From Frankenfish to Good Eatin’ Game Fish – TTG

A few years after I settled in Virginia, I began reading frightful stories about the arrival of a dangerous “frankenfish” in the Potomac River and its tributaries. This hideous invader called the northern snakehead was feared to be about to both outbreed all other native Potomac fish and eat every single one of them. Doomsday and Armageddon were upon us. We were advised to kill every one we saw without mercy. To do otherwise would mark one as a scofflaw. 

I recently found these videos which painted a far different picture. The northern snakehead is an invader and is definitely here to stay. But it is not replacing the existing species in the Potomac. Instead it has proven to be an exciting gamefish and good eating to boot. The videos chronicle kayak fishing for snakeheads in Aquia and Accokeek Creeks, two waterways I am very familiar with. The video featuring John Odenkirk, a local wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is very informative. He’s been studying the snakeheads up close since their arrival in the area. I might have to take up fishing again, but I’ll need something a little more substantial than my Fenwick ferruleless pack fly rod.

TTG  (fishing Aquia Creek)  (cooking and eating the beast)  (the snakehead “professor”)  (fishing Accokeek Creek)

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30 Responses to From Frankenfish to Good Eatin’ Game Fish – TTG

  1. Leith says:

    From the looks of those videos, you better bring a billy-club for once you get one in the net.

  2. Fred says:

    It’s an invasive species and harmful to other native fish, regardless of tastiness.
    “According to the Northern Snakehead Working Group (NSWG) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, northern snakehead likely arrived in U.S. waters by importation for the live food fish market (NSWG 2006). Unauthorized intentional release from this trade, as was the case in the founding individuals of the Crofton pond population in Maryland, continues to be the major mechanism for introduction (Courtenay and Williams 2004). The northern snakehead has become widely popular in ethnic markets and restaurants over the last two decades, such that this species comprised the greatest volume and weight of all live snakehead species imported into the U.S. until 2001 (Courtenay and Williams 2004, NSWG 2006).
    It’s almost like laws are for the locals. Lionfish introduced into the keys is another such pest.

  3. Dwight says:

    Very interesting, thank you. As of 2017 they had been fished out off Alexandria but could still be found in large numbers in the Occoquan River. Are there any places to catch them from shore near DC? Looks like fun and great eating.

  4. Fred,
    All what you say is true. But the killifish and sunfish, which makes up 90% of the snakehead diet continue to thrive. The killifish population is even increasing in my area. Young snakeheads are eaten by everything. It’s still illegal to take a live snakehead away from where it is caught and our Game and Fisheries Department still wants to be notified of kills, especially tagged snakeheads. The night bowhunters are the ones taking the majority of the snakeheads in this area. You can see their well lit skiffs slowly making their way through the shallows on some nights. A lot of these bowhunters are taking them for resale, although it’s not officially sanctioned.
    The blue and flathead catfish are doing much more damage to our native fish populations than the snakehead. I know about the lionfish problem down south. Aren’t they tearing hell out of the coral? The situation with all these invasive species will only get worse as the climate and water temperatures climb. What we need is a couple of good hard freezing winters.

  5. Dwight,
    Being that the snakeheads like the shallow, weeded waters, there has to be suitable areas to fish from shore. Just don’t wear your good shoes.

  6. Fred says:

    The climate isn’t responsible for invasive species growth, removing them from their normal habit is.

  7. Pitch says:

    Up here in the Northeast our big invasive fish is the carp – massive antediluvian looking beasts that swarm in the shallows in the spring. I have an awesome video of ten to twenty pounders “walking” across a spillway to get into a protected marshy area.
    The same crisis language surrounded carp up here years back, but now it’s settled fact they’re here to stay and people shrug. Everyone should be protective of the environment and fighting battles against invasives is part of that, but there is little winning once the invasive is established. Adaption becomes the rule. I’m battling garlic mustard and bitter-root in the garden, and it’s shoveling against the tide.
    A couple years back I got back into fishing – used to spend hours in the woods as a kid trying my luck in any body of water I could hike. I’ve been fishing with a friend of mine pretty regular the past three or four years: bass, pickerel, pike, crappie, trout (my fly fishing talent isn’t quite there yet, but I’m working it!!!). Last year we ran into a coarse fisherman, immigrant from Liverpool over to work in tech. We were laughing at his enormous carbon fiber surfcast-like rods and his elaborate alarms. We’re fishing beside him, having zero luck with game fish and he gets hooked up. Looked like he was trying to land a marlin – it was a measly 17 pound carp. I say measly because they’re pulling out 20+ pounders regularly. Invasive or not, it was a beautiful fish with heavy interlinked golden scales and an impressive fight.
    I’m seeing more and more coarse fishing now. My buddy and I have messed around with DIY carp rigs on surf casters, but our hearts aren’t really in bait fishing. My goal is getting a boat through my SWMBO’s budgetary process and fly casting for them where they gather on the local rivers. They’re supposed to be real tricky to hook on artificials. I inherited a 9wt Orvis salmon rod last year – it might be up to the challenge…
    Love to try for snakeheads. Not sure if they can take the cold up here, but my fishing addiction will likely get me down south one of these days. Thanks for the videos!!

