Snakeheads on the Potomac

April 26, 2014

April in DC. It means cherry blossoms for many and the start of northern snakehead season for a few. Fly fisherman and archer Austin Murphy recounts his efforts to catch the snakehead in the nation’s capital river.

Northern snakeheads were first discovered in the Potomac River in 2004. I saw my first snakehead swimming in a tidal creek in view of the Washington Monument in 2008. In just a few years, this toothy apex predator captured the attention and imagination of many fisherman and outdoor enthusiasts.

My crew and I started with a small aluminum boat designed for shallow water, fixed with a crude lighting system and an elevated spotting platform. The onboard generator powered several high intensity lights that were designed to penetrate the water at night. We discovered that snakeheads could be arrowed at night in shallow water, where they were less active. They were often found lying on top of hydrilla mats, where the flow rates were low.

An abundance of snakeheads harvested by bow and arrow provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about their flavor profile. We fried, grilled, smoked, and broiled snakeheads and even tried to prepared a few sous vide. The firm texture, inherent sweetness, and clean finish were noteworthy features of this exceptional fish. Several chefs in the region have also prepared this invader, and we all agree: northern snakeheads are amazing table fare. The fish is now on the seasonal menu of several white-tablecloth restaurants.

For me, the thrill of stalking snakeheads at night with bow and arrow has taken a back seat to chasing them in day light hours with my fly rod. Hooking and landing snakeheads with fly gear continues to be an exciting and challenging obsession. I have learned that snakeheads are not aggressive monsters that eat just about anything. They are actually highly selective feeders that can be extremely skittish. If you’ve fly-fished for permit on coastal saltwater flats or carp in shallow river systems, you may have an idea of the difficulty involved in catching snakeheads on the fly. That said, I’ve traded in the noisy aluminum boats with lights for a stealthy carbon kevlar skiff to better my odds of success at fly fishing.

Northern snakeheads are now part of the tidal Potomac ecosystem. They stage near creek mouths in the spring and migrate to shallower water, where they breed in thick cover. In late summer, mature fish move back into deeper water. I have spent many hours creating and testing fly patterns that mimic a variety of snakehead food sources for use in various conditions. These snakehead food sources include killifish, shad, bluegill, perch, and crayfish.

My quest to understand snakeheads has connected me with many people who share deep concerns for our environment and a reluctant admiration for the snakehead’s resilience and adaptability. Many questions still remain. Will long-term studies and multivariable models provide us with a better understanding of this invasive species? Will this apex predator be harmful to the health of our native fisheries? Can we combat the invasion with our appetites?

This is one of my favorite snakehead recipes. It’s an original recipe but the cilantro and mint sauce was adapted from a family recipe that was originally created by an amazing chef, my mother, Maud Murphy.

Crispy Fried Snakehead with a Cilantro and Mint Sauce

Ingredients
2 pounds of northern snakehead filet
Peanut or canola oil for frying

Flour Mixture
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup of rice flour
½ tsp. of garlic salt
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ tablespoon baking soda

Cilantro and Mint Sauce
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup of chopped mint leaves
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup vegetable broth
Salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup of fresh cilantro garnish
3 tbsp. of grape seed oil (or use your own preferred oil, such as canola)

Directions
In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the flour mixture ingredients and set aside.

Clean, wash, and dry cilantro and mint leaves and place in a mini food processor. Puree to a fragrant green paste and set aside.

Sauté finely chopped onion in grape seed oil or your preferred oil.

Add ground cumin and cinnamon and let simmer.

Add coriander and mint paste.

Add vegetable broth and lemon juice.

Let simmer and reduce to thicken sauce.

Add salt to taste.

Slice snakehead fillets into workable 2 to 3 inch pieces. Rinse and pat dry.

Transfer snakehead to the flour bowl. Dredge the fish into the flour mixture and dust off extra coating.

Deep fry by adding enough oil to a frying pan or wok to cover the fish pieces, at least 1 inch deep. I prefer to fry in peanut oil.

Heat oil to 375 degrees. Carefully set prepared fish in the oil and fry until light golden-brown.

Drain on a clean towel or paper towel.

Plate with cilantro and mint sauce. Add fresh cilantro garnish. Serve hot.

    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    Hunter September 20, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    Nice recipe, more importantly, what type of flies are you using to catch the snakehead????

    Reply

    Leave a Comment

    Land

    6a00d83451b96069e2017d3d0b7851970c-400wi

    Garden Snail

    Deliberately or accidentally, by the movement of plants and by hobbyists who collect snails, humans have spread the garden snail to temperate and subtropical zones around the world.


      EAT ME!
      nopales con huevo

      Prickly Pear

      Fall is here, and the “cactus fig” is in season. Time to plate-up another widespread invader.


        EAT ME!
        Screen Shot 2012-11-18 at 8.02.21 AM

        Sow Thistle

        It’s spring and time to weed. Sow thistle is a delicious invader found throughout the continent.


