Fishing for turtles

Yukon veteran helps save fish, baby ducks at city ponds

Yukon’s James Orcutt, 83, casts his lines into the water at Mulvey Pond looking to catch invasive turtles that kill fish and eat baby ducks. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Associate Editor

Anyone who frequents Yukon’s city ponds is bound to notice an older man with a wagon and buckets casting lines into the water from multiple fishing poles.

But James Orcutt isn’t looking for fish. The 83-year-old Yukon resident is there to capture the turtles.

A familiar site on the banks of Mulvey Pond in Yukon City Park, and the ponds at Welch Park, the Dale Robertson Center and Route 66 Park, Orcott also does his “turtling” at Oklahoma lakes.

Orcutt works with fisheries biologist Keith Thomas of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife in an effort to rid area ponds and lakes of invasive turtles that kill fish and eat duck chicks.

“If they eat the fish, what are people going to come out here to fish for?” Orcutt said.

“As many eggs as a turtle can lay, we’ll never get rid of them. They’re part of our ecology.”

Since 2016, Orcutt has caught more than 970 turtles.

“I’ve caught up to 16 turtles in one day,” he said, noting sometimes he doesn’t get any.

Just recently, Orcutt caught his largest turtle – a 17-1/2-pound snapper. He also had to leave a huge softshell turtle in the net because it was too big to fit in the bucket.

Orcutt typically does is turtling several times each week – usually 7-10 a.m.

“There may be a few days where I come out in the morning and in the afternoon,” he added. “It depends on the weather.

Orcutt does not use worms.

“I use crappie rigs,” Orcutt said. “You’re allowed to have three hooks on a line. My bait is hot dogs. I’ve always used hot dogs.

“I use Oscar Mayer because of their consistency. … I can get 300 pieces out of a package.”



A U.S. Army veteran, Orcutt has lived in Yukon since 2011.

He takes the turtles he catches to Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge, north of 39th Expressway in Bethany.

Orcutt was asked about the types of turtles he catches.

“Whatever wants to hang on to my line,” he replied. “Turtles are very inquisitive. They’ll come up and ‘pop’ the bobber and then go down below it.”

A Massachusetts native, Orcutt was an Army brat.

While his father was serving with the U.S. Army in Germany, he graduated from Nurnberg American High School. Orcutt spent four tours of his own in Germany and two tours in Vietnam.

He is 100% disabled from injuries sustained during his military service.

Orcutt’s turtling at Yukon-area fishing holes is fun, not work.

“I’m handicapped sufficiently I can’t do a whole heckuva lot,” he shared. “Walking is a problem and I have to sit down. You can figure the bank out here is about 15 feet away from where I’m sitting.”

Orcutt does catch fish too.

“A few days ago, I threw my first line in the water – whammo, a big fish hits it,” he related. “A 19-inch catfish. I always know how big they are because I carry a yardstick.”

Orcutt retired in 1979 after working 20 years for the Army in personnel and finance. He later worked for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and then was office manager at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health before retiring again in 1994.