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The Illusive, Invasive and Infamous Snakehead Fish

It’s safe to say I can get a little carried away on Hook, Line & Dinner, a little overly involved. Well, tonight is a prime example. I decided I was going to catch a snakehead fish, no matter what.

My relationship with the snakehead fish started a long time ago when I worked for the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York. We were electro-fishing in a shallow body of water. The process temporarily stuns the fish so it can be collected, measured, inspected and returned unharmed into the water. I was in the water holding onto our boat when a three-foot snakehead fish burst out of the water and landed in our boat. Up until that moment, I had not believed the hype: “A fish/snake from Asia that can breathe out of water, walk on land and has been known to eat birds, batteries and attack swimmers.” The minute I saw that fish, I became a true believer. My boss, Melissa, normally soft-spoken, shouted, “Kill that f—ing fish!”

Snakehead fish are the poster child for invasive species — they eat, grow and multiply at an alarming rate with no natural predators. So, doing my part to help contain them, I hopped in the boat and literally wrested it into the cooler. It took all my body weight to hold the fish down. I had to sit on the cooler the whole trip back — the fish never showed signs of giving in!

When we started planning this episode of Hook, Line & Dinner, the word snakehead was mentioned a few times but only in passing. Maryland is said to be where these fish were first discovered in the U.S. How they got there is unclear. Most likely, they were brought in illegally for food or a home aquarium and somehow got into the waterways.

Chad Wells, executive chef at Alewife, has taken it upon himself to hunt these fish and help remove them from the waterways. He also invented a snakehead taco that’s become very popular in Baltimore. So, wanting to do my part (and try out that taco), we added the snakehead fish to the agenda for Baltimore. Plus, I thought the odds of catching one would be in my favor since there are so many (unlike some other fish in previous episodes).

Well, I was wrong on that last count. What do you know — I’m the only guy with a fishing/cooking show who couldn’t catch an invasive species. When I met Chad, I was impressed with him from the get-go. The man is serious about fishing. I wanted to prove I was, too, but after fishing all day, I hadn’t caught a one (although neither had Chad, which made me feel a tiny bit better).

“Water’s cold and it’s late in the season,” Chad reasoned.

We struck out all day. I managed to convince the crew to return for another go at it, repeating the five-hour drive a few days later (camera and gear in tow). Chad met us and took us out, but what do you know — no luck again. And we fished all freaking day!

I knew I could never get the crew to do that again, so I did it on my own. I drove the same drive, then I fished all night, and nothing. I fished again one more day. I even tried spearing the fish underwater. And still, nothing. Maryland was not going to give me a snakehead fish.

Not one to give up on things, I headed down to Florida. You can imagine the yelp I let out when I finally hooked a fat snakehead fish. Yes, I had to get on a plane to catch one myself. But get this: I’m signed up for the Snakehead Tournament in July. It’s run by my good friend, Chad Wells.

So no, the story is not over yet!

Tune in to Hook, Line & Dinner tonight at 8pm ET.
Recipes From the Episode

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