Luke discusses his recent articles on a old snapping turtle and a brand new revolutionary fish hook.
OLD TIMER OF THE CREEK
by Luke Clayton
I am continually amazed at what I don’t know about the outdoors. Oh, I’ve spent a very active life I the woods and on the water, learning about the patterns of fish and wildlife. It’s now been almost six decades since I was a 10 year old tromping the backwoods of East Texas. As a long time outdoors writer, I have had the privilege of being schooled by some expert biologists and guys that make their living in the outdoors. In my quest to learn more, I took the courses and became a Master Texas Naturalist several years ago.
But to be truthful, I still can’t identify all the species of oak or, identify all the gull species on the Texas coast or, as I learned this past week, differentiate between an Alligator Snapping Turtle and Common Snapping Turtle! I’m not sure even the most astute wildlife biologist knows all the answers. Learning about our natural world is a lifelong endeavor that has brought me many hours of enjoyment.
A good friend of mine owns property situated at the upper end of a major reservoir. A creek that holds water year around is situated on one side of his property. This is one of the many feeder creeks that supply water to the reservoir and was surely a natural drainage for many hundreds of years before the dam was built and a reservoir birthed.
This past week, my buddy emailed me a picture (the one that accompanies this column) and informed me he had hooked and released a huge snapping turtle while catfishing. He only got the giant turtle’s head and front part of his body out of the water and then took his photograph and released the ancient old reptile. He told me he was sure the critter weighed one hundred pounds or more, it was as big around as a bushel basket and had a head the size of a football. I decided to thumb through some of my books and discovered there are two species of snapping turtle; the Alligator Snapper and the Common Snapper. Thus began my TURTLE 101 crash course!
When I learned that Snapping Turtles regularly live 80 to 120 years, I began thinking about just how long this crusty old critter had been around! Assuming he is 100 years old which is entirely feasible, he was there in the creek a good 60 years before the lake was impounded. This old turtle would have been a hatchling around the period of the first World War! He was there in the creek when the first jet planes flew over and created the ‘boon’ that he probably felt through muddy bottom of the creek. Heck, he was there when he heard the put-put noise of the first outboard motor that traversed the waters of his creek. And exactly WHERE was he hatched? Was it several miles up the creek from where he was recently hooked? Did flood waters during the past decade push him down the Red or Sulphur River into the creek where he spent the majority of his life?
From the best we can ascertain from the photograph, it appears our old turtle is of the Alligator Snapping Turtle variety. Of the two species, the Alligator snapper is the most docile; the common snapper, although smaller is much more aggressive. Mature Alligator snappers weigh an average of 70 pounds and older ones to to 120 pounds. Common snappers average about 30-50 pounds. The Alligator Snapper has a built in lure on the top of his tongue that resembles a small worm. He simply lies on the bottom and waits until his ‘lure’ entices a fish inside those powerful jaws and sharp beak and then he clamps down on his dinner!
I did a bit of checking with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and learned that the Alligator Snapper is protected in Texas and if hooked, should be promptly released, the Common Snapper is not. It’s really pretty easy to differentiate the two species. The Common Snapper’s head is more rounded and its shell is smooth. The Alligator Snapper has a triangular shaped head and a very rough shell and, there is always that ‘built in’ lure in the Alligator Snapper’s mouth (if you choose to get close enough to inspect its mouth)!
Yes, I have spent some very pleasant time imagining all this old turtle has experienced in its century-long life but guess the old gentleman’s life will remain a mystery- He’s not the talkative type!
Contact Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org.
WISH I HAD THOUGH OF IT!
by Luke Clayton
Did you ever see a new, innovative product or way of doing something that made you stop and think, “WOW, why didn’t I think of this?” As a lifelong outdoors person, I have occasionally come across such products. One was a mirror blind several years ago that a company called Ghost Blind introduced me to. I actually used and tested one of the prototypes. The blinds are lightweight and easy to pack into the woods have become very popular and revolutionized the way many of us hunt from the ground. Once set up, the surface on the outside of the blind is mirrors that reflect the exact image of what’s in front of the blind. The perfect camouflage! Several years ago, I took my largest whitetail buck with a bow at 19 yards while sitting behind my Ghost Blind.
I recently received a few packets of hooks from Trapper Tackle that caused me to scratch my head and again, ask myself that same question, “NOW, WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THIS!” The advantage of this new design were blatantly obvious. Both the standard and treble hooks were designed with a very sharp point which would insure a quick hookset and one the barb threads into the fishes lip, it was virtually impossible for it to become dislodged because of the ninety degree bends of the hook. Thus the name Trapper Tackle( www.trappertackle.com). The fish is literally ‘trapped’ within the slot built into the hook.
One look at the photo that accompanies this article should give you more insight into the many ways these hooks will improve your ‘hook ups’. I have a pond stocked with bass and catfish close to my home and decided to give them a quick test the day they arrived in the mail. I do a lot of catfishing this time of year, targeting channel catfish with cheesbait. A standard #4 or #6 treble hook is stand fare for this type fishing. The bait is simply balled on the hook to cover the barbs and lowered below the boat close to bottom or cast under a floater when fishing shoreline cover.
One look at this Trapper treble hook and I instantly knew how usesful the design would be for this type fishing. The hook serves as a ‘cradle’ of sorts that the punch bait rests upon. The improved design on the barb insured a quick and dependable hook set. On my test run at the pond, I fished with the treble hooks under a floater, targeting shoreline cover in water about 4 feet deep. It’s easy to ‘loose’ a catfish when fishing with a floater simply because of slack in the line that does not exist when fishing straight under a boat. I caught three consecutive channel catfish and not one managed to shake the hook. While removing the hook, the fishes lip was actually ‘trapped’ inside the slot created by the 90 degree bends. I have a fishing trip on Lake Fork planned with Stubby Stubblefield, who invented and manufactures Stubbys Catfish bait. This veteran fisherman was intrigued when I described the functions of these new hooks. It will be interesting to see him put them in action next week when we fish over some holes he has baited with soured grain. I am predicting he will become a believer in this new hook design.
To further my preliminary test, I decided to use the conventional (unconventional) modified ‘J’ hook on largemouth bass. I found the hook perfectly suited for fishing the plastic worm Texas style. Once threaded onto the soft plastic worm the hook lays close to the bait with the barb imbedded into the side of the worm, making it weedless in true Texas rigged form. I found the hookset (thanks to the super sharp barb) instant and although a couple of fish broke the water and shook their heads in efforts to shake the hook, the ‘trap’ in the slot of the hook held them fast.
My experience with these hook is limited to this one test at the local pond but you can bet I will be introducing them to my fishing friends, many of which are fishing guides. I am anxious to get the input from my pro fishermen buddies that target stripers and, down on the coast, trout and redfish. If my guess is correct, these guys and gals that depend upon clients putting fishing the boat will probably be taking a close look at these innovative new hooks.
Many fish are lost when there is slack in the line which can be caused by the fish making a run toward the boat or simply an inexperienced angler lowering the rod tip at the wrong time. With these hooks, slack line will not be the major reason for lost fish. The fish is ‘trapped’ onto the hook, regardless the tension applied by the fisherman to the line.
Yep, the art of catching fish has come a long, long way since early man first discovered a bone could be sharpened on both ends, a hole drilled through the center in which to attach a line made of fiber and baited with a small chunk of meat!
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” weekends on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas or anytime online at www.catfishradio.org