- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 26, 2009

In only a few years, the northern snakehead, a Chinese fish illegally deposited in the Potomac River, has taken such a hold in the upper tidal portions of the historic waterway that when a reader contacted me to report a snakehead he had hooked, he believed it would be front-page news. I was sorry to disappoint him.

“Whenever we fish for largemouth bass on the river, the day is not complete without someone catching a northern snakehead that decides a bass fishing lure looks better than shrimp with lobster sauce,” I told the crestfallen angler. “These snakeheads don’t peck on a lure; they attack it.”

Every one of my fishing pals who slings bass lures into the Potomac and its feeder creeks has caught a Chinese snakehead. According to Maryland and federal directives, the fishermen kill the tooth-laden NSH, as the biologists refer to the alien invaders.

But how many snakehead catchers actually listen to various Chinese chefs’ advice that the snakehead is a delight? Not many, I’ll wager, but I finally decided to pay heed.

It happened a few days ago when a friend and I zipped topwater poppers across a shallow, weed-infested stretch of water in Belmont Bay, on the Virginia side of the river. The bass went for the surface lures for a while, but when the bright sun began to bake the water, they no longer rose to the top to snatch up our offerings.

We switched to something called a wacky-rigged worm. It consists of a thick plastic worm and a hook that is inserted through the middle of the fake food. The rig is simply cast out, allowed to sink a bit without any added weight, then retrieved in slow, short moves. It looks wacky and totally wrong, but in weedy, shallow water where the largemouths hang out, few other bass-catching methods work better.

In fact, that day the wacky worm worked so well that a northern snakehead couldn’t resist the worm’s odd, shaky way as it traveled through and over dense vegetation.

The snakehead struck my wacky worm - no jokes, please - and wouldn’t let go. As I reeled it back to the boat, I picked up several pounds of milfoil and hydrilla water weeds, which actually helped subdue the normally explosive creature.

The alien fish made up for its lack of fight in the water when I flipped it into the boat and removed the weeds. The roughly 3-pound critter went berserk, flailing and slapping its tail section across the bottom of the boat in a steady tattoo. Even when it was deposited in an aerated livewell, it plainly didn’t like the confinement.

Imagine how it must have felt when I arrived home and pulled a whetstone from a kitchen drawer to sharpen a favorite fillet knife with which I subsequently killed the fish.

The fillets separated nicely from the rib cage. The flesh was firm and contained an agreeable fish odor. There wasn’t anything objectionable about it, save for its ugly snakehead snout and teeth.

The lady of the house thoroughly washed them, then seasoned the fillets with salt, pepper, a scattering of capers and several slices of lemons, then put the meat on top of buttered, heavy-duty aluminum foil on the grill. She closed the lid and let it cook until the meat was done enough to easily separate under the touch of a fork.

She served it with a salad, rice and some hot vegetables. The snakehead fillets proved to be mild, flaky and quite tasty, but no better than striped bass, white perch or flounder, to name three local favorites.

But when you catch your snakehead - and trust me, it will happen if you frequent the Potomac - do the same thing. Take it home and let it provide you with a tasty dinner.

Heaven knows there are plenty of them to go around. The amazingly fast spread and reproduction of the snakehead is truly worrisome to local fishery biologists because, given enough time, they might affect native fish populations.

So let’s do our part and reduce the northern snakehead’s numbers.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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