Feared Fish Finds Its Way Into Anglers' Net
Trio Catches Land-Roving Curiosity, but Scientists Afraid It Was Not Alone

By Anita Huslin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 2, 2002; Page B02

They came by the dozens, lugging lucky poles and favorite lures through poison ivy-infested woods to take a shot at landing the strange fish.

Black-and-white wanted posters tacked up around the weed-choked pond identified their prey:

Large mouth, big teeth, length of up to 40 inches, weight up to 15 pounds . . . it can survive out of water several days. If you come across this fish, please kill.

But the creature's strangest skill posed the greatest threat: Capable of shimmying on land on its belly and fins, the voracious fish could clear a pond of fish in a short time and then move on to another. The northern snakehead didn't belong in this pond -- or anywhere else in the United States, as far as biologists are concerned.

It was all the anglers needed to know.

Dozens showed up at the fishing hole behind the Crofton shopping center last weekend in hopes of catching the fish, which state biologists had spent days trying to capture on their own.

But it was a weekend angler, his 11-year-old-son and his son's 12-year-old friend who netted the beast -- with a 20-pound line, a minnow and lots of luck.

Joe Gillespie of Crofton brought his son, Mark, and Mark's friend Jacob Harkey to the pond Sunday afternoon. The trio spotted the creature in a patch of water lilies.

"You see this huge head popping up looking at you and then, boom, down it goes," Joe said. "Then you don't get any action for a while and then whoomp, somebody's rod bends over."

Joe figured the boys each hooked the fish once and he did twice, pulling up a hook that had been straightened by the force of the thrashing fish. He fixed the hook, put another minnow on it and threw the line back in the water.

This time, he grabbed the net as the fish pulled on the line. After a minute or two of struggling, Gillespie landed the fish.

"He really wanted to get caught," he said. "So we obliged."

Yesterday, Gillespie took the fish to state biologists, who identified it.

There's just one problem.

The fish Gillespie and the boys caught was 26 inches long. Initial reports of the fish, which was caught by another angler and thrown back, was that it was about 19 inches long.

Yesterday, wildlife officials set out new traps, in case there are more snakeheads to catch.

Today, they'll be out on the pond again to check them.

2002 The Washington Post Company