June 6, 2007

Snakehead Caught in N.C. River

CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ A lazy Sunday afternoon, Mother's Day, like many Barry Faw had spent fishing on Lake Wylie.

Until he lobbed a plastic lizard into the shallow backwater and "a wake started through the water, following the lure like a torpedo."

Instead of the largemouth bass he'd hoped for, Faw had hooked a 13-pound northern snakehead, a toothy predator that doesn't belong in the Catawba River or anywhere else outside Asia.

Alone in a 13-foot kayak, Faw went jaw-to-jaw with one of the marquee villains in the fight against alien species.

"It was on," Faw, 47, said Thursday. "At one point that thing turned and charged toward the boat, that's how aggressive it was."

After a 15-minute fight, Faw was soaked and the fish was ready to be boated. Then Faw eyed its 31-inch length and mouthful of teeth.

"No way I would have put that in there," he said of his little kayak. He managed to thread a stringer through the fish's gills and tied it alongside.

Onshore, another fisherman weighed the thing. Two fishing buddies _ they call themselves the Team Hardcore Kayak Club_ were summoned by cell phone.

Faw thought it was a bowfin, a similar-looking fish that's an invader from Eastern North Carolina.

"We're saying `snakehead,' because of the pattern on them," said Tim Stewart of Mount Holly. "A bowfin's skin is more like a catfish."

Snakeheads made national news in 2002, when they showed up in a Maryland pond. Two were also reportedly caught in Lake Wylie that year. They've also been found in the Potomac River and its tributaries.

The three men called the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, but no officer was available to take a look. The commission, which verified Faw's snakehead from photos a few days later, would love to have that fish now.

Snakeheads, if they become established, are so voracious they could decimate game fish in the Catawba. Fish, birds, insects and plants from other continents often thrive at the expense of native species.

Faw, a car-parts salesman from Lowell, took his fish to a local bait shop.

Bowfin, the man there said. Throw it back.

"This is where I probably goofed up," he said.

The thing is, Barry Faw doesn't like to kill things.

"We had it in a plastic bag, wrapped up in the back of my Jeep. I opened the bag, and that old fish looked at me like, `What are you doing to me?'

"And I put him back."


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