Since 2018, Captain Travis Stauch from RamRod Bowfishing in Woodbridge has been offering charters to small groups of people for the conquest and capture of the northern snakehead. In 2022, his company now has three boats custom-outfitted with a 36-horsepower engine that is strong enough to navigate the waters of the Potomac River and gentle enough to glide with its quiet trolling motor. Bow-fishers like Stauch use bows or crossbows with mounted reels that connect to sharp barbed arrows. Unlike traditional rod and reel fishing that hooks fish in their mouths, bow-fishing captures fish by piercing through them with arrows that have metal tips and barbs.
A lifelong fisherman who grew up fishing, crabbing, and waterfowl hunting, Stauch is intimately familiar with the twists and turns of the Potomac River and navigates his boats to the ideal strip of shallow waters ripe for northern snakehead bow-fishing. He does this in the quiet of the night, as it is far easier to catch the northern snakehead at night than it is during the day.
Why the intense hunt for the northern snakehead? In 2002, the Board of Wildlife Resources from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), the state agency responsible for managing inland fisheries, wildlife, and recreational boating in the Commonwealth of Virginia, added northern snakeheads to the list of predatory and undesirable exotic species.
Native to China and Russia, northern snakeheads were discovered along the Potomac River in 2004. By 2012, evidence of the snakeheads spreading to the Rappahannock River system and colonizing was documented. In 2015, a person was arrested in Fauquier County for illegally stocking snakeheads and presumably releasing them into Virginia freshwater bodies and tributaries. In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill that allowed increased penalties to those who illegally stocked snakeheads.
Biologists, concerned about the spread of the northern snakehead, have studied this nonnative species and concluded they are harmful to local waters. As per the DWR website, “Exotic species like snakeheads can disrupt natural aquatic systems and may have significant impacts by feeding on and competing with native and/or naturalized fishes. In addition, they may transmit parasites and diseases to native wildlife in those systems.”
Now classified as a species of fish that is both non-native and invasive in Virginia, the DWR is actively encouraging anglers, including those who go bow-fishing, to kill all snakeheads where possible.
For those who may wish to explore bow-fishing as a method of catching fish, it is strongly encouraged to go with professionals who are familiar with all the fine details of what is involved. The type of archery equipment used in bow-fishing, the techniques and best practices in shooting, understanding the impacts of the weather and precipitation, knowledge of appropriate places to go bow-fishing, not to mention operation and management of a boat that is best suited for bow-fishing, are all technical aspects of bow-fishing.
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