How To Avoid Catching Turtles While Fishing

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There’s nothing more frustrating than bycatching turtles when you’re out fishing. We’ve talked with fishermen who’ve dealt with this and compiled their suggestions. In this guide, we’ll explore some simple and effective strategies to avoid catching turtles while fishing.

turtle floating in lake

The Short Answer

To avoid catching turtles while fishing, it’s crucial to understand their behavior and diet, which may attract them to your bait. Using turtle-friendly fishing gear, such as circle hooks and nets with a turtle excluder device, can significantly reduce the chances of hooking a turtle.

Fish during colder months and in locations that turtles usually avoid, such as deep or fast-moving waters. Opt for bait that’s more appealing to fish than turtles, like small fish, over soft-bodied baits like worms. If you do accidentally hook a turtle, calmly and gently handle and release it to minimize harm. Always prioritize ethical and responsible fishing practices to protect our shared marine life.

Understanding Why Turtles Take Your Baits

turtle in net

What do you see it doing? Maybe you imagine it is sunning itself on a rock or slowly swimming along in a pond. But what you might not picture is it going after a baited hook.

However, that’s exactly what sometimes happens when we’re out fishing.

So, why do turtles tend to get caught while fishing?

The answer is simpler than you might think: sea turtles are opportunistic eaters. This means they eat a variety of foods depending on what’s available. Their diet includes things like small fish, insects, and even certain types and species of plants.

A baited hook in their habitat can seem like an easy meal, so they go for it.

Consider this: when we go fishing, we’re visitors in the turtles’ home.

We might be using live bait that looks like a tasty snack to a turtle, so they take the bait, thinking it’s dinner time. In a way, we can’t blame them. But knowing this gives us a starting point for learning how to either avoid fishing or catching them. We’ll delve into this in the upcoming sections.

Choosing the Right Fishing Gear

Man holding turtle

Having the right gear is like having the right key for a lock. It makes everything easier and smoother.

When we fish with gear that’s less likely to accidentally catch the turtles, we’re making a responsible choice that benefits the turtles and us. So let’s explore some options.


Hooks come in all shapes and sizes, each designed for a specific type of fishing. For instance, there are J-hooks, barbed hooks, circle hooks, and treble hooks, among others.

J-hooks are shaped like the letter ‘J’, hence the name. They’re a popular choice, but they can pose a problem for turtles because of their shape, which makes it easy for a turtle to get hooked unintentionally.

Circle hooks, on the other hand, are more turtle-friendly. They have a unique design where the point barbed hook turns back towards the shank, creating a circular shape. This design means that a turtle’s hard mouth and beak are less likely to get hooked.

Lastly, there are treble hooks, which have three points. While they may increase your chances of catching a fish, they also increase your chances of hooking a turtle.

The key takeaway here is: when fishing in areas where turtles might be present, consider using circle hooks.


Just as with hooks, the type of net you use can also impact the likelihood of catching turtles.

Gillnets, for instance, are notorious for their bycatch issues. They’re walls of netting that can stretch for miles, and they work by ensnaring fish by their gills. Unfortunately, they can also ensnare other animals and turtles.

Trammel nets are similar to gillnets, but they use a three-layer design that forms pockets to trap fish. These nets can also inadvertently trap turtles.

On the other hand, using a rod and reel or hand nets can reduce the chance of catching turtles. This is because these methods allow for more control and the opportunity to immediately release a turtle if it is accidentally caught.

Remember, the type of fishing equipment we choose can significantly impact our fishing experience and the environment around us. Making turtle-friendly choices makes us better anglers and stewards of our natural world.

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Best Times and Locations to Fish to Avoid Turtles

When you want to avoid a crowd, you choose to go when fewer people are around, right? The same principle applies to turtles. Understanding their active times and preferred locations can help us avoid catching them unintentionally.


Turtles, like many other creatures, follow seasonal patterns. In many regions, turtles hibernate or more accurately, brumate during the colder months. This means that they’re less active and less likely to be around to take your bait. If you live in an area where turtles brumate, fishing in the colder months might be an option for you.

During the warmer months, particularly in the spring and early summer, turtles become more active. They’re looking for food and mates, and they’re laying their eggs. This is the time when you’re more likely to attract turtles and encounter them while fishing.

