Duran reeled in the fish a couple of Sundays ago where the rocks meet the mud at the edge of the Occoquan, a Potomac River tributary. He never got around to measuring his catch, except to put it on a scale, where it weighed in at a fin under 18 pounds 4 ounces.
“There had been rumors of a big one out there,” Duran said. “This was a real big one.”
Yes. In the days after landing the real-life fishzilla, Duran discovered that the world record for northern snakehead — the infamous, torpedo-shaped, air-breathing Asian predator with canine teeth and a reputation as a freakish freshwater monster — was 17 pounds 4 ounces, set eight years ago in Japan.
Duran beat the record by a pound.
There was a catch, though: The International Game Fish Association, which keeps the world records, likes to have girth and length measurements for record-breakers. By the time Duran figured that out, it was too late — he’d already given the fish to a friend, who’d turned it into supper.
Will his record catch be the one that got away on a technicality?
And what does it mean for the Potomac that such a large northern snakehead — an invasive, non-native species feared for its ecosystem-wrecking potential — was found in one of its tributaries?
Duran, 25, is a regular around the fishing holes of Northern Virginia. He was born in Arlington County, lives in Annandale and works in the parts department at Bill Page Honda in Falls Church.
Mostly, though, he wants to be on the water. He’s been fishing since he was 12 and goes out a couple-few times every week, usually on the Potomac, always to catch bass.
On May 6, Duran and his childhood friend Matt Caffi launched Caffi’s 21-foot bass boat from Occoquan Regional Park, near Route 123 in Lorton. They’d been out for several hours when Duran cast right up on the banks sometime after 5 p.m.
He was using a green-and-brown lure known as a Kinky Beaver (seriously, it’s in the product catalogue), “a big, five-inch bait that looks like a crayfish,” he said. “The bass really like it. It works really well for snakehead, too.”
He wasn’t trying to catch snakehead, but the aliens often lurk around bass, which they like to eat. He’d caught five smaller snakeheads before. Delicious fish, he said — as fried fish nuggets, in snakehead sandwiches, even in snakehead burritos. And, he said, “they look really cool. They’re like rattlesnakes with fins.”
As Duran was preparing to reel in his lure that Sunday, he felt a bump. His line darted to the right. He yanked his Shimano Clarus rod to set the hook. Fish on, game on.
“It comes up and crashes the surface, and Matt says, ‘twenty-pounder!’ ” Duran recalled. “I had a fight on my hands. It was really aggressive, thrashing around. He was going crazy.”