From shad to bass, the waterways of the D.C. region boast a huge variety of fish. With “free fishing” days coming up, we’ll take a look at the assortment of fish that swim in our area, and how to catch them responsibly.


  • John Odenkirk Biologist, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
  • Christophe Tulou Director, District of Columbia Department of the Environment
  • Captain Steve Chaconas Fishing Guide

Related Video

Professional fishing guides react to the problem of invasive species along the Potomac:


  • 12:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Yes, it's Food Wednesday. It's finally June, and in our region that means free fishing days. Local officials are trying to tempt you into the habit of fishing by giving you a couple of days to do so without a license. And in spite of what you may think, we've got some primo fishing in this area with astonishing variety.

  • 12:07:23

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhether it's carp, catfish or crappie, you can find it near D.C. You just need to know the right way to fish and how to do so responsibly. Here to guide us in that effort is Capt. Steve Chaconas. He has fished the Potomac since the 1960s. He leads fishing tours. He also covers base fishing -- bass fishing tournaments for radio and for newspapers. Capt. Steve, good to have you in studio.

  • 12:07:46

    CAPT. STEVE CHACONASOh, thank you for having me.

  • 12:07:47

    NNAMDIAlso with us is John Odenkirk. He's a biologist working for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. John Odenkirk, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:56

    MR. JOHN ODENKIRKWonderful to be here. Thank you.

  • 12:07:57

    NNAMDIAnd Christophe Tulou is with us. He's the director of the District Department of the Environment, the District of Columbia Department of the Environment. Christophe, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:06


  • 12:08:07

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. Do you have a favorite spot for fishing in the D.C. area? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, Capt. Steve, as I just mentioned, there are some free fishing days coming up, which is a pretty good reason to try fishing if you never have. How would you recommend a first-timer get started?

  • 12:08:34

    CHACONASWell, live bait. You know, worms are always the best way and a hook. And you could go to most of the, like, the Wal-Marts and any of the department stores and pick up a fishing outfit for $10, $20, $30 and get started and just drop a line in the water, get it wet, spend quality time in a quality environment.

  • 12:08:54

    NNAMDILive bait. John Odenkirk, what's the idea behind free fishing days? And what are those days in the District?

  • 12:09:00

    ODENKIRKI'm not sure about the District. I'll let Christophe mention that. In Virginia...

  • 12:09:04

    NNAMDIOh, yeah.

  • 12:09:04 fishing days are June 3 through 5. And the idea is, you know, folks might not have -- you know, tried it because they didn't want through the hassle of buying a license and look at it maybe as an additional expense. What we're going to do is waive that for a few days and allow anybody to go out and try fishing in any waters in the state -- except for designated stock trout water -- license free. So go out and hit it.

  • 12:09:28

    NNAMDIAnd if you didn't know that you needed a license to go fishing, well, now, you do.

  • 12:09:32

    NNAMDIChristophe Tulou, what are the days in the District of Columbia?

  • 12:09:36

    TULOUKojo, I am so embarrassed here.

  • 12:09:39

    NNAMDII know them.

  • 12:09:39

    TULOUI don't know.

  • 12:09:40

    NNAMDII know them. In D.C. the free fishing days are June 5 and 6 and June 12 and the 13th.

  • 12:09:47

    TULOUGreat. Thank you.

  • 12:09:48

    NNAMDIWhat's the idea behind these free fishing days?

  • 12:09:50

    TULOUWell, you know, it's an interesting thing about the District. It's a great fishing and wildlife habitat place for people to enjoy the outdoors. And the idea is to get them down to the rivers to enjoy the river in a way that we have always enjoyed rivers. And so we really want to encourage folks to get down, recreate on the river. What people don't realize is they know the Potomac pretty well. They don't realize how beautiful the Anacostia is, and it's a perfect place to go and catch fish.

  • 12:10:18

    NNAMDIWhat are your big environmental concerns about the region's waterways and fish populations right now?

  • 12:10:23

    TULOUWell, you know, it's a beautiful place to catch fish, but, unfortunately, those fish are contaminated. So what we advise people to do, as we do across the country for a variety of different reasons, is suggest that -- enjoy the catching, enjoy the scenery, catch and release your fish. We recommend that people don't eat the fish coming out of the river at this time.

  • 12:10:45

    TULOUIs that specifically Anacostia?

  • 12:10:48

    NNAMDIIs that specifically...?

  • 12:10:49

    TULOUWell, that's -- it's a general advisory that we have in the District, and that applies to all our rivers.

  • 12:10:56

    NNAMDIJohn Odenkirk, in Virginia, what are your concerns about the waterways and the fish populations?

