When I was in college, Spider McGee, Charlie Fox, and I loved to fish off the log boom in the river near my house on summer afternoons. We'd sit and talk about life, drink hot chocolate, and occasionally catch a fish or two. But one day, Spider yelled, "Hey, I got something, and it feels big!"
Catching any fish-of any size-was always a surprise, but hooking something big was reason for genuine excitement. As Spider began to reel, his pole bent almost in half.
"This thing is a monster," he said, the drag on his reel screaming.
After twenty minutes or so, he'd gotten it close enough to the boom to get a glimpse of his catch. It was a snapping turtle.
"Ah, man, that's too bad," said Charlie. "I thought maybe you had Old Granddad there, for a second. Cut the line and let him go."
"Are you crazy?" said Spider. "That lure was given to my dad by his grandfather. It was hand-carved in Norway-and he doesn't even know I borrowed it! I gotta get it back."
"Well, how're you gonna do that?" I asked-and was soon sorry I had.
"I'll just bring him up to the edge of the boom, and you guys reach out and grab it," Spider said calmly.
Now, I'm dumb, but I'm not stupid.
I said, "No, no, no-you bring him to the edge of the boom, and then I'll try to pry the lure loose with a stick."
"OK, that'll work," said Spider.
As Spider struggled to bring the turtle close to the edge of the boom, Charlie handed me a long stick. I reached out, and the turtle's jaws instantly clamped down on the stick. I lifted him out of the water, and we headed toward the bank.
Once on shore, we set the angry turtle on the ground, but he refused to let go of the stick, the lure still dangling from the corner of his mouth. I reached out with my tennis shoe to nudge him in the back, and instantly learned several interesting things about snapping turtles. First, they're not as slow as you might think, second, they're very agile, and third, they're well-named.
In a heartbeat, the turtle's neck shot out, reached completely behind him, and bit through the end of my sneaker. Then, spitting out rubber and nylon, he turned and looked at us menacingly.
"OK, we need a new plan," said Spider.
"And a new pair of shoes," I added, looking down at my big toe, which was now plainly visible through the hole in my shoe.
"You hold his head down with the stick, and I'll reach out and grab the lure," Spider said.
It was an insane plan, but it was still a step in the right direction, I thought. At least, there wouldn't be any parts of my anatomy at risk this time. I took the stick and pinned the turtle's head to the ground while Spider got down on his belly and crept slowly toward the angry, struggling turtle.
It was then I learned even more lessons about snapping turtles. First, their front feet can be used a lot like a pair of hands, and second, snapping turtles are much stronger than you might think.
The turtle reached up and quickly pushed the stick away and quickly raised his head-now leaving him face-to-face with a very surprised Spider McGee.
The big guy screamed, which was probably the best thing to do at the time, since it caused the startled turtle to reach up with a front foot, pop the lure from its mouth, and then it whirl around and head back toward the river.
While all that was going on, the lure leapt through the air and finally came to rest-firmly lodged in Spider's left ear. He danced around in pain, but we finally managed to pin him down and cut the line from the lure. Then we packed up and loaded him into the car.
All the way home, Charlie and I would occasionally look back at poor Spider, sitting like a sad puppy in the back seat and wearing what looked like a giant hand-carved, bug-eyed earring. Then we'd look at each other-and laugh.
All that happened more than 30 years ago, and although Spider didn't know it at the time, he was a trendsetter. He was the first guy I ever knew to wear an earring, even if he'd had to get his ear pierced by a snapping turtle to do it.
I'm pretty sure they have easier ways of doing that nowadays.
From the book Spider's Big Catch
Gary E. Anderson
© Gary E. Anderson. All rights reserved.
About The Author
Gary Anderson is a freelance writer, editor, ghostwriter, and manuscript analyst, living on a small Iowa farm. He's published more than 500 articles and four books. He's also ghosted a dozen books, edited more than 30 full-length manuscripts, produced seven newsletters, and has done more than 800 manuscript reviews for various publishers around the nation. If you need writing or editing help, visit Gary's website at www.abciowa.com.