G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Writer
Last week, I was going through a box of old-time memories when I came across a December 1973 edition of Fur-Fish-Game magazine.
I turned to the Table of Contents and saw listed under features a story titled, “Turtles Under Ice,” written by one of my favorite authors – Sam Piatt (harumph, cough cough).
It starts on Page 8 and features four photos of some big snappers being yanked through the ice on a Scioto County pond.
It’s a most unusual story because, to my knowledge, in the 40 winters since, such an event has never happened again.
Please allow me, for your entertainment, to run this story word-for-word here today:
THE PHONE CALL
I thought Wes Bussey had been tipping a few when he called me on the phone.
“Do you want to go noodling for turtles tomorrow?” he asked.
“Turtle-noodling is a great summer-time sport in southern Ohio. That’s when you reach under logs and roots in ponds and small streams to haul out big snappers by the tail with your bare hands.
But this was the middle of January. Ponds and streams in the area were frozen solid. Turtles are a cold-blooded reptile, and any turtle in his right mind would be tucked away in holes and crevices hibernating until the spring thaw.
“What’s the joke?” I asked.
“No joke,” Bussey said. “I got several yesterday that weighed over 70 pounds all together. We got them by noodling through the ice.”
I’m sports editor of The Portsmouth Times and, through a weekly column, I try to keep Times readers informed on what’s going on in the outdoors.
All three ice noodlers are among the few who DO actively noodle for big snappers during the warmer months.
But this was their first experience at taking turtles through the ice.
We stopped off at Wes’s house to pick up the only tool needed for ice noodling — an ax. A spud bar would have been better and safer, but no one had one.
As we drove out over the hills to the pond, Mike told me how he had discovered the turtles under the ice while ice skating on the pond with his uncle, Glenn Leesburg.
After Bussey had called me, I had checked with several long-times outdoorsmen about catching turtles through the ice. Only one, Mac McGinnis, who works in the Times composing room, had ever hard of it.
And he said it had happened only once, when he was a teenager some 30 years before. He had checked the pond and others for many winters after that, but the situation had never repeated itself.
CLEAR AS GLASS
“The ice on the pond was as clear as a plate glass window as we strolled out on it in single file. In places where the water was only three or four feet deep, you could look through and see the bottom.
“We hadn’t gone more than 30 yards across the ice before we had our first action. ‘Here’s one now,’ Wes said, pointing down through the ice.
“Sure enough, you could make out the outline of the big turtle. He appeared to be suspended about halfway between the surface and the bottom of the pond.
“Mike quickly brought the ax into play, chopping a hole through the four-inch-thick ice big enough for Wes to get his hand and arm through. The turtle began to show inclinations of leaving the immediate area. Wes plunged his hand into the icy water and rammed his arm in up to the shoulder.
“As he clamped his hand around the turtle’s tail, it made up its mind definitely to leave the area. But Wes held on with a firm grip.
“The next step was a dangerous one. The hole now had to be enlarged enough to accommodate the size of the turtle. As Wes held the squirming turtle by the tail, Mike chopped at the ice with the ax.
“One slip here and the noodler could lose an arm.
OR A FINGER
He may have been caught napping, but the big turtle came out snapping as Wes hauled him through the hole. He wasn’t as agile as a summer-time snapper, but the vice-like jaws were ready and willing to latch onto anything that came within range.
Wes sent the turtle sliding across the ice toward the middle of the two-acre pond. Even with its two-inch long claws, it wouldn’t be able to get enough traction to go very far while we searched for others.
Next it was Bob yelling for the ax; and soon he had his arm through the ice and was pulling out his first turtle.
A few minutes later, Wes pulled one through the ice that would later tip the scales at 20 pounds.
These turtles had not buried into the muddy bottom to hibernate. They were just at the underside of the ice in most instances.
The temperatures, which had remained in the lower teens for more than a week as area ponds froze over, had risen to the upper 20s the past two days. And the sun, which was now nearing the tops of the hills, had been shining for the past two days. Perhaps it was these circumstances that brought the turtles up to be suspended near the underside of the ice.
Mike discovered the next one. Wes wielded the ax. Mike nearly lost this one. It’s tail was shorter than normal. But he held on and got it onto the ice. It was an old mossback that would either tie or beat the 20-pounder Wes had pulled out.
ME NO SEE
It seemed the honor of pulling the turtle out by the tail fell to whoever discovered its outline under the ice.
And that’s why I walked right over two without saying a word.
We soon had seven very angry turtles on the surface. When Bob spotted the ghostly outline of another under the ice, it was agreed to by all to leave this one for seed.
We had all we could pack up the bank. A feast of fried turtle and turtle soup was assured.
The take for two days was 12 turtles weighing a total of 147 pounds. Exactly half of them were females. One was filled with eggs the size of a nickel, while the other females contained clusters of much smaller eggs.
WILD GAME DINNER
Everything from tender bear meat to turtle meat to sweet and succulent wild quail breasts. That may partly describe what’s on the menu for the annual Wild Game Dinner held by the Northeast Kentucky Fish and Game Association.
This year’s event is set for 6 p.m. March 2 at the Boyd County Community Center, located on Ky. 180 about a half mile south of the Flying J truck stop.
Club members get together and pull out their favorite recipes for preparing some of their game from the hunting seasons that were frozen and saved especially for the dinner. Other members bring deserts and side dishes. No doubt someone will be frying fish.
It’s a good time to bring a covered dish and come out for an evening of fellowship and swapping of some good hunting and fishing stories. You might decide this is a good organization to belong to. Membership dues are very reasonable. There’s no charge for the dinner.
Banquet director Jack Creech, who issued the public notice, wasn’t sure if bear meat would be served this year or not.
I know it was at one I attended years ago, when they were held in the clubhouse on club grounds in Boyd County.
If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn I was eating a good tinder beef ribeye.
G. Sam Piatt can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.