The hard way to enjoy a bowl of turtle soup

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Nov 07, 2012 - 12:55 PM

Turtle meat is relished in many cuisines for its delicious flavor, a fact that Dick Shenal of New Washington, Ohio, knows very well. He and his brother, Jack Shenal, who are natives of West Virginia, have been turtle hunting for years by way of the almost-lost method called "noodling."

Dick says this practice of "noodling" was done by "our grandfather who passed it on to my father and he in turn passed it on to us. Noodling is crawling on all fours along a riverbank searching for snapping turtles under banks with your bare hands."

Dick, who once lived in Mathews where he taught Industrial Arts and served as assistant football coach at Mathews High School (1958-1960) writes about a weekend of noodling with five other friends, including his brother Jack, in the Petersburg and Moorfield areas on the upper Potomac River.

They start around 9:30 a.m. and "we like to finish around 4 p.m. because turtles begin to come out from under the banks to feed. It is wise not to confront them head-on coming out of the holes."

With bag to hold turtles in hand the turtle-hunters are in the water. "Turtles crawl under the banks on a ledge in holes and bury themselves about two or three inches in the mud. Nothing happens when you touch it. You feel bumps on the shell and you know it’s not a rock. To tell which end is the head or the tail, you feel down either end to feel the sharp ridges toward the tail. If you feel the smooth edge, it’s the head. As long as you keep your open hand flat on the shell, he can snap but he cannot bite close to his shell. The turtle has his tail tucked to one side or the other about his hind leg and this is what you grab hold of to pull him out of the hole. You know the size as soon as you touch the shell and the diameter of the tail is also a clue to its size. We never bag a turtle under eight and half pounds."