  • 12:11:04

    ODENKIRKWell, to follow up a little bit of what Christophe said, in Virginia, certain waters do have advisories for consumption. But, generally speaking, fish are safe to eat, and we do encourage people to partake. It's a healthy source of protein and enjoy not only the catching and being outside but also harvesting some of nature's bounty and enjoying that with the family. But in terms of the fishery resources in Virginia, things, right now, couldn't be brighter.

  • 12:11:26

    ODENKIRKI think that, you know, there are some minor exceptions in terms of runoff issues and storm water pollution. But most of our rivers and streams are very, very clean and can be enjoyed, swimming and fishing.

  • 12:11:36

    NNAMDIWhat effect do dams have on fish populations?

  • 12:11:39

    ODENKIRKWell, we just had a big dam removed in Virginia, near Fredericksburg, called Embrey Dam on the Rappahannock River. It was the only dam on that entire river system. And, now, it's running free.

  • 12:11:47

    ODENKIRKSince 2004, we've seen a tremendous amount of native and introduced fish as well, also migrating above that dam site to historical spawning areas, like striped bass, American shad, hickory shad, the longnose gar, channel catfish, just wonderful fish now swimming above Fredericksburg, all the way to the headwaters near the mountains. We're colonizing waters where they've been denied access for over 100 years.

  • 12:12:10

    NNAMDIJohn Odenkirk is a biologist working for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He joins us on this Food Wednesday to talk about fishing in the Washington area, along with Christophe Tulou. He is director of the District Department of the Environment. And Capt. Steve Chaconas has fished the Potomac since the 1960s. He leads fishing tours. He also covers bass fishing tournaments for radio and for newspapers.

  • 12:12:32

    NNAMDIWe're encouraging your calls at 800-433-8850. Are you just learning how to fish? Call us for some pro tips. I think Phil in Gaithersburg, Md., needs another kind of tip. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:12:45

    PHILOkay, Kojo. Thanks very much. This is my first time having listened to you for quite some time. My question is, are residents of Maryland eligible to fish in the Washington D.C. area during the time that the Washington residents are given the opportunity to fish without licenses?

  • 12:13:03

    NNAMDIFree fishing days, Christophe Tulou, can he fish free in the District of Columbia if he's from Maryland?

  • 12:13:09

    TULOUHe's welcome.

  • 12:13:09

    NNAMDIHe'll give the answer, and I'll give you the wink, wink.

  • 12:13:13

    TULOUHe's welcome to come fish on our free fishing days. And he's welcome to fish anytime, actually. Just get a license from us, and you can fish in our waters. You can fish in Virginia if you get one of their freshwater fishing licenses as well.

  • 12:13:26

    NNAMDISo you don't need a wink, wink from me Phil. You got it?

  • 12:13:29

    PHILI got it. Thank you so much.

  • 12:13:30

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Capt. Steve, you've got your rod. You've got your reel, sinks, floaters, bait, lures, and, in our area, we've got so many kinds of fish. Can you go through some of the more popular ones? And maybe you can give us some rules of thumb about how you go about catching -- oh, let's start with carp.

  • 12:13:46

    CHACONASOkay. Well, carp are bottom feeders for the most part, and the best way to catch carp is with a homemade dough. And I actually have a couple of secret recipes. The easiest one is grab a box of Wheaties, just kind of get them wet, squeeze them, make a dough ball out of them and put them on, like, a small hook, a number eight hook or a number six treble hook. But you can also use my secret recipe. I'm only going to share it with you guys because I know you're not going to tell anybody.

  • 12:14:10

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 12:14:12

    CHACONASYou got it. You could -- you take a cup of water, and you bring it to a boil. And you put in two tablespoons of sugar. And when you get that done and it's boiling again, then you add a half a cup, very slowly, of cornmeal, just plain old, cheap, yellow cornmeal. You mix it in very, very slowly. Soon as you mix it in, take it off the heat, take another half a cup of cornmeal and mix it into that mixture, make a firm dough with it.

  • 12:14:37

    CHACONASAnd if you want to add a little bit of flavoring, you can add strawberry, or you can add vanilla so it smells good while you're fishing. And you could even eat it, too, if you want, but the carp love it. Just leave it in one spot for a long period of time. No wait. Just let the dough ball sit on the bottom, and the carp will come right to it.

  • 12:14:53


  • 12:14:55

    CHACONASPerch, yellow perch, white perch, we have both kinds in the Potomac River. And you can use either small bait fish for those, or you can use worms -- either one. And you can use a bobber. A lot of guys like to fish for yellow perch in the spring when they make their spawning run 'cause that's probably one of the best eating fish on the Potomac River. And you can use a lot of artificial lures for those as well, like small grubs or small blade baits, like silver buddy-type lures.

  • 12:15:23


  • 12:15:25

    CHACONASCatfish, again, a bottom feeder. Boy, you're just going down the whole menu here. I feel like I'm in a restaurant. Yeah, I'll take that. Catfish, again, a bottom rig works real well for them. And you can use chicken livers. Chicken livers work real well, or you can use cut bait. I recommend that you -- that any kind of bait that you use in an area that it's something indigenous, in other words, something that is not going to mess up the fishery by introducing an invasive species.

  • 12:15:51

    CHACONASSo you can catch your bait. Actually, catch other fish, cut them up and use them for bait and just leave it there for a while. Again, that catfish will find it.

  • 12:16:00

    NNAMDIAnd this part, you have to explain to me, how do I think like the fish I'm trying to catch?

  • 12:16:05

    CHACONASYou have to be wet first.

  • 12:16:08

    CHACONASNo. You know, this fishery is one of the best largemouth bass fisheries in the country, and that's a sport. In fact, actually, tomorrow, the FLW is having a pro tournament launching at National Harbor where they are -- the first place prize is $100,000 for fishing. And those guys really have to think like a fish, but you have considerations. And that's why I love my friend John Odenkirk because I always pick his brain to learn a little bit more.

  • 12:16:35

    CHACONASThey're cold-blooded creatures. And if you understand what's happening in their environment and also understand what's happening that -- at that moment in time, then you can kind of figure it out. Generally, if the water is cold, you fish slower because the fish are slower. If the water is warmer, you can fish a little faster. If it's clear, you fish a little bit faster, so they don't get a good look at your lures.

  • 12:16:56

    CHACONASAnd if the water is muddier, you have to fish slower so they can find it. So you have to think like a fish. What is that fish thinking? And how is that fish feeding to get them to bite?

  • 12:17:06

    NNAMDILet's talk about blue catfish, John Odenkirk. Another newcomer to this area is the blue catfish. What makes it different from the ones we already have?

  • 12:17:13

    ODENKIRKWell, it's interesting, Kojo, you asked. Blue cats are relative newcomers to the Potomac, probably within the last 10 years or so. In Virginia, they've been around since the mid-'70s in our major river systems, like the James and the Rappahannock. It's similar to the channel cat. A lot of people think the channel cat is native to our rivers 'cause it's been around so long, since the mid to late 1800s.

  • 12:17:31

    ODENKIRKBut the channel cat was actually introduced to (word?) around the United States from the Mississippi River drainage. It gets up to, you know, 30, 40 pounds. Now, the blue cat, also from the Mississippi River drainage, was introduced much, much later in time -- like I mentioned, just 10 years ago or so -- in the Potomac. That fish get up over 100 pounds. And so we've got a phenomenal trophy fishery developing in most waters.

  • 12:17:52

    ODENKIRKNow, some people are concerned that this newcomer, potentially invasive, might cause some shifting in the ecosystem or cause some sort of damage to other species, which may or may not happen. But be that as it may, we're not going to get rid of it. It's sort of like the snakehead. It's here to stay. And we're talking about a fish probably in excess of 100 pounds in the next few years coming out of the Potomac, and I think maybe a world record.

  • 12:18:13

    ODENKIRKI think it's swimming around, you know, soon, right across the monument, a world record.

  • 12:18:19

    NNAMDILast week, we had PBS host in Baltimore (unintelligible) chef John Shields on the show, and he says people are fishing up blue catfish like crazy because you can fish as much of it as you want to 'cause it's an invasive species. So you might be helping to get rid of it, even though John Odenkirk said, no, it's really not going anywhere. And, apparently, it tastes really good. Care to comment, Christophe Tulou?

  • 12:18:39

    TULOUFrankly, I don't know how good it tastes...

  • 12:18:41

    TULOU...but a 100-pound fish is certainly something that's got my attention. We'd love to have it caught in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

  • 12:18:47

    NNAMDIGot calls for you. Here is Errol in Washington D.C. Errol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:54

    ERROLThanks, Kojo. Good afternoon, gentlemen.

  • 12:18:55


  • 12:18:56

    ERROLMy question is about the rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay. There have been some reports kind of recently that there have been poachers who've been catching the rockfish in big huge nets. There have been some very large catches. But my question are two things. What is the impact on the rockfish population? And when those fish are caught in those nets, are they dead? Have they been destroyed? Or are they alive and can be re-released? I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 12:19:21

    NNAMDIJohn or Capt. Steve?

