‘He broke the line’: Texas man reels in, releases gigantic alligator snapping turtle

Justin Broomhall caught the monster turtle at Lake Cherokee

Justin Broomhall (right) caught a massive alligator snapping turtle on Father's Day weekend at Lake Cherokee. (Photos provided by Justin Broomhall)

A Father’s Day weekend fishing trip became even more memorable for one Texas man and his family after he reeled in his biggest catch yet.

Justin Broomhall, of Longview, packed up his fishing gear and took his father and his son to Lake Cherokee for a celebratory fishing outing.

After setting up their reels and their fishing spot, Broomhall cast his line hoping to catch a catfish, when he noticed an unfamiliar stillness in the water.

“When we were out there fishing, the catfish just, like, vanished,” Broomhall said. “When it goes quiet like that and you go away, there’s normally a predator around.”

Another boat was heading in their direction and Broomhall said he thought maybe the predator was a large catfish. So, he threw in a fishing line with bait and it wasn’t long before he caught the unexpected.

“The line went tight and when I set the hook, I realized it wasn’t a catfish because it didn’t move,” Broomhall said. “When I started reeling in on it, come to find out it was a big turtle. We were fighting for a good 15-20 minutes and by the time we got him up to the shore, he broke the line.”

Broomhall estimated that the massive alligator snapping turtle weighed around 170 pounds and was likely over 100 years old. Just to pull it to shore required strength from Broomhall and his father.

“I didn’t want him to swallow that hook or it get infected. So, I slid off in the water and grabbed him and my dad grabbed me,” he said. “[The turtle] was old enough that he was starting to go blind in his eyes. His eyes got a hazing over and he had a bunch of big, old scars on him where he’d been fighting to survive from other predators.”

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, these turtles typically have a “triangularly-shaped head, with a pointed nose and a pronounced hook in their beak.” They also have three rows of “extremely prominent ridges” on their backs.

Alligator snapping turtles are one of two types of snapping turtles found in Texas and are an endangered species, the TPWD said, which is why Broomhall freed it from the hook before releasing it back into the lake.

“When we released him, he actually, when he started swimming off, he came up out of the water, like kind of like saying ‘goodbye’ and disappeared,” Broomhall said. “[He] looked back at us and he just sunk back to the bottom and will never be seen again.”

After having been an avid fisherman all his life, Broomhall said this catch was “the biggest one he’s caught by far” and it will stay with him and his family for years to come.

“It’s God’s creation. He’s got to live and many years he would be here before we were here,” Broomhall said. “And he’ll be here long after we’re gone.”

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Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.