Snapping turtle steals angler’s big pickerel on Down East lake

If you spend enough time on the water, you’re bound to see plenty of interesting things. And if you make your living as a registered Maine guide, taking people out on the water on a daily basis, chances are that you’ve got a boatload of tales to tell.

A snapping turtle munches on a large pickerel — notice the lure still in the fish’s mouth — during a recent outing on Baskahegan Lake. (Mark Danforth photo)

Mark Danforth, a guide who works in the East Grand Lake area, had one of those tales unfold recently, when he and his “sport” learned that a resident snapping turtle was paying close attention to their fishing success.

Danforth claims he’s not a writer, but he spun a great yarn when I asked for an account of the episode after seeing a photo on his Facebook page. Here’s the story, from the guide’s point of view:

“It was on Baskahegan Lake in a small cove that will remain unnamed on a warm calm sunny day in July,” Danforth wrote. “My guest Lenny Fink from Florida via Long Island New York and I decided to chase some pickerel for some top water action.

“After a half hour or so of constant top water action I was jumped by the arrival of a huge turtle very close to my 20-foot Lund Alaskan! After a few close up pics, it occurred to me that he/she was very interested in my electric trolling motor. Every time I hit my remote to move the boat [it] would move along with us. It became a bit of a game as the bugger stayed right alongside blowing bubbles, and following us like a puppy!

The turtle takes his meal and swims away. (Mark Danforth video)

“As you can see in the pics, the big bugger had moss of some type growing all over its back, legs and tail. We can only guess at the age of the beast. Maybe 50 years or more? Who knows, it takes 10 to 20 years for these things to reach sexual maturity and I have seen many laying eggs that could hide in the shadow of this critter.

“I’ve seen hundreds of snappers in my 30-plus years of guiding Down East, but this one was a special treat. Never have I had one come to the boat as if to beg for a fish. I have had a few come close and try to take a fish off a stringer back in the days when it was cool to kill fish, but never have I had been able to reach down and touch one if I wanted to.

“This thing hung around the boat long enough that we really began to ignore it and we continued to catch pickerel. Well, that was my mistake … As I was landing a pickerel of 18 inches or so Mr. Snapper emerged from under the boat and grabbed that poor pickerel dead center! Well, the fight was definitely on as that poor pickerel had my one and only Frommes weed hopper in his mouth! Lenny had given me that Hopper and told me there’d not be another, turtle or no turtle!  It took a bit of courage, but I reached down over the side and took that Hopper out of that poor pickerels mouth as that vice grip of a snapper damned near cut that fish in half.

“The turtle took that pickerel out of sight with Lenny and I laughing and commenting on the speed that giant old monster could muster to catch a pickerel. We fished a half hour or so longer, and wouldn’t you know that big beast showed up AGAIN! Begging and following us just as before. Again, we ignored it and intentionally landed our pickerel post haste to avoid the bugger. Well, that wasn’t good enough as when releasing a pickerel(after unhooking) that beast again emerged from under the boat and caught himself another meal! This second time I was able to grab my camera off the dash and get a video of Sir Snapper moving off with his second meal.

“This second time, we decided to follow the beast and see what he does with his meal. Lenny figured he must have hidden the first catch and returned for more, I was skeptical and followed closely, watching. Turns out snappers are quick to ingest their catch! We watched as the second pickerel was shredded and gobbled up in less than 20 minutes! This bugger ate maybe close to three pounds of fresh fish in not much more than an hour and a half!

“Never have I seen quite the spectacle, and neither had Lenny, who has fished all over the northeast for the last sixty years! We will be visiting that cove again in the next few weeks to see if our friend is still looking for a meal!”

There you have it: A fish (and turtle) tale for the ages. Thanks, Mark, for sharing it with us.

John Holyoke can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.