Canadian Wildlife Publication
This pamphlet explains
how to quickly, safely, and humanely remove fish hooks from accidentally caught
turtles. Where there are fish there are often people fishing and turtles
looking for a meal. Bait on a fish hook may look like a tasty snack to a
turtle, and the unfortunate animal may find itself in trouble, attached to a
fishing line. Occasionally, a turtle’s shell or leg can be snagged while
Many anglers have found
themselves reeling in turtles, not fish, and want to know the best, least
stressful way to remove hooks. With all turtle populations seemingly decreasing
it does not make sense to kill the turtle just to retrieve the hook. Cutting
the line but leaving the hook in the turtle is not an acceptable alternative
either. The hook may cause life-threatening internal damage, infection, and/or
possibly starvation because the mouth is too sore or swollen to eat. Preventing
an unnecessary death only takes a few minutes of your time.
To Hold A Large Turtle
When picking up a large
turtle always carry the turtle with the head facing away from your body.
Beware of the head, because a turtle can sometimes stretch its neck over half
the length of its shell and surprise an unsuspecting person. Also be careful of
the turtle’s sharp claws.
Grasp the carapace (upper shell) near the tail
with your thumbs up, and hold the turtle with its head down and belly towards
you, well away from your body.
Support the turtle with one hand underneath the plastron (lower shell) and hold
the base of the tail with the other hand for control.
Picking up a Snapping Turtle by the tail can be very harmful for a medium to
large snapper. This method leaves the turtle’s tail bearing all of the weight
and can very easily result in a dislocated tail and spine. Unless it is a life
or death, quick situation (e.g. the turtle is on the road), do not use the “tail
Carrying the turtle by its sides is sometimes effective but the turtle may still
be able to scratch you with its back claws.
Take care that you don’t accidentally drop the turtle. A struggling turtle or
one with a wet, slippery shell can slip out of your hand and be severely injured
(e.g. broken shell, neck or limbs). Carry the turtle with a firm grip and close
to the ground so if a fall occurs, there will be no injures.
HOW TO HOLD SMALL OR MEDIUM SIZED TURTLES
While small turtles such
as Painted, Map, and Spotted Turtles as well as young snappers or softshells can
still bite and scratch, they are much easier to handle. Many methods work but
the most effective is to hold the turtle in one hand with your fingers on the
plastron (lower shell) and your thumb on the carapace (top shell). Keep your
hand at the side or back to avoid injury from the mouth and front claws. Again,
only lift the turtle a short distance from the ground to avoid injures in case
it is dropped.
TAKING OUT A HOOK – LARGE TURTLES
A turtle that has just
been caught and pulled to shore may be panicked, and will struggle and bite in
its attempt to escape. Covering the turtle with a heavy cloth, shirt, jacket,
or bag should calm it down and prevent it from scratching you. Large turtles
are very strong so to preserve your fingers, find a strong stick or rod and let
the turtle bite it. Gently but firmly hold the turtle’s head in its shell with
the stick. This will keep the head still and the mouth open but occupied, and
the turtle cannot push its head out and drop the stick. With a pair of pliers
(which most anglers keep handy) or, if necessary, by hand, gently remove the
hook, the same way it went in. Stay very alert and, if you doubt your
technique, find another. Don’t underestimate the strength of an animal in fear!
Another method that can
work if the turtle extends its neck is to put on a thick glove and hold the
turtle gently but firmly just behind the skull (do not constrict the neck),
keeping the neck slightly extended to prevent the animal from lunging at you.
Keep the turtle still by wrapping it in a cloth or having a second person hold
it, and remove the hook as above.
TAKING OUT A HOOK – SMALL TURTLE
Be careful – even small
turtles can still inflict a nasty bite! With a small turtle, usually the hook
can be taken out by hand, as with fish, because the turtle is not strong enough
to stop you. The stick method explained above usually does not work for turtles
other than snappers and softshells but, if you think it might work then try it.
Needle nose pliers can
work well to remove the hook. As you grasp the hook and curve it back the way
it went in, the turtle is unable to retreat to its shell. Cloth can be wrapped
around the turtle for safety. If the turtle refuses to come out of its shell
and you can’t tell where the hook is, gently pull the hiding turtle backwards
across the ground until it emerges to stop the pulling or to see why it is
WHEN LEGS OR SHELL ARE HOOKED
Submerged turtles are
often snagged as the fishing line is reeled in. Before removing the hook, the
turtle’s face and head should be covered by cloth or blocked somehow (the stick
method may help occupy the mouth). Once you are safe from bites remove the hook
by hand or with pliers.
CARE & STRESS
Turtles are nervous
animals and very easily stressed. Any turtle caught should be gently dealt with
as soon as possible and released immediately after the hook is removed. The
longer the turtle is kept the weaker it becomes and the longer it will take to
recover. Expect the turtle to bite and scratch to get away, because it is
scared and in pain. Be very careful with every move and, if you don’t trust
your method, try something else. If a turtle does grab hold of you, the best
way to get it to let go is to submerge the whole turtle in water. Usually, the
turtle see its chance at freedom and will opt to take it.
Turtles do not seek out
people, preferring instead to avoid us at all costs. A turtle will not initiate
aggressive tactics unless it feels threatened or in pain. One way to avoid
catching turtles is to file the barb off the fishing hook before going fishing;
the barb’s efficiency is not comparable to its downfalls.