  • 12:19:23

    ODENKIRKYeah, I can address that probably. The ones that -- there were some reports recently in the news -- in those cases -- generally, if you're going to pull a striped bass, a.k.a. rockfish, out of a net, it's not going to be doing real good. They don't take stress real well. When they come out of a net, they're not in real good shape. The fish that you were asking about, I'm fairly sure, were donated to a food bank, so they did -- they weren't wasted.

  • 12:19:42

    ODENKIRKAnd I don't think that those individuals with those nets were caught, but there have been recently felony convictions for people -- there's people serving time, hard time right now for illegally catching and selling rockfish or striped bass, depending on what state you're in. It's the same fish.

  • 12:19:58

    ODENKIRKBut, yeah, there's -- impact on the population is going to be somewhat subtle. I don't -- I think the population of striped bass is strong enough now that some illegal poaching is not going to be a huge detriment. But, at the same time, we don't necessarily think that's a good thing. So we're, you know, patrols will stay vigilant and, you know, the fish aren't going to be wasted.

  • 12:20:20

    NNAMDICapt. Steve?

  • 12:20:21

    CHACONASYeah, it's really important that people who fish are aware of the regulations and aware of things like this going on because, you know, with all the other influences on a fishery, whether it's manmade or natural, when you start to interject the, you know, the killing of fish that could be perpetuating the population, that could cause some problem.

  • 12:20:41

    CHACONASSo we haven't really seen any really detrimental issues coming up from that specific incident, but complicating it would be if these incidents were to go unchecked. So good thing they were reported.

  • 12:20:54

    NNAMDIHere is Mark in Washington, D.C. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:59

    MARKHello, Kojo. I want to say hello to your guests. And I have a question regarding the pollution of the Potomac and, specifically, the Anacostia River. About six, seven years ago, I was an intern with Virginia Tech, and they were contracted to do a study regarding, I guess, you might term it message penetration, of whether or not the various environmental warnings concerning how much fish you're allowed to eat and so on was reaching the general public.

  • 12:21:32

    MARKSo I spent the summer on both the Potomac and the Anacostia in D.C. and Virginia, interviewing fishermen and generally trying to get a sense of whether or not they were aware of the various restrictions and so on. It seemed, for the most part, they were. As I recall, this was back '03, '04, the various -- I think it was the EPA or various agencies that said you could eat some of the fish out of the water if you limited your intake, but, due to, I think, mercury and various other heavy metals in particular, to limit the intake.

  • 12:22:07

    MARKAnd I was wondering if that -- and this is just for the D.C. area -- I was wondering if those restriction has been lifted, if they have been changed, if it was safe to eat, to what extent it was safe to eat or...

  • 12:22:18

    NNAMDIMark, here's what I'm going to do. Mark, I'm going to put you on hold and do a couple of things. One, we have, on another line here, Dottie Yunger, who is the Anacostia Riverkeeper. So I'll have Dottie respond to you about that specifically. Dottie, how are you?

  • 12:22:34

    MS. DOTTIE YUNGERI'm good, Kojo. How are you?

  • 12:22:36

    NNAMDIGood to hear from you. Can you respond to some of the questions our caller, Mark, has?

  • 12:22:40

    YUNGERYeah, and I want to thank Mark for calling in and for referencing that study. Virginia Tech did that study in 2006, I believe, and it showed that what we know about contamination in the Anacostia contaminating -- the Fish and Wildlife Service has done a study and found that two-thirds of all of the brown bullheaded catfish in the river -- still a popular fish for a fisherman to catch -- have cancerous lesions or sores.

  • 12:23:09

    YUNGERAnd that Virginia Tech study, that Mark was just referencing, showed that, through the Chesapeake Bay watershed, what we are finding is that it is most likely that minority and low-income folks are going to be fishing for subsistence reasons in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And those are also the folks that are least likely to know about fishing advisories.

  • 12:23:30

    YUNGERAnd so the very folks who are most likely to be eating the fish are the most likely to not know about the advisory, and so Anacostia Riverkeeper is about to start a survey of anglers on the river. We just want to find out who's fishing in the river and if they're catching and if they're eating it. And if they are, why, for what reasons, and if they know about the advisories and then help the District Department of the Environment come up with an outreach campaign to target those anglers and let them know about the advisory.

  • 12:24:03

    YUNGERSo they'd be making informed decisions when they're out there fishing. But Christophe's definitely right. It's great to be out there fishing on the river. Catching and releasing is the way to go.