  8. turcopolier says:

    Carp – giant goldfish. I have eaten many in Iraq – awful.

  9. BillWade says:

    We are entering a Grand Solar Minimum, I guess the climate alarmists forgot about such things, water should be getting colder overall from here on out. I was on a charter fishing boat off the coast of NH when I caught something other than cod, haddock, or pollack, it was a wolf fish and the mate came quickly to me and said he had to handle it, much too dangerous for most. He told me this fish had an enormously powerful bite. He also told me I could get $20 a pound for it at a local Chinese restaurant, it was about a 10lb fish. I figured we’d have it for dinner that night and broiled it whole in the oven, tasty but I should have gone for the cash.

  10. Fred,
    The snakehead enters a true hibernation when the water temperature dis into the mid-50s. Without that dip, they may add another spawning cycle every year. Higher temperatures also causes the hydrilla to grow prolifically which the local snakeheads love for habitat and breeding. The increased hydrilla brings more blue-green algae blooms and reduced oxygen. That doesn’t bother the snakehead at all, but it does harm all our native species. So climate change, as well as weather variations, does affect Potomac wildlife.

  11. Fred says:

    “blue-green algae blooms” Agricultural run-off driving that isn’t climate change either.

  12. Fred,
    Agricultural runoff is a major contributor to larger algal blooms, but it is all dependent on increasing water temperatures. Increasing temperature is also increasing our Chesapeake shrimp populations. Why the denial of the effects of higher water temperatures on the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay?

  13. Fred says:

    “Why the denial of the effects of higher water temperatures on the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay?”
    Please point to where I denied any variation in temperatures or their effects.

  14. Pitch says:

    Can’t imagine eating a carp. Sadly, most of the rivers up here are still washing out some nasty chemicals from our industrial past, not to mention the algae blooms that plague us as well. I’m not as big a fan of eating fresh water fish, in any case – trout and catfish occasionally, bass not so much.
    If I spent more time on the salt as in the past, I’d be eating a lot more fish in general. Love blues and stripers on the grill: i’m getting practiced enough at this point to think I could put some fish on the table. Not on the fly though – still got a lot of work on those rigs before I’m close to competent.

  15. turcopolier says:

    They were from the Tigris River. At a nightclub in Baghdad they would have you pick one from the pool in the car park. Sometime during the evening it would arrive at your table. Split and grilled on an edge in front of a fire of hot coals. Awful but for the Iraqis it was the equivalent of a Thanksgiving turkey.

  16. Fred,
    It was your “yeah, but” comments like climate not being responsible for invasive species growth. Increasing water temperature is critical to the growth of the snakehead and its changing habitat. Without the warmer temperatures, algal blooms from farm runoff would not be the problem that it now is.
    Conversely, a late Spring cold snap a few years back finally rid my blue spruces of bagworms. I spent several years trying to get rid of them, but always missed a few cocoons every Spring. No problem since that cold snap. Unfortunately, the cold snap also took out the Spring peepers that once serenaded me at night. Hopefully they’ll make a return some year.

  17. Pitch,
    I wouldn’t eat carp, either. I knew a Russian couple who squealed with delight when they saw carp on the menu. Poles also celebrate their Christmas carp. Must be an acquired taste.

  18. walrus says:

    Carp are a major problem in the Eastern Australian rivers. They are caught by the ton and made into good fertilizer. They infest our river and I can’t be bothered catching them. i’m a sometime fly fisherman for trout.
    Good news though is that our researchers have found a virus that kills carp and nothing else. We are waiting for the government to release it for what we call “carpageddon” . Only good stuff about carp is that the native Murray Cod loooove baby carp to eat.
    I keep suggesting to Polish daughter-in-law that she should cook one for us (poached in milk is the traditional Polish wayI think). So far she prefers salmon.

  19. Fred says:

    I understand that the climate change policy establishment have declared the science and modeling at the heart of their movement to be settled. That other mathmatical modeling, such as we currently see in epidemiology modeling today, has been shown unreliable both in level of detail, data entry – GIGO -, and in error of algorythim, and that the policy proposals resulting from the modeling varied from bad to catastrohpic, should not be used as a guide in determining whether regulatory proposals from the climage change policy establishment are reasonable to follow or not. I do not reject the science on growth of snakeheads or their hibernation. I accept fully that they are an invasive species. My policy proposal is to erradicate them, which is a quite different proposal than the one you are making.

  20. turcopolier says:

    Carp are native to Australia?

