is illegal to catch turtles to begin with, especially if it is some sort of endangered species.

So, what are some of the best ways to avoid catching turtles?

1. Avoiding Heavy Vegetation

Yes, fish often like to hide in vegetation, in those thick weeds and reeds, and where there is a lot of cover for the fish to hide. However, this is also true of turtles.

Turtles can be quite skittish and they also usually like to hide in thick vegetation.

Therefore, if you are fishing in a location that is well known for having lots of turtles, it is probably best to avoid areas that are heavily vegetated.

If you manage to avoid fishing where turtles tend to be, the chances of catching one will also greatly decrease.

2. Avoid Certain Baits

Another good way to try and avoid catching turtles is to use specific baits and avoid others.

This is especially the case when it comes to live baits. Turtles love to eat all sorts of things like frogs, fish, rodents, small birds, lizards, snakes, and other such things.

Many people who fish for turtles also use things like beef hearts, liver, and chicken gizzards too. If you want to avoid catching turtles, these baits are best avoided.

If you do feel the need to go for live bait for fishing, turtles are less likely to go for very small baitfish, worms, and grubs, although they may still try to do so.

3. Avoiding Live Bait Altogether

Ok, so while it is true that turtles like certain live baits over others, chances are that if you are fishing in an area that has a lot of turtles, it will go for your live bait no matter if you are using tadpoles, small fish, worms, or anything in between.

Turtles are fairly voracious eaters and they are not picky either.

However, what is shown is that turtles do no like going for artificial lures and baits, especially shiny and colorful stuff.

If you are fishing in an area that is known for having a lot of turtles, using spinnerbaits, crankbaits, buzz baits, chatter baits, plastic worms, and rubber grubs is recommended.

Turtles generally won’t go for those kinds of lures.

4. Stop If You See A Turtle

Something you should definitely do, when you see a turtle near your fishing spot, is to stop fishing when it is around.

As mentioned above, turtles will go for all sorts of bait, and yes, sometimes on occasion will even go for artificial lures too.

Therefore, the best way to avoid snagging a turtle is to stop fishing when you see one and wait for it to pass.

You might think that this is unreasonable, because if there is one turtle, then there are bound to be more around, right? Well, not necessarily, because turtles tend to be quite solitary and their populations usually are not fairly dense.

If you see a turtle while fishing, unless you are in some sort of turtle hotspot, chances are you won’t see one again for quite some time.

5. Do Not Use Barbed Hooks

Yes, barbed hooks are great for fishing because they really hold onto those fish well. Fish have a much harder time getting off of barbed hooks than hooks that are not barbed.

However, that said, for most average fish, it doesn’t matter all too much whether you have a hook with or without barbs.

Yet, this is going to make a big difference for turtles. Turtles are not easily caught with normal hooks that do not have barbs.

They tend to have a fairly easy time dislodging those barbless hooks, but they will not be easily able to detach themselves from a barbed hook. These are best avoided.

6. Avoid Turtle Hotspots

Yet another way to help you avoid snagging a turtle on your fishing hook is to try and avoid turtle hotspots.

If the lake or river you are fishing in is well known for being a turtle hotspot with large turtle populations, and you really don’t want to catch one, you should consider moving locations to an area that is not as densely populated with turtles.

On this same note, you may also want to avoid fishing near areas that have rocks or large pieces of driftwood which protrude from the water.

Remember that turtles are cold blooded reptiles, which means that they love basking in the sun for warmth.

If you go fishing near these sunny rocks, the chances of catching a turtle that is making its way to or from its sunbathing spot are pretty high.

What To Do If You Hook A Turtle?

turtle in a fishing lake

Ok, so not matter what you do, if you go fishing enough, chances are pretty high that at one point or another, you are going to snag a turtle. Fish for long enough and this is virtually unavoidable.

So, what do you do if you get a turtle snagged on your hook?

1. Don’t Cut The Line

One of the biggest mistakes which people will make when they have caught a turtle is to cut the line.

Sure, this will save you some time of course and will allow you to get right back to fishing. However, this is cruel and inhumane towards the turtles.

Would you like to have a hook stuck in your mouth, potentially for the rest of your life? No, probably not!

Therefore, never ever cut the line when you hook a turtle, as you definitely won’t be doing the poor animal any favors this way.

2. Use A Net & Be Gentle

Something else you want to avoid doing if you manage to hook a turtle is to reel it in too fast or too much. Turtles are pretty sensitive, and if you reel too hard or too much, that hook can cause serious injury to the turtle’s mouth.

