Two longtime buddies were out on a Friday night, trolling the Potomac River’s shallow waters to bowhunt for fish.
In a four-hour stint before midnight, the pair hauled in a decent night’s load — 222 pounds of snakehead fish, an invasive species from Asia that entered local waters 14 years ago. The pair then thought they would try to catch a few blue catfish from their 20-foot boat, named “Marsh Rat,” before calling it a night.
“I was running off at the mouth about something and Franklin’s like, ‘Look, there’s one!’ ” Emory “Dutch” Baldwin III said of fishing buddy Franklin Shotwell. “And there was that monster.”
Sure enough, there it was — a Maryland-record-setting 18.42-pound northern snakehead, state wildlife officials later confirmed.
Recalling the May 20 catch in the waters off Charles County, Baldwin, 41, said he was armed with a bow and a fiberglass arrow. Then he aimed.
“I drew back the bow and let the arrow fly,” he said.
Within about three minutes, he had wrestled the fish onto the boat and realized it was big — really big. They weighed it on the boat’s digital scale, where it topped 18 pounds.
“At first it was shocking,” said Baldwin, who is from Indian Head, Md., and works by day as a crane operator in the District. “We were like, ‘Is this scale right?’ ”
They then did what every proud angler does — snapped a picture, showing a smiling, full-bearded Baldwin holding the big fish. They iced it, took it to a local market’s certified scale and called state wildlife officials. On Monday, authorities declared it set a state record for the largest snakehead caught in Maryland waters, beating at least two records set last year.
In October, an angler from Upper Marlboro caught a 17.49-pound snakehead. Two months earlier, another had caught a 17.47-pound snakehead in Mattawoman Creek, a tributary to the Potomac in Charles County.
“This is indeed a new record for the state for its weight,” said Stephen E. Schatz, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Typically, fishing records are given for fish caught by traditional rod and reel. But in Maryland, there is an exception for some invasive fish species, including the snakehead.
Some years ago there were no snakehead fish in the Washington region. But now there are estimated to be roughly 20,000 in the Potomac River, a population close to that of largemouth bass.
Snakeheads are native to Asia and are believed to have been introduced to the Washington area in 2002 as live-fish markets imported them from overseas. Wildlife experts say some people also had snakehead fish as pets but let them go in waterways.
Over the years, wildlife experts have grown concerned about their rapid rise in population. Last year, Maryland started a program to encourage fishermen to catch — and kill — more of them in an attempt to slow their growth. Unlike some other fish, snakeheads can be legally caught at any size and at any time of year.
Snakeheads are a threat to local waterways, experts say, because they are voracious predators of crayfish and crustaceans — some of the same foods that largemouth bass consume.
“Snakeheads crowd out our native fish population,” Schatz said. “It doesn’t have any natural predators, so we actively encourage fishermen to hunt and immediately dispatch them.”
Baldwin took his record-setting snakehead to a taxidermy shop. He plans to mount it in the family’s living room above the TV, joining four deer mounts already there.
“This will be my first fish,” he said of the mount. “It’s pretty cool.”
Wildlife officials had mixed reactions to Baldwin catching such a large snakehead.
“If the fish are getting that large, they’re feeding on native populations in the ecosystem,” Schatz said. “It’s great he caught it, but we always wish we didn’t have this record to begin with.”
Baldwin said he became interested in catching snakeheads a few years ago. He sells them to local fish markets and restaurants. Last year, he and Shotwell caught over 5,000 pounds of snakehead fish from March to October. This year, they’ve caught more than 3,000 pounds, which they sell for about $5 a pound.
His best recipe for cooking snakehead is to grill or fry it with blackening seasoning or Old Bay. “It tastes like flounder,” he said.
For those who are more adventurous, Baldwin said, there are nutrients in the gallbladder of a snakehead fish.
“It’s a bright yellow-green color, kind of like a Mountain Dew,” he said.
It is supposed to be good for pregnant women, or so Baldwin has heard. Has Baldwin tried it?
“No, I’m not pregnant.”
He was born and raised in the Indian Head area and has spent years fishing in Southern Maryland’s waters. He is one of three people in his family nicknamed “Dutch,” sharing the name with his father and a son. The name stems from his grandfather’s Belgian heritage, or so he thinks.
He said some of his local fishing buddies have ribbed him about the publicity he’s gotten from his record-setting catch:
“They say, ‘Oh, you think you’re the champ.”
His wife’s reaction, he said: “She thinks it’s pretty daggone cool.”
Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.