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Snakehead catch may be a world record

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Caleb Newton has been fishing Aquia Creek in his native Stafford County for much of his life.

On Saturday, fishing with a buddy on the Potomac River tributary, Newton caught what appears to be the fish of a lifetime—a world record northern snakehead.

If the fish, 36 inches long and weighing in at 17 pounds, 6 ounces, is determined to be a record catch by the International Game Fish Association, it would beat the current hook-and-line record of 17 pounds, 4 ounces, caught in 2004 in Kagawa, Japan.

Newton, 27, a plumber who now lives in Spotsylvania County, was with Stafford fishing buddy Phil Wilcox around lunchtime Saturday when Wilcox spotted the big fish.

The snakehead, a voracious predator with a brown, snakelike pattern along its sides, at first ignored a rubber worm. Then Newton tried a crank bait—a plastic lure resembling a bait fish, with multiple treble hooks—and it struck.

Both men knew it was a big one, and Newton didn’t waste any time.

“It took me about a minute to get it in the boat,” he said. Landed on 15-pound-test monofilament line on a light rod, the fish barely fit in his large white cooler.

Newton and Wilcox were among 15 boats on Aquia in a fishing tournament dubbed the Bachelor Big Bass Bash in honor of Wilcox’s upcoming wedding.

When they got to the shore and Newton laid out the fish at the landing, another angler told him that the current record was an 18-pound, 3 -ounce snakehead caught last summer in the Occoquan River.

Just to be sure, Newton put his catch on ice and checked online when he got home. The Occoquan fish, caught by Juan Duran of Annandale in May 2012, was not weighed on a certified scale, and was cleaned and eaten. So, though it may have been bigger, it did not qualify for a record.

Newton took his fish to Green Top, a sporting goods store in Ashland, where it was weighed on a certified scale.

On Monday morning, he took his fish—packed in ice in a cooler—to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ office in Fredericksburg. Fisheries biologist and snakehead expert John Odenkirk identified the fish as a northern snakehead as a courtesy to help Newton with his pending IGFA certification.

Virginia currently has no snakehead category for record fish, though Odenkirk says the species could be added in the future.

Snakeheads, an invasive species imported from Asia, were first discovered in a Maryland pond in 2002, and in a tributary of the Potomac River in Fairfax County in 2004. Since then, they’ve spread into several Chesapeake Bay rivers, including the Rappahannock.

Odenkirk spoke last month to the annual meeting of the Friends of the Rappahannock on the spread of the fish. He says Aquia Creek has been a hotspot where some big snakeheads have been reported.

“It is a big fish,” Odenkirk said of Newton’s catch. He says the largest fish he’s seen to date have been 15 to 17 pounds, but he expects that they could eventually reach 20 pounds.

He says research is ongoing, and scientists are still learning about how they grow, and what the limits are. Newton’s fish, Odenkirk said, is probably between 5 and 10 years old.

Newton said he and his friends have been catching big snakeheads in Aquia Creek for several years, with a few tipping the scales at between 12 and 14 pounds. Newton said bow fishermen who hunt snakeheads at night have reported catching some close to 18 pounds, but those are not eligible for hook-and-line records.

He said he’s planning to have this one mounted, to hang on his wall.

Jack Vitek, world records coordinator for IGFA in Dania Beach, Fla., said Newton must submit a completed application, which includes, among other things, information about the fishing line and leader used to catch the fish, and the scale used to weigh it.

“Once he submits all of that, I’ll review it, and then it will be reviewed by our staff biologist,” Vitek said. IGFA President Rob Kramer will give it a final review, and the organization will make its decision within two months.

“If it checks out, it will be recognized,” Vitek said.

IGFA maintains world records on more than 1,000 types of fish, “just about anything that swims,” Vitek said.

If Newton’s snakehead qualifies, it won’t be the first world-record fish taken in the Fredericksburg area.

Lake Orange, a few miles east of the town of Orange, became popular for producing a world record white bass of 6 pounds, 13 ounces in 1989, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431


Native to China, Korea and Russia, northern snakeheads have been certified at over 17 pounds. They prefer weeded areas and will eat practically anything they can catch, researchers say.

They are raised for food in Asia and Africa, but U.S. officials banned import and transport of the fish in 2002. Virginia banned their possession the following year.

Anglers are asked to report any snakeheads they catch in Virginia waters by calling the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at 804/367-2925.