Monday, September 24, 2012

Monster Toothy Fish of the Potomac

Legend has it that a species of gigantic fanged ferocious prehistoric fish exists, that breathes air and is capable of climbing out of the depths and flopping across vast tracts of land to invade other waters, attacks farm animals and high school teens, leaving death, destruction and terror in its wake...and that fish is the northern snakehead, Channa argus.

All of the above statement is fact, as long as you believe what you've seen in the movies.  A couple films portrayed the fish as some sort of monster that can leave the water, run down, and mutilate or eat residents of waterfront communities.  The movies, Snakehead Terror and Frankenfish (no relationship to Senator Al Franken), following a highly publicized wave of media coverage about this invasive species discovered in a Crofton Maryland pond, certainly helped to sensationalize and demonize snakeheads.
Fear not, guys like Steve Kelley are doing their part to protect your lives from these monsterous killer fish!  Steve caught two of these on plastic worms while bass fishing this spring, both in the same day.  In fact, they were taken on near back to back casts!!!!    Picture courtesy of Steve Kelley.
OK, truth be known, perhaps I've exaggerated a bit.  The Maryland DNR is still quite concerned about the ecological impact that the northern snakehead may have on the fisheries in the state, as are the neighboring states of Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.  It's illegal to posess live snakeheads in Maryland or to transport them across state lines for that reason.
Granted, the extremely toothy powerful jaws of the northern snakehead are fearsome, especially to any critter that can fit in it's massive mouth.  But it's hardly the monster that the movies made it out to be.    Picture courtesy of Rodger Moran.
If you catch a snakehead in Maryland, state law demands that you kill the snakehead immediately.  Don't even think about keeping it alive in your livewell, lest you risk a hefty fine if caught.  You can visit the Maryland DNR site to learn just about everything you need to know about these fish including how to identify them, and even see a video on how to kill them. 

The Maryland DNR even sports a contest where, if you post a picture on their website, you stand a chance to win a $200 gift certificate to Bass Pro Shops, a fishing license, or a couple other prizes.  Last years efforts proved to be quite a success with a large number of anglers submitting pictures of their dead snakeheads.  Here's the press release for this year's contest:

Snakeheads currently are fished by either rod and reel or bow, and more and more people are reporting catches each year.  And the fish are getting bigger and bigger each year.  There are snakehead tournaments too.  All of these provide something new for those fishing in Maryland, another form of recreational activity or sport.  Let's face it.  These fish are here to stay.  When fishing for them, they hit hard, fight hard, get big, are toothy, and guess what?  They taste great!
Death to snakeheads!!!!  Here's Steve's second of the day.  I swear that this fish did a summersault when he set the hook on that plastic worm!    Picture courtesy of Steve Kelley.
Not only do they seem to have become a new sought out fishery in our region, but these toothy critters seemed to get quite a bit bigger than other parts of the world.  Recently, it was reported that an angler, Juan Duran, caught a four foot long, eighteen pound four ounce monster snakehead from the Occoquan River, another Tidal Potomac tributary. 

Why is that significant?  It seems to be a world record, shattering the previous one from Japan by over a pound!  Here's the story as reported by the Washington Post:  Juan Duran Catches Record Breaking Snakehead Fish.  It's not the first place that I read the story, there are other links out there, but this happened to be the first one I pulled, so here it is.  No matter what, that's a big fish.

Gene Mueller, retired long time outdoor writer for the Washington Times and outdoor blogger, wrote this nice piece about catching and eating these critters.  It's worth reading, and if you've read it, worth reading again:  Mueller: Snakeheads on the Menu.
Here's Gene Mueller with a brute of a northern snakehead.  Be sure to check out Gene's blog, Gene Mueller's World of Fishing & Hunting, where he posts pictures of snakeheads submitted by followers of his blog, and also those of his buddies.    Picture courtesy of Gene Mueller.
Snakeheads were illegally introduced into the Potomac, and seemed to have spread throughout the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.  Apparently they can tolerate a fair amount of salinity.  After all, in the Upper Tidal Potomac River where many are caught weekly, Maryland watermen are hauling in huge catches of blue crabs!  Not only that, red drum are also being caught in the same waters as bass, catfish, and the invasive snakehead.  They've even been caught in the upper stretches of Marshyhope Creek in Delaware.  Marshyhope Creek is a Maryland tidal tributary of the Nanticoke River.

