By Dave Armstrong, Fisheries Biologist
There are over 40,000 farm ponds in Alabama that provide many days of angling fun and enjoyment. On occasion, pond fishing may be interrupted by pesky pond critters such as turtles. Some anglers believe that pond turtles reduce fish production by consuming small fish and fish eggs. The bad reputation that turtles have earned is unwarranted because many turtles are scavengers, eating vegetation and dead or dying animals. Besides carrion and vegetation, diets of turtles also include aquatic insects, crayfish, fish and mollusks. A study of turtle diets found that 80 percent of the pond slider's diet consists of vegetation and only 3 percent of the diet was fish. Turtles are actually filling a positive role by serving as the "street-sweepers" of ponds.
Turtles can be nuisances when they interfere with fishing or devour fish on stringers. If turtles become so numerous that they hinder fishing, they can be removed by traps. Trapping may be a temporary control since turtles can quickly repopulate a pond. Turtles can be easily caught using surface traps for basking turtles or oversized minnow traps for softshell turtles. Traps can be constructed using simple designs with materials found at most hardware stores.
A tilt-board trap is a very effective surface trap. It is framed with 2 x 4-inch lumber. The top is 4 feet square and the sides are 4 feet deep. The sides and bottom are covered with hardware cloth. Boards or "ramps" are attached to the sides of the trap with the ends in the water to allow access to the trap opening. Tilt-boards are placed across the frame opening and constructed to pivot freely on a nail set in the middle of each end of the tilt-board. When a turtle crawls from the ramp to the tilt-board to bask in the sun, the tilt-board will flip over, dropping the turtle into the basket frame. The bottom of the tilt-board is weighed with a bolt set perpendicular to the bottom to cause the tilt-board to swing back into place like a see-saw. This design allows easy access to remove turtles as they are captured.
The oversized minnow trap is constructed with 1-inch mesh and the opening made into an oval shape to match that of a turtle. The size of the opening should be made large enough to fit a moderately-large turtle. The trap should be secured to the bottom with stakes to prevent rolling and to mark your site. This trap should be baited with fish, dog food, or cotton seed cakes and checked regularly.
Remember, turtles consume animals or plants that are not utilized by fish so they will not negatively affect the fish population in a pond. If you choose to trap turtles, you should be aware that some species are protected under Federal and Alabama state laws. Plans for turtle traps and wildlife trapping regulations are available at Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division offices, 64 N. Union St., Montgomery, AL 36130; (334) 242-3471.