Moreover, your fishing line may also get wrapped around its neck and suffocate the turtle, or it could get wrapped around the legs, get tangled, and cause serious injury in this way.

Yes, you may have to reel the turtle in a little bit to get it close enough, but do so very slowly and gently.

Turtles are not the fastest of swimmers, so they won’t be able to fight back too hard anyway, although larger turtles may still put up a good fight.

Anyway, just get the turtle close enough to the boat or the shore so you can use a large fishing net to scoop the turtle up.

Never try and pull a turtle out of the water using only the line. It will rip out of the turtle and cause serious injury.

3. Attempt To Remove The Hook

Yes, you can then attempt to remove the hook if you have the right equipment on hand. For this, you will want to wear some gloves, as turtles are known to bite.

You will probably need 2 people to do this, one to hold the turtle while it struggles, and the other person to hold the turtles mouth open with one hand and then remove the hook with the other.

You will want to use 2 pairs of needle nose pliers, one to hold the mouth open and the other to gently remove the hook.

Don’t put your fingers in a turtle’s mouth. Of course, whether or not you try to remove the hook on your own is up to you, and it largely depends on the size and type of turtle.

For instance, if you hooked a very small turtle, go for it, but if you have a large snapping turtle on the line, you definitely don’t want to remove that hook on your own.

Snapping turtles can take off fingers with ease, toes, noses, and ears with ease, if not even larger sections of whole hands! If this is the case, move onto the next step.

4. Call For Assistance

If you cannot manage to get the hook out on your own, maybe because the hook is really in there, the turtle has swallowed the hook, or because it is a large and potentially dangerous turtle, you are best off calling for assistance.

Call your local game and fisheries office, the parks and recreation office, or whoever else it is that is responsible for wildlife where you are.

They will come ASAP and take care of the situation.

How Do You Remove A Hook From A Turtle?

This really depends on the type of turtle in question. If it is a small and peaceful turtle, you may be able to remove the whole hook at once.

You can try to get the turtle to bite down on a small stick, which will then leave most of the mouth open. Then, use some needle nose pliers to gently dislodge and pull the hook out.

However, if the hook is really imbedded in there, or you cannot get pliers into the turtle’s mouth for long enough to remove the hook, you have to go with a different method.

For instance, for a larger snapping turtle, you’ll want to get the turtle to bit down on a tough stick, this exposing the rest of the mouth.

Then, using small bold cutters, cut the hook as close to where it is imbedded as humanly possible. The hook will usually then dislodge on its own, as long as there is only a small piece left.

Can A Turtle Survive With A Fish Hook In Its Mouth?

Many people ask “do fish hooks dissolve in a turtle’s stomach?” The answer to this question is no, they do not. Fish hooks are made of metal, and for the most part, a turtle’s stomach acid will not dissolve it.

While a turtle may be able to survive with a fish hook in its mouth, it will definitely make eating much harder and more uncomfortable, even to the point where the turtle may refuse to eat due to pain.

Moreover, that fish hook sitting in an open wound may also lead to a deadly infection.

When it comes to fish hooks being swallowed by a turtle, you do want to bring the turtle in to seek medical attention.

When turtles swallow fish hooks, it is often fatal, and if there is a chance of survival, the turtle will require immediate medical attention.

Does Fishing Have an Impact on Turtle Populations?

Yes, unfortunately it does. Fishing is not great for turtles. Now, it is one thing if you are a casual angler.

You might snag a turtle on a rare occasion, and if you let the turtle go properly, after having removed the hook, it should not make much of a difference in terms of turtle populations.

However, what is truly deadly to all sorts of turtle populations, especially sea turtles, is commercial fishing.

Turtles will often bite commercial hooks and then just die there, or be killed once the hook is reeled in. Many turtles also get stuck and die in large commercial fishing nets.

It is estimated that nearly 5,000 sea turtles die in the USA alone due to getting stuck in commercial nets and hooks.

Over the past few decades, massive ocean trawling and sea fishing operations have totally decimated sea turtle populations across the board.


The bottom line is that turtles are sensitive creatures, with many species being endangered. You should do whatever you can to avoid catching one, and if you do, do everything in your power to make sure to return it to its environment without any lasting damage.

Commercial fishing takes a big enough toll on turtle populations as is, so don’t be another cause of another great type of animal going extinct!