Snakehead Fish Spotted in the Canal Along the Tow Path in Georgetown


“Dear PoPville,

Yesterday I took my first walk along the tow path in Georgetown since moving to DC 8 years ago. I’m not sure why I never visited it sooner, but I was impressed with how clean the water looked and was kind of surprised at all the aquatic life I saw enjoying a warm summer day. But then like a screeching record, I spotted this (see attached pics).

There it was … a snakehead just chilling out. I have heard they’re incredibly invasive and can inflict significant damage in the waters where they live. I’m wondering what PoPville readers know about them. Is the canal infested with them? Can anything be done to get rid of them? Or are they just part of the ecosystem now and not anything to worry about?”


From the Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders fact sheet:

Aren’t those “Frankenfish” in there?
Yes, there are Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) in the Tidal Potomac River. The Snakehead is a non-native species to this watershed, but so are Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass (introduced in 1854). Snakeheads are a blast to catch. They will take a well presented fly, fight hard, and make great table fare.

If I catch a Snakehead, what should I do?
There is no legal requirement to kill a Snakehead if you catch one. However, it is illegal to possess one alive. The laws require that you either release the fish or kill it on the spot if you are keeping it. While it is not illegal to release a Snakehead if you choose, the VDGIF, MDDNR, and the USFWS are still asking anglers to kill all Snakeheads caught in an effort to help control the propagation of this species. Please visit their respective websites for more details. If you catch a Snakehead bearing a USFWS tag, you are asked to kill the fish, retain the tag, and call the number on it. You will be asked questions about where it was caught, how it was caught, its size, and its approximate weight. Also, the USFWS may wish to collect the fish. For your efforts, you will be rewarded with a “Snakehead Control” hat, which is a coveted prize among TPFR members.”

42 Comment

  • I like fishing and always catch and release EXCEPT snakeheads. They are very invasive and decimate local fish populations. Although there’s no legal requirement to kill them, it’s pretty irresponsible to put them back in the water.

    • Catch & release = Torturing fish for fun. If you’re going to mutilate its mouth and half-asphyxiate it (or more than half– you don’t know), go ahead and finish the job. SMDH

      • I think you’ve reading a bit too much PETA propaganda and don’t know much about fishing.
        The asphyxiation comes from taking the fish out of the water for too long. Typically you unhook the fish while it’s still in the water, although most fish are fine out of the water for a few minutes. As for “torture” – the scientific debate still continues over whether fish feel pain.
        For conservation purposes, you don’t kill fish unless its an invasive species.

        • You know it’s possible to have a discussion about animal welfare without bringing up PETA…

          While we don’t have a definitive way to answer whether fish feel pain (we don’t have a definitive way to describe pain in humans either) we do know enough that it’s reasonable to take a precautionary approach and assume that they do, since most of us here are perfectly capable of eating other foods and enjoying other hobbies. Reasonable enough that you can disagree without referring to the idea as “propaganda.”

          And given that, even if a fish doesn’t completely asphyxiate out of water, I’m sure it’s still a very unpleasant experience for them, just like being underwater for too long is unpleasant for land animals like us.

          • Won’t someone think of the fish?

          • We actually do have many ways to describe all sorts of different pain in humans. Pain is perception. If the central processing unit isnt wired to detect signals as pain, and there aint much to a fish, then its not “pain” as you have implied.

            The fish also have next to 0 memory, so while pain sucks during the moment, there isnt any real lasting damage…imagine if you never remembered any painful episode…not a big deal.

      • Pinched barbs on a fly = minimal damage to the fish. Catch and release!

      • Snakeheads can breathe air, and will survive out of the water for a long time as long as they stay wet.

      • phl2dc

        Sometimes you are required to release the fish you catch.

        “It is now illegal for any person to have river herring in their possession—this includes blueback herring and alewife. All river herring inadvertently caught by anglers must be immediately released back into the water.”

  • Ooooh a snakehead control hat!!!

  • They are both invasive and DELICIOUS!!! Seriously. Eat that sucker if you can.

  • I will continue to do my civic duty by ordering the pounded snakehead fish at Thip Khao.

    • anonymouse_dianne

      Thip Khao just made Bon Appetit’s top 50 new restaurants in the US. Rose’s was on last year. TK was the only DC restaurant to make the list!

    • +1 soooo good. One of my favorite things on the menu.

  • The snakehead is now common enough in local waters that you can acquire one for dinner at your local quality fish monger.

    • ah

      They definitely need a more marketable name than “snakehead” – just ask the patagonian toothfish.

      • Snakehead – Not to mention “FIsh Monger.” The word always make me imagine a guy about 7 feet tall with GIANT eyes, drooling and grumbling as he drags a corpse somewhere. Cheese Monger doesn’t have the same result.
        Wiki says they have been known to eat rats under rare circumstances. Aside from getting them to decide to eat more rats as a benefit maybe people would like eat more if they had a catchy name, “rat fish” or “bacon fish”. Who could resist a Bacon Fish?

  • Can anything be done to get rid of them?

    Boil them, mash them, stick them in a stew.

  • Emmaleigh504

    fish head, fish head, roly poly fish head
    fish head, fish head, eat them up yum
    I took a fish head out to see a movie
    I didn’t have to pay to get it in.

  • Where can I buy one to eat?

    • wmm

      It used to be on the menu at Dino in Cleveland Park. Not sure if it still is since moving.

    • District Fishwife in Union Market usually has them fresh for sale, and also usually has them as an option for their fish sandwich. It really is a tasty fish.

      • Do they call it snakehead? I havent seen it.

        Generally, their prices are ridiculous. Does the fish market at the Wharf sell it at a more reasonable price? I dont know what their price is, so correct me if I’m wrong, but paying 25 bucks a pound for something that the state of maryland has a bounty on, is plentiful, and is a pest rubs me the wrong way. I want to try it – but if I like it, I want to make a habit of eating it.

        • I’ve always seen it there labeled as Northern Snakehead. Their prices are definitely higher than Maine Ave, but I’ve found the quality to be well above average for DC. Snakehead runs pretty cheap, I think $8/pound of something.

          • I didnt know they had anything for $8/lb at the fishwife. I’ll have to check it out, thanks!

          • +1 on quality of Fishwife offerings. Also has great selection. It is worth a little more (dollar or two a pound) to get fresh, quality seafood. And were else can you get frog legs in DC? delish!

          • I’m under the impression that the fishwife doesn’t get tuna/salmon/halibut etc from anyone special. So it’s possible paying more just makes it taste better…

    • I’ve eaten it at Thip Khao and Little Serow. Also can be purchased at Fishwife at Union Market, as mentioned already.

  • jim_ed

    I’ve never fished the canal before. Might have to rectify that soon.

  • I’m in it for the hat.

  • I’ve worked along and fished in the Georgetown portion canal for the last seven years. This is the first year I’ve seen snakeheads in the canal and I look in it every working day. I saw one in May and snapped a pic, but it was much smaller. Great shot. It was once thought the canals could keep the snakeheads out, but they’ve found their way in and will probably be impossible to keep out. The canal water is super clear right now. Great for sight fishing carp… and now snakeheads.

  • I have eaten one, purchased from BlackSalt’s fishmonger on Macarthur Boulevard. It was good.

  • I love seeing how clear the water is and all that plant life. I too was surprised recently when I looked in the water and saw what seemed like a good mix of small minnow-like fish and some larger types as well. Our city’s waterway clean-ups are working, evidently. Nice!

  • Kill them if you catch one; they are an invasive species that are decimating local fish populations in the Potomac and other Chesapeake tributaries. They got into the watered portions of the Canal through the feeder locks like Violette’s Lock near Seneca Creek. In the Canal they not only take fish but small turtles and waterfowl.

    You can buy them at District Fishwife at Union Market. The price per pound is completely reasonable, especially considering that they’re hunted with a bow — it’s not common that they’ll take a fly or baited hook. Plus every one you eat is one less breeding in the Potomac.

    Snakeheads figure prominently in Thai, Lao, and Khmer cooking (here’s a good Thai recipe:, and can be substituted in a wide range of American fish recipes (especially Cajun).

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