          EAT ME!
          Wild_boar

          Wild Pig

          Did the domestic ancestors of today’s feral pigs streak off De Soto’s ship into the Florida scrub of their own accord in 1539? Or did they have to be urged to go find something to eat? All you need to…


            EAT ME!
            800px-ChenopodiumAlbum001

            Lamb’s Quarters

            Lamb’s quarters was a popular spring tonic in the South—an early season edible green—but its leaves are good throughout the summer.       Chenopodium album Native range: Described by Linnaeus in 1753, this European native has been transferred throughout much of the world. Because its spread was rarely recorded, C. album‘s native and invasive [...]


              EAT ME!

              Sea

              Hemigrapsus_sanguineus_big

              Asian Shore Crab

              The first sighting of the Asian shore crab in the United States was at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey, in 1988. Though the source is unknown . . .


                EAT ME!
                Periwinkles

                Periwinkle

                The common periwinkle, which first appeared in New England in the 1860s, is now found along the coast wherever there’s hard substrate–rocks, riprap, broken concrete, or docks–from Labrador to . . .


                  EAT ME!
                  Pterois volitans

                  Lionfish

                  Some say it started in 1992 in Miami when Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank. Don’t blame the weather, others say; in the mid-nineties, disappointed yet softhearted hobbyists…


                    EAT ME!
                    chuka wakame

                    Wakame

                      Undaria pinnatifida Native range: Japan Sea Invasive range: Southern California, San Francisco Bay, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Argentina Habitat: Opportunistic seaweed, can be found on hard substrates including rocky reefs, pylons, buoys, boat hulls, and abalone and bivalve shells. Description: Golden brown seaweed, growing up to nine feet. Forms thick canopy. Reproductive sporophyll in [...]


                      EAT ME!
                      Kleiner_Taschenkrebs_(Carcinus_maenas)

                      Green Crab

                      Since the green crab was first recorded off southern Massachusetts in 1817, it has been hard to ignore. A few minutes of rock-flipping in Maine can turn up dozens of them, brandishing their claws as they retreat…


                        EAT ME!

                        Fresh

                        Picture 1

                        Common Carp

                        For a bottom-feeder, what is the good life? The common carp isn’t very demanding: any body of water that’s sluggish and murky will do. If the water is clean, and you’ve got corn for bait, try one of these recipes.


                          EAT ME!
                          IMG_W007-2

                          Watercress

                            Nasturtium officianale Native Range: Northern Africa, Europe, temperate Asia, and India Invasive Range: In USA: all lower 48 states, except North Dakota. Found in Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Also southern Canada, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Australasia, and parts of tropical Asia. Habitat: Common along stream margins, ditches, and other areas with [...]


                            EAT ME!
                            rusty_crayfish-large

                            Crayfish

                              There are numerous invasive crayfish. We include details for the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) and the rusty crayfish (Orenectes rusticus). The same recipes can be used for both species–and many other invasive crayfish. Red Swamp Crayfish Native range: Known as Louisiana crayfish, crawdad, and mudbug, Procambarus clarkii is native to the south central [...]


                              EAT ME!
                              Distinguishing _ Channa argus

                              Northern Snakehead

                              His sister was ailing, and the man in Maryland remembered that, back home in Hong Kong, there was a fish that was considered a delicacy and a restorative. He would make a fish soup…


                                EAT ME!
                                bullfrog

                                Bullfrog

                                “They live in a wide variety of habitats, colonize new ones readily, and eat everything that fits into their mouths,” says Dr. Peter Moyle of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC-Davis…


                                  EAT ME!

                                  Field Notes

                                  Screenshot 2017-12-15 08.38.28

                                  The Lionfish Market

                                  In a sign that the eat-the-invaders movement continues to gain steam, the University of West Florida’s College of Business is offering a course on marketing the highly invasive lionfish to consumers. Read more about it here.


                                    EAT ME!
                                    images

                                    New Species Invade Campus Dining

                                    Inspired by the work of the Eat the Invaders project, UVM Dining and the University of Vermont Real Food Working Group hosted a dinner featuring edible invasive species.


                                      EAT ME!
                                      7fe8ef238ab2d59accbebfb6e97ac751-600

                                      Invasive Herbs for Herbal Tea

                                      The ingredients for many herbal teas, including lemon balm, mint, and nettles, have become naturalized in the United States. RateTea reviews a few of them here.


                                        EAT ME!
                                        whole_fried_lionfish

                                        Can Markets Handle Invasive Species?

                                        Marketing campaigns are underway to spur demand for the flaky white fillets of lionfish. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation has published a cookbook in an attempt to get people to realize that lionfish is an option for dinner. Whole Foods has hosted “Take a Bite Out of Lionfish”: live filleting and cooking demos and lionfish [...]


                                          EAT ME!
                                          invasives800x400_4

                                          Defeating Invaders by Eating Invaders

                                          In some biology classes, students read about invasive species. Last week, in professor Joe Roman’s course, Marine Ecology and Conservation, his students were eating them. Read more here.


                                            EAT ME!

                                            “They’re utter destruction is what they are.”

                                            Jan Loven, USDA official in Texas, of feral pigs

                                            Previous post:

                                            Next post: