Texas fisherman reels in massive alligator snapping turtle: 'Everything went crazy'

A fisherman in Texas reeled in a massive alligator snapping turtle while he was celebrating Father’s Day. 

Justin Broomhall, 25, of Longview, Texas, was fishing for catfish at Lake Cherokee that Sunday evening, around 7:30 p.m., with his 3-year-old son Lakestine, his dad Michael Broomhall, Sr., and his fiancé’s dad, James Elliott.

Broomhall told Fox News Digital that, at first, the catfish seemed to be biting.

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“All of a sudden, they just vanished,” Broomhall said.

Broomhall, who’s been fishing since he was 4 or 5 years old, said he then noticed a trail of bubbles moving across the water.

He assumed it was a large catfish, so he threw his fishing line into the water just ahead of the trail. 

Justin Broomhall, 25, of Longview, Texas, was fishing for catfish on Father's Day when he reeled in this massive alligator snapping turtle and held it up for a photo.

Justin Broomhall, 25, of Longview, Texas, was fishing for catfish on Father’s Day when he reeled in this massive alligator snapping turtle and held it up for a photo. (Justin Broomhall/James Elliott)

“That’s when everything went crazy,” he said. 

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The snapping turtle took hold of the bait almost immediately and Broomhall said he and his dad fought it for 15 to 20 minutes before reeling it close enough to shore to see what it was. 

Broomhall estimates the alligator snapping turtle weighed about 150 to 160 pounds. 

Broomhall estimates the alligator snapping turtle weighed about 150 to 160 pounds.  (Justin Broomhall/James Elliott)

When Broomhall realized he had caught an alligator snapping turtle – which is a threatened species, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife – he knew he had to let it go. 

“I went to reach down in the water to grab him behind his head on his shell and the line broke,” Broomhall said. 

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Even though the turtle was no longer on his line, Broomhall still wanted to remove the hook from its mouth, which could give the turtle an infection, he said. 

“There are still incredible things out there to be seen.”

— Justin Broomhall

To make sure he got the turtle on shore, Broomhall stepped into the water and grabbed the turtle’s leg and tail – while his dad grabbed the belt loop on his pants. 

“He pulled me back up to land, and I pulled the turtle up there and that’s when we realized how big he really was and how old he really was,” Broomhall said.

 

Broomhall estimates the alligator snapping turtle weighed between 150 and 160 pounds and could have been 100 years old, if not older.

“His eyes were already starting to turn hazy, like he was going blind,” Broomhall said. 

The massive reptile also had lots of scars, Broomhall said. 

Broomhall thinks the alligator snapping turtle was at least 100 years old, if not older. Broomhall noticed the animal's eyes were getting hazy, and it could've been blind.

Broomhall thinks the alligator snapping turtle was at least 100 years old, if not older. Broomhall noticed the animal’s eyes were getting hazy, and it could’ve been blind. (Justin Broomhall/James Elliott)

“It looked like an alligator tried to take a chunk out of his tail,” he said. “He was already missing a couple of little fingers.”

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After Broomhall got the hook out of the turtle’s mouth, he released it back into the lake. But Broomhall hopes this isn’t the last time they’ll meet. 

“To see him return back into the wild and knowing he still lives back in that cove, I look forward to seeing him in a couple more years,” Broomhall said. “Just to see him in the wild and see how he’s doing.”

Because alligator snapping turtles are a threatened species, Broomhall released the turtle back into the lake. He said he wouldn't have caught the turtle without the support and gear he receives from his local sporting goods store, Wings & Whitetails.

Because alligator snapping turtles are a threatened species, Broomhall released the turtle back into the lake. He said he wouldn’t have caught the turtle without the support and gear he receives from his local sporting goods store, Wings & Whitetails. (Justin Broomhall/James Elliott)

Though he’s heard stories from his grandfather about alligator snapping turtles, Broomhall said he’d never seen one before. 

“To actually land one and actually see how big they really are, that was incredible,” he said. “And to have my dad there and my son there was even cooler.”

“He’s my first son, so the experience with him was – that’s once in a lifetime right there,” Broomhall continued. 

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Broomhall said he’s glad he gets to share his catch with an even wider audience, too.

“I’m from a little bitty town, I’m somebody that barely graduated high school and to get my name out there and show the world that there are still dinosaurs that live in these lakes and stuff like that, just makes me happy,” Broomhall said.

He added: “There are still incredible things out there to be seen.”

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