Another man, not too long ago, claimed to have caught a two foot long snakehead in the Upper Potomac River at White's Ferry.  This caused quite a stir, because it was believed that they couldn't migrate above Great Falls, or even the fall line at Chain Bridge.  This alarming news, however, turned out to be a hoax.  The guy did catch the fish, but he caught it near Difficult Run, but because he didn't possess a tidal license, reported his catch to be in the non-tidal waters.

So, the Upper Potomac seems to be safe, for now. 

I didn't decide to blog about this beast out of the blue.  I had reason to post, based on a recent experience this past weekend.  While other anglers reported catching these impressive but invasive monsters, despite many trips to tidal waters and many bass and stripers to my name of the years, I've been snakehead challenged.  I've hooked and lost two of them...I think...over the past few years. 

Well, on Saturday, I broke that streak.  Near the end of a tough windy day of bass fishing, I managed to hook and land one of the hardest hitting, best fighting fish that I've ever caught, a 36 and 1/2 inch long, fourteen pound snakehead.  What a thrill that was.  It absolutely hammered and engulfed my white chatterbait.

I know that these are invasive, and I did my part and immediately killed that fish, but I can't help but feel excited by the experience.  That was fourteen pounds and three feet of pure muscle at the end of my line!  Not many freshwater fish are capable of peeling drag off of that baitcaster of mine like this one did.  And truth be told, I'll look forward to hopefully catching more.
My snakeheadless streak ended the other day, with me landing this massive 36 1/2 inch, fourteen pound slimy monster.  Picture courtesy of Rodger Moran.
I had hoped to cook it this evening, but a late work night combined with an empty can of propane and my lack of effort to obtain a refill, caused me to put the effort off one more night.  So, I can't yet attest to the tastiness of the snakehead filets.  But, I promise that after my wife and I partake of the future snakehead meal, that I'll provide a follow up post, complete with my recipe.  I plan to cook C. argus tomorrow night.
Here's another pic.  I had both paws gripping those gills.  This fish was alive at the time, and there was no way I was letting it flip out of my grasp.  So, I apologize for the not so great picture.    Picture courtesy of Rodger Moran.
So, in summary, the northern snakehead seems to be here for good.  We still, as loyal anglers, are obligated to do our part to eradicate them from our waters by not releasing those that we catch, and kill them on the spot as well.  Our reward is a good fight from a big toothy fish, and a supposedly good tasting meal of fish. 

What about the damage to the fishery?  I don't know, but I, and other anglers, probably agree that the bass fishing in the area is as good as ever despite the increasing snakehead and blue catfish populations.

Best case scenario...we help the Maryland DNR and similar neighboring state agencies to eradicate this invasive species. 

Worst case scenario, and it seems the likely one...we help to keep their numbers in check while enjoying an additional angling opportunity that can put a tasty meal on the table.


dadTB said...

Nice report on the Snakeheads! I haven't had "the pleasure" yet of catching a snakehead, but I do know several who have. they all say the same... "Hang on!" By the way, how did she taste, like chicken? :)

Fat Boy said...

Thanks Tom! It was yummy, let me tell you. Nice flaky white fish, not too fishy, with a good flavor. I can't wait to catch and bring home a few more. My wife even wolfed down a huge helping.

Wolfy said...

I'm still looking for my first snakehead. Of course, it might help if I actually carved out te htime to go after them ...

Fat Boy said...

Thanks for the comment Wolfy. Yeah, it took me a while, but finally got one. We'll be seeing more and more of them in the future for sure. Finding fishing time is tough...gotta make a living and keep the family happy too.

Chimo said...

Nice read Fatboy! I've caught a few myself and lost a couple like your 36.5 incher and look forward to doing my part in managing their population as soon as I get back ;)

Fat Boy said...

Thanks Chimo. Don't forget to contact me when you get back on MFF. Maybe team up and take out some of those frankenfish! I hope all is well with you...stay safe and take care of yourself!

Rodger Moran said...

Great story KW! I haven't nailed a Snakie yet either but want to. Taking pictures of your catch is fun but, I want in on the action!!!!
Tight lines Bro!