They first appeared in June, 2002 and caused quite a stir in a pond near Crofton, Maryland, a small town about 15 miles NE of Washington, DC. It was decided the best course of action was to poison the pond with rotenone. After the pond was drained six adult snakeheads and one thousand fry were found. That should have been the end of the northern snakehead. It wasn’t.
Snakeheads are an Asian fish. They were brought to the United States as aquarium pets and as a food source then someone had the bright idea to release them into the water in the DC area. Now only ten years later the fish has become a plague in the Potomac River.
This fish is a top level predator. It has no natural enemies. To make matters worse females spawn five times a year and each spawn creates 20,000+ eggs. Snakeheads guard their young ensuring a strong population. They can breathe air and live in mud for days, and yes they can “walk” to a water source.
These fish have a mouth full of razor-like teeth. You don’t hold them like you would a bass.
I’m an outdoors guy. Living in the Washington, DC metro area means my outdoor activities are somewhat limited. The parks are overrun with deer but you can’t hunt them but the Potomac has become a good largemouth bass river. So that means at least I can fish. And do I ever have a sweet tributary of the Potomac close to my house that is loaded with bass.
This week I was pitching a weightless blue-black 7” ribbon tail worm into my favorite bass spot. Something hit my worm with force. It was heavy and bent my Gander Mountain 5’6” ultralight rod into a “U” shape and began running the drag on my little Shimano reel. I fish with Fireline so I knew my line would hold (if you have never fished with Fireline try it). Two days prior to this fish-on event I landed a nice 18” largemouth. Then as the fish surfaced I saw what was on the end of my line, and it wasn’t a bass. It was a snakehead and it looked to be at least two feet long. I brought him to the bank.
Your first inclination is to lip them like you would a bass. Literally just prior to the Frankenfish hitting my lure I had a conversation with a friend that caught an 8 pounder. He warned me that these fish are armed with some major mouth hardware and not to grab them near the mouth. I pulled my net out and scooped him up. He barely fit in the net and measured 27″.
I pulled the fish up on land and moved him away from the water and used my pliers to remove the hook. No more than a few seconds later it began to “walk” back to the water! Snakeheads use their pectoral fins and tail to move forward. Because of the body shape they stay upright unlike a bass which would lie on its side.
It is Virginia law that if you catch a snakehead you cut the head off and you are not allowed to throw it back in the water. I put my knife behind its head and severed the spinal cord. I thought about eating it but jeesh, the water is not clean enough to be dining on Potomac fish yet. But a few times I did think “snakehead, it’s what’s for dinner.”
When the water is clear you can now see them swimming on the surface. Ahhh…if only I could take my .22 and cull the herd a bit, but I can’t. Now I’m hoping bow fishing is legal in my sweet fishing hole.
I can’t close without saying that this illegal immigrant is taking the resources of the native population and aggressively breeding without consequence or regard to the health and wellbeing of the native species. But as for now, I have a mission and it involves catching more of these invaders and saving the bass. I’m wondering if PETA will sponsor me.