“We were hootin’ and hollerin’, ” Stack said. “We saw how big he really was when he started fighting.”
That snakehead — with fins like a catfish and flesh like a Burmese python — weighed in at more than 16 pounds, the largest caught during the two-day Potomac Snakehead Tournament that ended Sunday at Smallwood State Park on Mattawoman Creek in Marbury, in Charles County. Stack and five buddies — Teamblazer Bowfishing — caught 25 fish in all, nearly 230 pounds, earning them a $1,500 first prize for total weight and $975 for the largest fish.
Seein’ Red Outdoors, a team of youngsters from La Plata and Cobb Island, none older than 16, took second prize — $585 — for catching 33 snakeheads totaling 180 pounds.
The contest, in its second year, removed more than half a ton of invasive northern snakeheads from the Potomac and its tributaries, 1,402 pounds, nearly doubling the goal of its chief organizer, Austin Murphy of Whackfactor Outdoors, a hunting group. Since 2002, when snakeheads were discovered in a Crofton pond, and 2004, when they were found in Potomac tributaries, biologists have worried that this top-level Asian predator would lead to the demise of native fish.
“We’re looking to double last year’s 435 pounds,” Murphy said before Sunday’s weigh-in.
The number of participants in the tournament also doubled this year, to 110 people on 18 teams.
The freewheeling competition had a few stiff rules, such as the one reinforced by an announcer at weigh-in: “Just a little reminder for the teams, all fish must be dead.” Maryland advises anglers to kill the nuisance fish as soon as they catch them.
The point of the competition was to remove as many snakeheads as possible from the watershed.
But there was more. “We’re not only removing fish from the ecosystem, we’re organizing a snakehead dinner with celebrity chefs,” Murphy said. Cooking started at 1 p.m., and about 75 diners lined up to taste the snakehead ceviche and burgers.
The ceviche was plated on blue corn chips, garnished with vegetables, gourmet style, like on the Food Network show “Iron Chef America.” The ceviche was tart and sweet, melting on the tongue. The burger was brownish yellow outside like a crab cake and smooth and flaky white inside.
Chad Wells, the chef from Alewife in Baltimore who made the ceviche, said some people shy away from eating snakehead because of the name. His mother, for instance. “I just gave it to her without telling her what it was,” he said, and she loved it.
“They fry, grill, sautee, bake, steam — they’re great,” Wells said.
John Rorapaugh of ProFish, a District-based seafood supplier, hoped contestants would donate snakeheads for a cooking competition to be held this summer at Tony and Joe’s restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront.