Sand turtles are called sand crabs or sand fleas on the Mainland. Reptile lovers can rest easy, they are a crustacean that burrow in the sand near the water’s edge. They are often caught on sloping beaches with fine sand, but are even present on grainy, pebbly beaches as those in the picture were.
They seem to always be present until you try to catch them. My theory is that they don’t like the heat of day, so early in the morning or in the late afternoon, on a low tide, may be best.
The most comprehensive writeup regarding capture, preservation and use as bait refers to the Florida version but all that’s mentioned applies to our sand turtles too. Click here for that guide.
Traditionally fisherpeople in HI would use string or cord they found on the beach and attach some kind of bait on one end, and tie the other end to a stick. If left to be pushed around with the incoming water, eventually a swarm of sand turtles could be dug up nearby. A more streamlined version is to simply zip tie the bait to a stick and stake the stick in the water, with the bait buried. A piece of ika, chosen for its strong scent and toughness, is a popular bait. Click here for an even easier way to catch sand turtles.
The sand turtles molt like other crabs and shrimp, and the fish can tell the soft shell versions from the regular versions. Fish also love the females that are carrying orange eggs. If you’re lucky enough to have either soft shell or pregnant sand turtles, use those first.
On the mainland, the fish that eat the sand turtles just gulp them down so the hook point can run through the top of the shell, but here on our reefs we have a lot of nibblers that will try to suck out the good stuff and leave you with an empty shell.
The best way to hook the sand turtle is to turn it over and place the point of the hook through the “digger” or slender triangular piece that starts from the turtle’s back and points forward. That will prevent the turtle from burying itself. Drive the point through the top of the shell and then bring it back through the top so the point of the hook ends up facing downward.
You can dunk the sand turtle or slow drag it along a sandy bottom. Moi, oio, goat fish and papio love them, as well as the other reef denizens you may not want to catch.
For a summary of other bait and lures you could use, click here.