  21. turcopolier says:

    The Baghdad nightclub scene during the Iran-Iraq War was very cosmopolitan. There was a lot of good food in addition to the mazqoof (carp) and a band playing wild music of an oriental flavor. Always a lot of women who frequently danced on the tables in Western clothes. This was before the Baath Party got religion.

  22. Fred says:

    ” our researchers have found a virus that kills carp and nothing else. We are waiting for the government to release it for what we call “carpageddon”.”
    I’m sure there will be no negative repercussions from that. Did these virology experts work with people like Dr. Fauci or the experts at the Wuhan virus lab?

  23. JP Billen says:

    Used to call those carp ‘Tigris Trout’. And then I learned years later from Field & Stream magazine that there are trout in the Turkish mountain headwaters of the Tigris.
    Australian trout? Native or introduced?

  24. Fred,
    I agree that eradication of invasive species, when possible, is a sound policy even for the snakehead. The problem is how to eradicate them. Do we introduce something else to control the invasive species? That seldom works as planned. Promoting the snakehead as a good eatin’ game fish is a good control policy IMO. Turning a blind eye to bowhunters selling their catch to local restaurants and other buyers is also a good policy, unofficial as it is.
    What we can’t control locally is rising water temperatures. We have good data on rising water temperature in the Chesapeake since the 30s. That’s not algorithms, it’s simply reading the thermometer and writing those readings down. Those rising temperatures have shaved a full month off the blue crab’s annual dormancy in that time. No algorithm, just observation. It’s that warming water that is both increasing the range of the shrimp into the Bay and decreasing the snakehead’s hibernation period. That last effect is what is potentially troubling.
    What we can control is the the nutrient runoff from farms and sewer systems, both waste and storm runoff. You’re absolutely right in pointing out that threat which the warming waters are only exacerbating. Our local Congressman, Rob Wittman, is a champion for the Bay spearheading a lot of legislation and securing funding for a number of helpful efforts. He has his hands full now since the broader Trump administration has other priorities for the region.

  25. Walrus,
    I hope you guys are proceeding cautiously with that carp virus. European rabbits and myxomatosis in Australia is a widely cited cautionary tale.

  26. walrus says:

    Col. Lang, TTG, Fred, JPB,
    Australia has a sad history of introducing pest animals. The Austin family introduced the rabbit for something to shoot at. around 1840. Someone else introduced the fox for something to chase. These two pests are still with us as they have few predators. They have done untold damage to the economy as well as killing or displacing native wildlife. Perhaps a hundred years later the carp was introduced as a “decoration “ for ornamental ponds of the chinese style. It too escaped into the wild and has been in plague proportions throughout Eastern Australian rivers for at least forty years. Carp is a bottom feeder that stirs up river sediment which is not a good thing. The latest introduced pest is the cane toad – a poisonous species introduced deliberately to combat some sort of sugar cane grub around 1930. It is still spreading.
    The only successes we have had is with biological controls. Myxomatosis and now Calicevirus has controlled the rabbits. The carp virus has been undergoing testing on native fish and other native species for at least ten years with no ill effects, it appears to be specific to carp. We hope to have it released shortly. We christened that future event “carpageddon”.
    Yes, trout – rainbow and brown, are an introduced species but their populations are self limited to the headwaters of snow fed rivers like ours – they cannot survive downstream because it’s too warm and oxygen levels are therefore too low for them. There are few things better in the country than going out in a still, cold, dawn, perhaps with some fog and a rising sun, and fly fishing for a breakfast trout.

  27. Walrus,
    Was that calcivirus purposely introduced? My younger son just yesterday told me of the calcivirus appearing in wild rabbit populations in California last month. Since he has two house rabbits, he keeps track of these things. There is a vaccine available in Europe, but not in the US. He’s not going to let his rabbits run around the yard anymore. Doesn’t matter, they have the run of the house already.

  28. turcopolier says:

    These carp were originally koi? I suppose they have lost their decorative coloring by now.

  29. walrus says:

    TTG, Col. Lang,
    The Calicivirus was deliberately introduced after a ten year research program to control rabbits as a lot of them had become resistant to Myxomatosis virus. I visited a desert resort some two years after the release and the owner was ecstatic about the difference it had made – he was seeing young seedlings of native trees appearing that hadn’t been seen for many years. Around here we still control the odd rabbit with a twelve gauge or .22.
    The carp may, I think, been brought in as Koi but I’m not sure. They are a real pest – destroying river bottoms by chewing up mud all the time which destroys native animal habitat. The only good use we have found is for liquid fertiliser. See.

  30. pl and Walrus,
    Goldfish and even the fancy koi can lose their colorings as they age. Loss of exposure to sunlight like in murky or muddy waters can do the same. Without care, they revert to their original mundane colorings and huge size.

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