Tuesday, May 18, 2004

All the excitement generated by the discovery of yet another northern snakehead fish — this time in the tidal Potomac River along the Marshall Hall shoreline — makes me wonder just how bad a sudden infestation of these critters would be.

Earlier a snakehead was reported caught in the Potomac’s Occoquan Bay area, but it now has been confirmed that the fish was caught in the vicinity of Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Both places are on the Virginia side of the river.

Mind you, I’m not advocating that we stock snakeheads to provide us with another game species that doesn’t mind attacking baits or artificial lures. I’m not even suggesting it’s OK to own a snakehead and keep it in an aquarium. No, it should be illegal — under threat of a jail sentence if necessary — to turn loose any living creature that didn’t originate in the U.S.

Having said this, you must know that throughout our history, there have been instances when introductions of foreign species occurred on American land or in its water. And guess what? We’re still here. The sky hasn’t fallen. Life goes on pretty much unchanged in most cases.

When professional wildlife and fisheries biologists or neophytes who enjoy fishing warn of the dangers inherent in changing a local ecology, they often forget to admit how they love to go after a brown trout or two. In fact, the brown trout is prized above all other trout species for its fighting ability and “smartness.”

It came from Europe in the late 1800s. It is not a native American. Yet no one complains about it.

One fish that is griped about is the common carp. It, too, came from Europe, probably Germany. These days there probably isn’t a body of fresh or brackish water that isn’t inhabited by carp. They grow big and they’re tough to fool, especially with artificial lures, but some see it as a valued species that ought to be classified as a gamefish instead of trash. There even is an American carp anglers club (CAG), with tournaments and massive get togethers — all in honor of the carp. Has our fishing life come to a halt because of the carp? No. In fact, it has grown.

In Florida, unplanned introductions of South American peacock bass and oscars have taken place. So far, there’s been no real problem.

Even the popular northern pike, as tough a fish that swims and perhaps as voracious a feeding machine as the northern snakehead, didn’t have its beginnings here. According to McClane’s New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia, it most likely evolved in southern Europe. OK, so that was 60million years ago, but it didn’t start here.

As concerns the northern snakehead, I, too, hope that it’s not widely distributed and already reproducing. However, if the worst possible scenario plays out and it will take hold here, what do you think will happen when a 40-pound blue catfish or a 25-pound striper sees a, say, 15-inch snakehead? Gulp! Gone.

Our tidal rivers are home to some gargantuan fish that would snuff out a snakehead the moment they saw, smelled, or heard it. The aforementioned blue catfish is one. Also the flathead catfish, which currently is viewed as a threat to smallmouth bass and other, smaller species in mountain rivers. What about the thousands of anadromous striped bass that come here to spawn? Snakehead, you’re a goner if a big rockfish gets a glimpse of you.

Never mind what will happen when a long-nose gar sees a snakehead, or a prehistoric survivor, the bowfin, also known as a grindle or mudfish.

Finally, let that snakehead spawn and have young. Our largemouth bass will dine on them with gusto. Do you recall all the “sky is falling” talk some years ago when another foreigner, the white walking catfish, was discovered in Florida? Haven’t heard much about them lately, have you? Largemouth bass and alligators have dined on them in the water and various animals or birds have taken care of them when they were spotted “walking” on land.

Don’t throw in the towel just yet.


• Sporting Clays Classic — Friday and Saturday, Pintail Point, Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Benefits the National Kidney Foundation. Friday, 5 to 8 p.m., sponsors party at Pintail Point’s Manor House. Saturday, 10 a.m., registration, beginners clinic and shooting lessons, followed by lunch and entertainment. Competitive shooting starts at 1:30 p.m. with 100 targets, 17 stations (shells provided). Prizes include trophies, snow goose, quail and pheasant hunts. Four-shooter team, $1,000; individual entry, $250. Registration: Claudia Hartmann, 202/244-7900, ext. 18; hartmannkidneywdc.org

Freestate Fly Fishers spring outing — Saturday, Trappe Pond State Park, Laurel, Del. Caravan assembles 7 a.m. at McDonald’s on Route 50 east, just before Bay Bridge. Information: Don Fitzhugh at fitzbag@aol.com or 301/261-5799.

Surf fishing school — Sept. 9-12, Oct. 21-24, Outer Banks in Nags Head, N.C. Each session is scheduled to coincide with productive fishing periods. Pro guides Joe Malat and Mac Currin are instructors. Cost: $250. Contact Malat, 252/441-4767; joe@joemalat.com. Motel reservations, 800/334-3302.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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