View Full Version : Virginia anglers land proof of swimming turkeys

12-08-2004, 07:34 PM
December 07, 2004

Swimming gobbler surely a Kodak moment

By Mark Taylor, The Roanoke Times, 981-3341


Tall tales are part of fishing, but you have to give Ronnie Lee and Emerson Payne credit for the whopper they came back with after an October trip to Kerr Reservoir.

The men were fishing for bass near the Ivy Hill recreation area when they saw something swimming across the lake. It didn't look like a duck or goose.

"The silhouette looked like a loon," Payne said. "But I'd never seen a loon down there.

"Then the closer we got, we could see it was a turkey."

The men said the hen eventually made it to shore and walked up into the woods.

Norfolk Southern retirees who fish together every chance they get, Lee and Payne were still contemplating the sight when they spotted another swimming turkey, this one a gobbler.

It too, eventually made it to shore.

"It shook off like a dog and walked up in the woods just like the hen," said Lee, a 54-year-old from Roanoke.

When the men told their story to friends they got the kind of skeptical looks you might expect.

"People thought I was crazy," Lee said. "They were asking if I was drunk."

Payne, who is 59 and lives in Boones Mill, got the same treatment.

"Once word got around, people thought we were making it up," he said, pretty much summing up the reaction I had when Lee called me with the story.

Then, with a satisfied grin, Emerson added the key phrase.

"Until we got the pictures developed."


What a novel idea. Photographic proof is usually missing when someone sees - or thinks they see - something unusual in the wild.

A photo would have been missing in this case if the men had seen only one turkey. But when they saw the gobbler they had the presence of mind to reach for a disposable camera, a piece of gear they carry along on all their fishing trips.

Using their bass boat's trolling motor the men headed for the swimming gobbler. It wasn't difficult to catch up.

"They're slow swimmers," Lee said.

That's because they're not supposed to swim.

"I've never heard of a turkey swimming," said Bob Duncan, Wildlife Division chief for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "But I wouldn't put anything past a wild turkey.

"They are amazing animals."

Turkeys aren't amazing swimmers simply because they aren't designed to swim, lacking key components such as webbed feat.

How they got in the water is another mystery. The lake was not quite a mile wide at the spot, the men said. Turkeys can easily fly that distance.

When the men pulled alongside the gobbler Payne snapped several shots. The pictures clearly show the gobbler, right down to its submerged beard.

"I wish I could have gotten closer," Payne said. "But I didn't want to spook him."

No worries. The pictures are plenty good enough to prove that this is one of those tall tales that really happened.