Sunday, January 23, 2011

Snakeheads, Scourge of the Potomac or the Next Great Gamefish?

Yesterday, Candy Thompson had an article in the Baltimore Sun about an upcoming Federal plan to deal with the invasive Northern Snakehead.  In fairly recent times, dating back to about 2002 with a in an incident in a pond in Crofton, snakeheads have been popping up in places around the mid-Atlantic.  They are thought to have descended from fish brought from China as food fish, released to grow and reproduce by well intentioned, but ill informed connoisseurs of authentic Chinese food.  Their flesh is reputedly quite tasty.

The snakehead is a voracious predator, with a mouth full of stout peg like teeth, a torpedo shaped body with a camouflage pattern, evolved for stealth attack from concealment, and a healthy, and nondiscriminating appetite.  It is feared that the snakehead will compete with and even consume the native gamefish, such as largemouth bass, with whom they share the same general habitat.

They are apparently pretty well established in the Potomac River, and by the speed at which the number of reports by fishermen, and government investigators from Maryland, Virginia and PRFC have increased, there is a general consensus that there is really no practical means of exterminating them, now. Thus, one would have to conclude that this is a successful, and likely undesirable invasive species. Maryland law mandates that any snakeheads caught while fishing should be destroyed.  A bit like trying to empty the river with a dixie cup.

There is, however a growing appreciation of the snakehead as a gamefish.  Growing up to 4 ft long, they can be caught using many of the same tactics as largemouth bass; top water plugs, live bait, flies etc.  A friend of mine, Mike Starrett, who guides out of the Potomac (Indian Head Charters) reports that his clients have caught a number of them, and they are tough fighting adversaries.  Others (non-orientals) report that they are tasty too.  So, is the snakehead a scourge, an opportunity, or both?  All I know is I want to catch one.  And I'll eat it when I do.

Capt. Mike and a happy client with a snakehead caught in Mattawoman Creek, off the Potomac River.

Hat tip to Bill Curry.

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