WASHINGTON — The “Frankenfish” are biting again in the Potomac River.
Those wondering whether the cold winter would kill off the invasive northern snakehead fish, the answer is no.
“They have survived. We’re starting to catch them now,” says Steve Chaconas, Potomac River fishing guide. “Once the water hit about 55 degrees, the snakeheads were starting to come up a little bit. They usually hibernate in the mud near creek mouths close to deep water. They’ve started to come out of that and we’re starting to catch them in the shallows just like we are the bass now.
“Inevitably, almost everybody who calls, after they book a trip for large-mouth bass say, ‘By the way, I’ve heard about these snakeheads. Do you fish for them?’ Yes I do. We do go out and try to target them. I also get ‘bucket list’ people who want to catch snakeheads exclusively.”
Chaconas, who fishes the river year round, described what he’s seen over the last couple years regarding snakehead fishing.
“In 2013, I didn’t catch as many snakeheads as I did in 2012. There could be a lot of reasons for that. I think a couple of reasons: People found out how good they are to eat. We’re seeing a lot more bowfishing. Virginia and Maryland do allow bowfishing for snakeheads. Guys are equipping their boats with spotlights, they’re going out at night, and they’re bowfishing for them and they’re eating them.”
Chaconas says despite initial fears that invasive snakeheads would crowd out bass and other native fish, they appear to be co-existing in the river, at least so far.
“The story still from biologists is that snakeheads are not eating bass. It’s not on their diet. They very seldom come across a snakehead that has a bass in its stomach. Now, they both eat at the same buffet. It’s like, you’re at your favorite restaurant, and you love fried shrimp, and it’s Fried Shrimp Friday and you’re all ready to go, you’ve got the family there, and just as they’re about to bring out a fresh tray of fried shrimp, a busload of tourists shows up.
“Eventually, you’ll see that areas might not have enough bait or food supply to support snakeheads and bass.”
The good thing is, Chaconas says, the different fish prefer different food. For example, while snakeheads will eat crawfish, bass target crawfish. And snakeheads seem to like banded killifish more than largemouth bass do.
If you want to fish for snakeheads yourself, Chaconas has a warning.
“You’re not allowed to have a live snakehead in your possession at any time. If you leave the water and enter Virginia with a snakehead, you’re required to call their snakehead hotline. In Maryland, you’re allowed to take fish off the water, but again you’re not allowed to possess a live snakehead, you must kill them before you take them off the water.”
This year’s annual Potomac Snakehead Tournament runs May 31 to June 1.
Here’s a Virginia’s snakehead site with their snakehead hotline number.
Here’s Maryland’s snakehead site.