Specific Locations

Not every fishing place is a favorite spot for turtles. Here’s what turtles like:

  • Calm, shallow waters: Turtles enjoy calm waters that aren’t too deep.
  • Lots of hiding spots: They love areas with plenty of underwater plants. They also like spots where they can hide and find food.
  • Places to rest and sunbathe: Turtles like logs and rocks where they can rest and warm themselves in the sun.

But there are some places turtles usually don’t like:

  • Fast-moving water: Turtles aren’t big fans of water that moves quickly.
  • Deep, open water: They usually avoid really deep water with no places to hide.

If you don’t want to catch turtles, try to fish in places with fast-moving or deep, open water. This way, you can enjoy fishing without worrying about catching any turtles.

Bait Selection

The type of bait we use is like an invitation to dinner for underwater creatures. If we pick something turtles really like, they’ll come rushing over! Avoid using turtle bait. But if we choose bait that fishes like more than turtles, we won’t attract as many turtles. Here’s how:

  • Use artificial lures: Turtles usually aren’t as interested in fake bait as they are in real, live bait.
  • If you use live bait: Try using small fish instead of worms or other squishy bait. Turtles really love squishy bait, so using small fish can make them less interested.

By thinking about what bait to use, we can make our fishing trips more about catching fish and less about catching the snapping turtles themselves.

Additionally, how you bait your hook can make a difference. Try to fully cover the hook with the bait so the shiny metal isn’t visible, as turtles might be attracted to the glint in the water.

Following these tips and being mindful of when and where you fish can help you enjoy your hobby while also being a friend to our turtle neighbors.

What to Do If You Catch a Turtle

Even with all the preventative measures we’ve discussed, there might still be a time when you accidentally hook a turtle. If that happens, don’t panic. The way you respond can make a big difference in the turtle’s well-being.

Safe Handling Techniques

Turtles are resilient creatures, but they still need to be handled with care. Here are a few tips to remember if you accidentally hook a turtle:

  1. Stay calm: Keeping your cool helps ensure you handle the turtle safely and efficiently.
  2. Don’t lift by the hook or line: This can cause injury. Instead, gently lift the turtle by its shell at the sides, midway between the front and back legs.
  3. Avoid the mouth and claws: Turtles can bite or scratch in self-defense, so keep your fingers away from the turtle’s mouth and claws.

Remember, always prioritize safety for yourself and the turtle.

Safe Release Techniques

Oops! You didn’t mean to, but you caught a turtle. Now, you need to help it get back to the water safely. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Use pliers: This is a tool that can help get the hook out. If you can see and reach the hook, gently use the fishing pliers to take it out. Remember, don’t pull it out quickly or too hard. You don’t want to hurt the turtle.
  2. Cut the line: Sometimes, the hook might be stuck in a way that you can’t get it out easily. If that happens, here’s what you can do. Try to cut the line as close to the hook as you can. You might be surprised to know, but many turtles can live with a hook inside them. Over time, they can get rid of it naturally.
  3. Return the turtle gently: Don’t toss the turtle into the water. Instead, gently lower it into the water near where you caught it.

Remember, it’s about doing the best we can to minimize harm to the turtle. It’s an unfortunate situation, but if handled correctly, it can be a learning experience that enhances our respect and understanding of these amazing creatures.

Conclusion on How To Avoid Catching Turtles While Fishing

Fishing can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but it’s also a responsibility. We’ve dived deep into the subject of how to avoid catching turtles while fishing, a concern that highlights our responsibility towards the endangered species of marine life sharing our fishing spots.

In summary, we’ve discovered several key takeaways:

  1. Understanding why turtles take your bait: Knowing more about turtles’ diet and behavior can help us understand why they might be attracted to our bait.
  2. Choosing the right gear: Using turtle-friendly hooks and nets reduces the chances of unintentionally hooking a turtle.
  3. Selecting the best times and locations to fish: By understanding turtles’ active periods and preferred habitats, we can choose when and where to fish to minimize encounters with them.
  4. Being mindful of bait selection: Using baits and baiting techniques that are less attractive to turtles can further reduce the chances of an accidental catch.
  5. Knowing what to do if you catch a turtle: Despite our best efforts, accidents can still happen, so knowing how to safely handle and release a turtle is crucial.

It’s heartening to see more and more anglers seeking out information on ethical fishing practices.

Remember, when we cast our lines, we’re stepping into a vibrant, interconnected ecosystem. The way we fish can leave a positive or negative impact. By making choices that respect and protect all creatures—big and small, scaled or shelled—we’re not just making fishing better; we’re making the world better. Now that’s a catch worth striving for.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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