A Turtle Rescue Mission

It didn’t take me long to find the creature, a snapping turtle the size of a small manhole cover looking furtively toward the road

    My wife, Kyle, is a sensitive person. She says this is why she adopts a hard exterior at times, a shell, like a turtle. I know this to be true. It’s also why she feels simpatico and keeps her eyes peeled for turtles making their equivalent of a mad dash across Montauk’s roads this time of year.

    She always stops to help them lest they be flattened by insensitive drivers. On Monday morning, she called me from the road. She was on the way to work and spotted “a big, very big” turtle on the west side of Flamingo Avenue. “Can you come get it?”

    I thought it odd that she did not help the turtle herself, but figured she was late for work, and we live right around the corner, so off to the rescue I went. It didn’t take me long to find the creature, a snapping turtle the size of a small manhole cover looking furtively toward the road. He, or she, was going to go for it. I got out of the car and approached just as a flock of spandex-encasxed bicyclists was passing. “Holy shit!” They pulled up short when the snapper caught the lead cyclist’s eye.

    Now, I’ve had some experience with snapping turtles. Rule one: Do not attempt to pick them up by the shell like you do any other turtle. They have long necks and a sharp beak that can cut through a finger like the proverbial knife through butter.

    The snapper hissed dynosaurically. The bikers ooohed. I grabbed the turtle by its long tail and lifted it — it must have weighed 30 pounds — off the ground. As I did, I heard and felt its vertebrae snap, crackle, and pop. The adjustment must have been needed because when I set the turtle down on the other side, it took off like California Chrome at the Preakness.

    Whenever I see a snapping turtle, I recall the sight of Tom Lester in black waders trudging across a putting green at the exclusive Maidstone Golf Course in East Hampton carrying two snappers by their tails. Hook Pond meanders through the links, and Tom kept turtle fykes at various points. He shipped the turtles to the Fulton Fish Market. 

    I don’t believe turtles are still sold to the market, at least from East Hampton, but fluke, summer flounder, are. You know that the fluke season has started when you see our smaller trawlers dragging their nets east and west on the south side (backside) of the island close to shore. “The backside” is a term held over from the days when most of the commercial traffic on the East End was between here and southern New England. The north side of the East End was thought of as the front side.

    The commercial season for fluke began last week on Mother’s Day with a daily quota, at 70 pounds, tiny from a draggerman’s point of view. Pinhookers, market fishermen who use the rod and reel, have been doing quite well since the season opened.

    The separate season opened for recreational fishermen on Saturday with bent rods south of Montauk and a good feeling about this year’s liberalized daily bag of five fluke, with a reduced minimum size of 18 inches.

    The bag limit and minimum size are now on par with regulations in both Connecticut and New Jersey and this bodes well for the East End’s charter and party boat industries, which have had to compete, unfairly, with more liberal regs in those states for years.

    Paul Apostolides of Paulie’s Tackle shop in Montauk reports a pick of striped bass in the surf around Ditch Plain Beach, and in the currents that rip past the South Ferry slip in Noyac carrying prey such as squid, bunker, and alewives. The real bass run has not yet begun.

    Montauk’s Fort Pond Bay is now chock-a-block with bluefish. Their hungry arrival was delayed long enough to allow two weeks of fair porgy and squid fishing in the bay, but those species have fled. Remember, the daily bag limit for bluefish is 15, only 10 of which can be under 10-inches long. The first 10 accommodate young anglers who cut their teeth on snapper blues.

    But, where are the spearing? This time of year the bays are usually full of spearing, the small silversides that our favorite predators favor. Baymen who target spearing to supply bait and tackle shops have been frustrated thus far. This is a concern because “the Montauk sandwich,” a combination of squid strips and spearing, is a tried and true fluke bait. Pray for spearing.