- - Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A 17-pound, 6-ounce northern snakehead fish hauled in by a Spotsylvania County, Va., plumber this year is officially the biggest ever caught, according to the International Game Fish Association.

Caleb Newton, 27, reeled in the bug-eyed, 3-foot bruiser during a June 1 bass fishing bachelor party on the Potomac River with the help of a friend who quickly brandished a net to aid his straining fishing pole. He’d been waiting since then to get the catch certified.

The fish actually earned Mr. Newton two world records: one for the biggest northern snakehead and another for a snakehead catch using a 20-pound fishing line. The catch beat a 17-pound, 4-ounce snakehead caught in Japan in 2004.


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Jack Vitek, world-record coordinator for the Florida-based association, said the record has been confirmed. Mr. Newton is awaiting his certificate in the mail.

The gruesome snakehead, commonly called a “Frankenfish,” is also due Virginia state recognition, Mr. Newton said. He expects it to gain state record status within the next month.

Mr. Newton said the catch will be mounted and displayed either in his house or in the sporting goods store that weighed the fish for him. He said he battled the spike-toothed snakehead for a full minute while his fishing buddy came to his aid and they hauled it in.

“My friend scooped it in with the net on the first try,” he said, adding that they had to do everything manually and carefully to avoid losing the catch. “We were lucky.”

Snakeheads voraciously consume anything that swims, but Mr. Newton didn’t seem too concerned.

“They’re creepy critters, but the danger is all in how close you put your hands to it,” he said. He caught a lighter 13-pounder the same weekend that he said “battled even harder” than the world record fish.

Just how the northern snakehead made its way into the Potomac River has yet to be confirmed. The species, which first appeared in the United States in a Crofton, Md., pond in 2002 is a native of Asia and recognized for the large scales on its head, long dorsal fins and large, protruding mouth chock full of sharp teeth. Fish caught back then topped out at about 12 or 13 pounds.

After early attempts to stamp out the fish as soon as they were discovered, the snakehead established a habitat and lived up to its reputation as an adaptable, aggressive and all-consuming predator. While not generally considered a popular entree, chefs say the fish is surprisingly palatable and has been the subject of local catching and cooking events.

The finned nightmares can grow about 8 inches per year, and it’s not uncommon now for one to weigh between 15 to 17 pounds.

The record doesn’t come with a cash prize, but in the fishing universe such recognition transforms a sporting career.

Mr. Newton is hoping for a fishing-product sponsorship. Tournaments can cost hundreds of dollars, “and if anyone wants to help pay for that, I’m all about it,” he said.