The Maryland Department of Natural Resources certified a new state-record Northern snakehead Friday. The fish weighed 21 pounds and was caught from a kayak by Eastern Shore resident Damien Cook. Falling into the state’s Invasive Division, this fish replaces the previous state record—a 19.9-pound snakehead taken by a bowfisherman in 2018.
Cook caught the oversized snakehead while kayak fishing a tidal river in Dorchester County on July 5. (The DNR did not name the river in a news release, but referred to the county as “one of the state’s hotspots” for snakeheads.) He was using 30-pound braid and casting an Addiction Baits chatterbait lure known as the “Cooker.”
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“I thought it was just your average 30-inch snakehead when I first hooked the fish,” Cook told the DNR. “It pulled hard but I had the advantage of being close and I got it in the net pretty quickly.”
Far from average, the fish had a total length of 36 inches and an official weight of 21 pounds. This technically makes Cook’s snakehead a world-record contender, as the International Game Fish Association lists the all-tackle world record as a 19-pound, 5-ounce fish caught from Virginia’s Potomac Creek.
There are currently no other IGFA records listed for northern snakehead. This is partly because the species, which is native to Asia, has long been viewed as an invasive menace, and only some state agencies recognize them in their record books. Attitudes among anglers are changing, however, with a growing number of people targeting these highly predatory fish.
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“The Northern snakehead is an invasive species now common throughout Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay tidal waters,” the Maryland DNR explains. “Snakeheads have become popular for sportfishing in Maryland because they fight hard and strike traditional lures that are often used for largemouth bass.”
Northern snakeheads are one of two species of snakehead that have been in U.S. waters for the last 20 years or so. (The other is the bullseye snakehead.) Because of the threat they pose to native fish species, many state game agencies encourage and, in some cases, require anglers to kill and harvest the snakeheads they catch. The transport of live snakeheads is also illegal under federal law, as the fish can survive out of water for days as long as their skin stays moist.