The hellbender is the largest salamander in America and one of the largest in the world. It certainly has inspired a good deal of myths over the years. Because of its appearance and unusual, “writhing-like” motions, this critter tends to get labeled as a sinister being. Its name, in fact, was given to it due to the way it moves… as though it is being tortured by infernal flames… as though it were a creature of hell.
Fishermen have found a rival in the hellbender, as folklore has long been shared that these animals spread their slime over their territory and over fishing lines to keep fish away. It is also said hellbenders eat game fish and a stream where a hellbender is found will be devoid of fish. There is a myth that hellbenders are extremely poisonous, and even touching their thick mucous can cause extreme illness. Some people believe their slime puts toxins in the water which kills the fish. Due to all this bad press, fishermen that snare a hellbender have historically killed them mercilessly.
First of all- hellbenders are federally endangered, if you hook one and you kill it, you are committing a crime.
Second of all- MYTHS!!! Hellbenders are harmless (unless you stick your hand in their mouths, and although they can give you quite a bite, they are more likely to squirm and hit you with their big rudder tail than chew on you). Finding a hellbender in your fishing stream means you are in healthy waters and are VERY likely to have a good fishing day. They do NOT eat game fish, or really much fish at all. Their diet mostly consists of crustaceans.
They do produce a thick slime (hence one of their nicknames, snot otter) but it is not toxic… at least, not to the environment. I don’t recommend eating it. The handsome hellbender is a good omen and fishermen should be so lucky to come across one!