By Capt. Ron Presley

 

I have heard and read a lot about how bass like to eat baby turtles. Most accounts suggest that it is more than just being hungry. Bass hate them and attack them out of aggression. The reason: turtles like to rob bass nests and the bass don’t want them around.
Turtles are just too tempting to the fast growing Mahi-Mahi.

Texas Fish and Wildlife

In visiting with some of my saltwater angling friends it appears that marine critters like baby turtles too. There are plenty of antidotes and scientific information that suggest marine turtles are just another food source. In this case it appears to be more of a predator/prey situation. When the baby sea turtles hatch and return to the ocean the predator fish, being opportunistic feeders, don’t mind slurping them up.

Florida east coast fishing guide Capt. Melinda Buckley reports seeing melees of fish eating turtles along the beach. “When I worked with sea turtle nests in the summer during my college years I would see snook and tarpon slurping them up like candy just about daylight,” says Buckley. “I always wondered why people don't use a turtle replica on the beach in summer.”

Capt. Mike Peppe, another Florida guide reported similar predator activity by jack crevalle eating baby turtles. “I have watch schools of big jacks thrash the sea turtles as they swim into the surf from their nesting areas.” No one knows for sure if the jacks knew where to be at the right time, but most anglers I talked with felt it was just an occasion that the fish take advantage of when they see it.

Buckley also reported that some of her offshore friends have found baby turtles inside cobia and dolphin when filleting at the cleaning table.

More and more reports suggests that a baby turtle is simply not likely to be an opportunity that a hungry fish would pass up. If they make it off the beach they head for deeper water where they travel on the ocean currents hiding in seaweed beds for safety.

Port Canaveral captain, Jeff Brown, Sr confirmed the mahi-mahi claim saying, “Sorry no pics, but I have cleaned mahi-mahi with several turtles in them.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute (FWRI) did have some pictures, and it is pretty convincing evidence that dolphin fish eat baby turtles (See photo). The fish in the photo was caught and photographed in Texas waters. According to FWRI, “Mahi-mahi is one of the fastest growing fish and they feed constantly. They may consume many small turtles.”

More evidence comes from the scientific community. FWRI’s Kathy Guindon identified a 2008 study by Wyneken et al. on migratory activity on hatchling loggerhead sea turtles that points to several documented predators.

"Many of the seabirds and fishes (tarpon, barracuda, sharks, dolphins and snappers) are documented hatchling predators (Caldwell 1959; Hughes 1974; Witham 1974; Stancyk 1982; Stewart and Wyneken 2004). West coast hatchlings may increase their nocturnal postfrenzy swimming activity to avoid detection and to minimize their exposure time to these predators, many of which are diurnally active."

This means that turtles are moving more at night because they seem to know that active daylight predators that roam sea turtle habitat include baby turtles in their diet.

One FWRI scientist reported, “We capture the turtles post-hatchling size (carapace length, 5-6 cm) and the juvenile size (carapace length, 15-25 cm) in offshore waters. The pelagic juvenile turtles often have shark teeth marks on their carapace and plastrons. Some have pretty significant injuries from the bites.”

From available evidence scientists speculate that not only mahi-mahi, but also any fish that are big enough to eat them probably do. “Many large fish associate with the same weedlines where those sea turtles live for a year or two.” It seems obvious that baby sea turtles are a natural food source for carnivorous fish patrolling the weedlines.

All this evidence of marine fish eating baby turtles naturally turns serious anglers towards answering Buckley’s original question when she asked, “I always wondered why people don't use a turtle replica on the beach in the summer.”

The Bombshell Turtle

Turtle eating activity by marine fish has obviously been going on for years, but having a realistic lure to mimic the turtles is more recent. Anglers are discovering that the Bombshell Turtle can help them catch marine fish just like it is helping freshwater anglers catch more bass.

