- Last Updated on Sunday, 30 December 2012 18:35
- Published on Wednesday, 25 May 2011 00:00
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Like his father, Mark Rollins has been working the waters of Machodoc Creek and the Potomac River for many years and he has seen many things over those years while crabbing and fishing. When he set his crab pots last Tuesday he never imagined what he’d find when he pulled those pots. Perhaps a croaker or maybe a few perch or even a catfish would wiggle within the confines of the mesh pot. While he did catch a few of those fish, he also
found an odd looking creature in a pot that puzzled him. It turns out that Rollins had caught a snakehead. The fish measured more than 20 inches and weighed approximately 6.5 pounds.
Snakeheads were first documented in 2004 in a tributary of the Potomac River. They have since spread from the Northern Virginia section of the river downstream to the Chesapeake Bay. One northern snakehead was found dead near a boat ramp on the Eastern Shore. Fisheries biologists are not sure how the fish ended up there but it is possible they have spread to the Eastern Shore. The fish are commonly found downstream to the Colonial Beach area and in tributaries such as Machodoc Creek. This is the first one in Machodoc Creek that this writer has heard of, but according to an employee of VDGIF, many were found in a pond in Westmoreland near Popes Creek and in other tributaries down there. It stands to reason that there are likely plenty in Machodoc Creek as well.
Snakeheads look very much like bowfin. They have the same round, torpedo shape, prehistoric look and are both quite aggressive when feeding. There are very obvious differences though. The northern snakehead has a long rippled anal fin vs. the short round anal fin on a bowfin. A bowfin also almost always has a black spot near its tail. The snakehead has pelvic fins located very near the pectoral fins too. Check out the differences at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/snakehead-id.asp The drawing VDGIF has is very clear. If you catch a snakehead you are asked to kill it and you need to call 1-800-770-4951. They should NOT be released back into the water.
Some bass anglers are actually targeting these fish. They reportedly fight very hard and make smashing hits on bass lures. They love slower water with thick vegetation. However, they adapt quite well and have been found to tolerate some levels of salinity. It is only a matter of time before they are in our other tidal rivers.
Rollins wants readers to know what the snakehead looks like and be aware that they are indeed in the Machodoc Creek. Keep in mind that they have very sharp teeth and should be handled with care if you catch one. He was kind enough to let us get a few photos of the fish. They are interesting fish and some people say they are good to eat. In countries such as Korea and China they are used as a food source. The northern snakehead eats other fish so it should taste OK. Its flesh is likely soft like a bowfin’s though, so if you plan on eating one be sure to kill it while in possession to be legal and keep it on ice.
Several online sources say that young snakeheads can potentially wiggle short distances over land to adjacent streams or waters. However, those same sites says adults cannot. One thing is for sure, they are hardy fish and can tolerate low oxygen levels and actually are reportedly able to live out of water for a few days. Next time you cast a line or take a swim remember, there is a new character in town!