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Man catches rare invasive snakehead fish in Canton reservoir

"Did you see the teeth on that thing?"

Michael Powell caught a northern snakehead fish on Aug. 27 in Canton. Michael Powell

A typical fishing outing turned into an adventure when a local man caught a rare invasive fish in Canton’s Reservoir Pond.

It was a scorching hot day Friday when Michael Powell and Eddie Caraminas went out bass fishing. There was a good amount of fish activity, and around 4 p.m. Powell got a bite near Pequit Brook, but it wasn’t a bass.

“I fished my whole life, so I kind of knew what to do and I knew it wasn’t a fish that was part of this area,” he told Boston.com. “As soon as I got it on the boat, I said ‘holy shit, this is a snakehead fish.’”

Snakeheads are known for their big teeth – plus their ability to breath air and travel on land for days.

The snakehead was five pounds and 30 inches long. Powell believed he’d caught a brown snakehead fish, which has not yet been identified in the U.S., but MassWildlife told Boston.com it’s most likely a northern snakehead. There have only been four northern snakeheads caught in Massachusetts since 2002, though they’ve always been adult fish and there’s no evidence of reproduction.

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Snakeheads are native to eastern Asia, and were first discovered in the U.S. in Maryland in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most likely introduced through fish markets and illegal aquarium release. They are a predatory species and considered invasive. Snakeheads can also breathe air, survive for days out of water, lay dormant in mud during droughts, and travel on land by “wiggling” their bodies, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Powell had to spend a whole night with the fish before handing it over to the state. He called the Environmental Police on Friday, who asked him to keep it alive, but they couldn’t make it out until Saturday morning.

“I don’t really have an aquarium I can stick it in, so what I did is I dragged one of my buddy’s boats on land and filled it with water, and we put him in there,” Powell said. “I put some plywood over it, cinder blocks, made sure it didn’t get out because they’re known for getting out of aquariums and crawling around.”

Powell said he’s fished in the Reservoir Pond his whole life, and was fishing with his typical mouse lures when he caught the snakehead.

Michael Powell often uses a mouse lure to catch bass on Canton’s Reservoir Pond – but on Friday he caught a snakehead with this one. – Michael Powell

“Did you see the teeth on that thing? Try catching it — I didn’t know what the hell to do with it either and I’ve fished my whole life,” he said. “We had it out of the water for two hours while I was trying to figure out what to put it in, and as soon as we put it in the water it let out a giant gulp of air and started breathing through its gills again. I said that’s it….I don’t want to see it anymore. It’s doing stuff that fish aren’t supposed to do.”

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Powell said he’s been “to the bottom of YouTube and back” when it comes to fishing videos, so he was familiar with the type of fish and knew to call the authorities immediately.

Todd Richards, assistant director of fisheries for MassWildlife, told Boston.com that anglers who believe they’ve caught a snakehead or other invasive species should notify MassWildlife immediately. Typically, he said, anglers should keep the fish, kill it, and call 1-800-632-8075, as well as send pictures when possible in case they’ve caught a similar-looking, non-invasive fish, like the bowfin fish.

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“The euthanized fish will be examined at a later date and used for educational purposes,” Richards said. “Canton town officials, anglers, and lake residents are asked to be on the lookout in case other snakeheads reside in the pond and to contact MassWildlife of any additional fish found. Though MassWildlife is capable of conducting a survey to look for more individuals, that action is not warranted at this time.”

Michael Powell caught a northern snakehead fish on Aug. 27 in Canton. – Michael Powell
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