The rigging is simply too. The most obvious locations to cast the turtles is near the beach when they are making their way from nests to the ocean and near weedlines where they hide and live as juveniles.

On the Beach

Rigging for the beach requires a presentation that will mimic baby turtles swimming and riding the ocean wave out toward deeper water. A weightless offset hook or a “Stoopid Rig” will do the trick.

The offset hook is inserted into the nose of the turtle. Push it in about ¼ of an inch and turn the hook out the bottom of the head. Pull the hook all the way through until the eye is just in front of the nose. Rotate the hook and run it through the center of the turtles back and out the top. Be careful to insert it so it lays naturally straight in the hook pocket. The lure can be “skinned back” and released to cover the hook point. Attach the turtle to an appropriate sized leader and it is ready to fish.

The best presentation would come from a boat off the beach. Cast all the way up on the beach and walk the turtle into the water. Once you reach the waters edge lift the rod and wind down to collect slack line occasionally in an effort to let the lure ride the waves in and out. Just as a baby turtle would swim out and then be forced back by the waves, the Bombshell Turtle can be given the same action with a little practice. The ocean waves are giving the lure the action; the angler is simply controlling the speed. Just keep it slow and let the rise and fall of the waves makes the legs flutter and give the appearance of a turtle swimming out to sea.

Shorebound anglers can wade out from the beach one or two troughs and cast the Bombshell Turtle up and down the troughs. In this case the angler is standing perpendicular to the drift and needs to control it from left to right instead of in and out. You can still let the ocean current do most of the work.

Another rigging method will accomplish the same thing, but allows the use of a circle hook for ease of catch and release fishing if that’s your choice. Choose a fluorocarbon leader sized to match the fish that you are targeting. Tie the leader directly to a Daiichi Circle Hook using a loop knot. Match the hook to the size of the fish you are targeting. Next take a Bombshell Turtle and insert a HitchHiker from TTI Blakemore firmly in the front center of its nose.

Rig several turtles ahead of time in different colors so you can change them out or replace damaged ones easily when the bite is on. They don’t call this the “Stoopid Rig” for nothing. The next step is to simply run the point of the hook through the clip on the HitchHiker and you are ready to fish. The red Daiichi runs out front producing what looks like blood from an injured, and therefore easy to catch, turtle.

The cast and presentation is exactly the same as described above. Remember to keep it slow and let the ocean waves work for you. Another option for the “Stoopid Rig” is to insert the HitchHiker in the side of the turtle instead of the head. This rig will give you a slightly different presentation. Who knows, it might be just what the doctor ordered.

Weedlines

As stated above, weedlines are the habitat that holds juvenile turtles for the first couple years of their lives. Predator fish are waiting for baitfish, or a turtle, to swim out away from the weedline or drop below it where they are more easily seen. Either of the rigs described above will work well for fishing the edges.

Cast along the side of the weedline and work it slowly with the rod held high to keep the turtle up in the water column. Predator fish roaming the weedlines will be looking up in hopes of seeing their dinner.

To simulate turtles falling below the weedlines a weighted jig head or a weighted offset hook can be used to drop along the edges or punch through the interior of the mat.

If you can punch a turtle through the mat of seaweed it will fall like it is injured and look like easy prey. In fact, depending on the density of the weedline it is often possible to yo-yo the lure taking it back up to the mat and letting it fall again. Repeat the process several times. If you don’t get a bite after a few tries move on to a new spot.

Rockport Rattler jigheads are a good choice for weighted presentations because it adds the elements of sound, vibration and light reflecting eyes to the already realistic looking Bombshell Turtle. One trick is to cut the head off the turtle and rig the lure so the jighead takes the place of the plastic head. (See photo.) If you want to take it one step further add your favorite scent and the result is a lure that appeals to all the sensory systems of the fish.

It just makes good fishing sense to take advantage of a natural occurrence in the food chain and replicate it by tying on a Bombshell Turtle. You will probably like the results.