- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Brandon Demers didn’t expect to go fishing while on a morning run near Leonardtown last Friday when he spied a snakehead in a puddle left in a dried-up streambed off Route 234.
“I’ve been trying to catch one for years,” he said. “It’s not the way I envisioned it, but a fish nonetheless.”
After finishing up with a client at World Gym where he works as a personal trainer, “I figured, before it got hot I’d go for a run,” said Demers, who is also an assistant cross country coach at Leonardtown High School.
He happened to look down into what is usually a small stream that crosses under the highway. He saw what looked like either a big log or fish lying in a small pool of water in the dried bed of the steam.
“It didn’t look like it was very happy hanging out in a puddle,” he said, after he poked it with a stick and saw it was still alive. The Leonardtown resident described the puddle as about 4-by-4 feet and no deeper than six inches.
Demers ran back to the World Gym, grabbed a box and drove back to the scene of the fish. Using a net he had in his car, he scooped up what turned out to be a northern snakehead.
Northern snakeheads are considered to be highly invasive. The non-native, highly adaptable fish first showed up in the region in 2002 a pond in Crofton. Efforts to eradicate the fish in Crofton were thought to be successful, but then two years later snakeheads began turning up in the Potomac River and its tributaries.
Snakeheads can grow to 47 inches and 15 pounds and are a top predator, eating rockfish and other local species.
Demers said that while there are a couple of farm ponds close by, the nearest large bodies of water are Breton Bay and St. Clement’s Bay, both miles away.
“Wherever it came from is an absolute mystery,” Demers said.
Snakeheads have the ability to breathe air by using an air bladder that works as a primitive lung, according to the federal aquatic nuisance species taskforce. The fish can survive for up to four days out of the water and even longer burrowed in sediment.
After taking the fish home and posing for a few trophy photos, he measured the fish at 26 inches and estimated it to weigh about 10 pounds.
He then cut off its head and chucked it in the woods near his home.
He called Maryland Department of Natural Resources to report the fish. He said that they want anglers to kill the fish when caught, but also recommend eating snakeheads, which are a delicacy in Thailand and other countries.
Demers said he did not know how tasty the fish are supposed to be before he threw it out. If there is a next time, he said, he plans to cook up his catch for dinner.
Kyle Rambo, conservation director at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, said that it is only a matter of time before snakeheads will be prevalent throughout St. Mary’s County.
At Indian Head Naval Station, the conservation staff has been sampling small streams far away from the Potomac River and “turning up large numbers of very small snakeheads.” Rambo said.
The fish will often go upstream to spawn, which might have been the case with the one Demers caught last week, he said.
“There’s an ample food supply,”including tadpoles, small fish and bugs for snakeheads once they hatch upstream, he said.
Brady Bounds, a professional angler from Lexington Park who hunts snakeheads, said he has heard reports of snakeheads from Breton Bay, Wicomico Bay and most other tributaries in Southern Maryland. While reports of the fish in St. Mary’s are still unusual, he said he can no longer call them rare.
Bounds said as salinity changes, the fish move toward freshwater away from salty water. They also are avid frog eaters.
“These fish are quite prolific” and could spawn as many as three times a year, Bounds said. He said they are vicious fish, but tasty.
“They’ve got all the characteristics of a good game fish,” he said.
The state again this year offered a chance for anyone who catches a snakehead to be entered in a drawing to win prizes from Bass Pro Shops.