  • 12:24:11

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. You can continue the conversation about the dangers of eating some area fish and subsistence fishing, which Dottie was talking about, at WAMU's blog, DCentric. Just head to, and you can find that conversation there. The D.C. Department of Environment's health advisory says that a half a pound of largemouth bass per month and a half pound per week of other fish is, I guess, okay.

  • 12:24:41

    TULOUYes. There's a lot of difference between species. So we have anadromous fish, like the striped bass that we've talked about, coming into the river, probably not a problem at all. Catfish, 'cause they eat on the bottom, much more of a concern for us. If there are folks, and we know that there are, eating for subsistence or other reasons, there are ways of preparing the fish that can reduce the risk.

  • 12:25:06

    TULOUOne thing I want to emphasize is, if you catch one of these fish, your fingers aren't going to fall off. So, you know, this is -- there's a hazard there. We need to let people know and advise them. But if you fillet them, get the fat off, then you're much better off, and you can eat some of that without a real risk in the short term. We are concerned about people who eat a lot over a long period of time.

  • 12:25:29

    NNAMDIJohn Odenkirk, any risks in Virginia?

  • 12:25:32

    ODENKIRKOh, as matter...

  • 12:25:33

    NNAMDIDottie, thank you for your call, by the way.

  • 12:25:35

    ODENKIRKThank you. As I mentioned, the Virginia Department of Health does -- and DEQ -- do test fish tissues. And certain waters do have advisories listed generally to no more than two meals a month, but those advisories in Virginia are limited. They can be found on Virginia Department of Health Website. But, generally speaking, the fish are safe to eat.

  • 12:25:57

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Food Wednesday conversation on fishing in the Washington area. Are you just learning how to fish? Call us for some pro tips, 800-433-8850. Been fishing around D.C.? What's your big fish story? You can go to our website, Join the conversation there. Hey, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email us at I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:28:17

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking fishing in the Washington area. We're talking with Christophe Tulou. He is the director of the District of Columbia Department of the Environment. John Odenkirk is a biologist working for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. And Capt. Steve Chaconas has fished the Potomac since the 1960s. He now leads fishing tours. He also covers bass fishing tournaments for radio and for newspapers.

  • 12:28:39

    NNAMDISpeaking of bass fishing tournaments, Capt. Steve, bass fishing is especially popular the whole country over. Why?

  • 12:28:46

    CHACONASBecause you can find them the whole country over, that's why. They're shallow water fish for the most part. They're very aggressive fish. And, you know, under certain situations, they're fairly easy to catch. You could catch a lot of them. It's -- it also involves a lot of toys, everything from the big boys with the big bass boats all the way down to, you know, an affordable rod and reel.

  • 12:29:08

    CHACONASYou don't have to break the bank to get out there and do this. And there's information everywhere. You've got websites all over, Bassmaster's. You've got You got, so -- and a lot of them do focus on bass fishing with all the lures. And it's a fun thing. It's a great game, if you will.

  • 12:29:26

    NNAMDIWell, yesterday, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources tagged and released around 200 striped bass. Many of these fish can be brought in for rewards of $500. And one of them, Diamond Jim, can be brought in for $10,000. Have you gone after that one yet, Capt. Steve?

  • 12:29:46

    CHACONASI will take people out, and we'll try to get Diamond Jim.

  • 12:29:48

    NNAMDIDiamond Jim. What's the purpose of that, of the releasing?

  • 12:29:51

    CHACONASIt's -- everything -- my job -- you know, you mentioned that I do tours. I take people out fishing. But, really, ultimately, my job is to get people interested in fishing and to help them learn how to fish. And our friends with the Maryland DNR and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and then at D.C. Fisheries have the same motivation. We want to get people interested in fishing.

  • 12:30:12

    CHACONASAnd, because of that, people get involved in the environment. They can see then the consequences of things that they do and how they impact a fishery. Whether it's throwing a cigarette butt out of the window or dropping a plastic bottle or to the extent of even fertilizing your lawn, you become part of the environment. And you don't have to be political about it, but you become an activist for it. And we're all better off.

  • 12:30:37

    NNAMDIWe'll take your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you have a favorite spot for fishing in the D.C. area? Are you just learning how to fish? If you'd like some pro-tips, call us at 800-433-8850. Been fishing around D.C.? What's your big fish story? Here's one we got from Stuart. "Within D.C., I've caught largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, shad, eel, rockfish, channel catfish, mud catfish, rock bass, walleye, yellow perch, white perch, crappie, bluegills, pumpkin seeds and even a rainbow trout."

  • 12:31:07

    NNAMDI"Although not fish, I once hooked a muddy jockstrap and an Easter basket. I hooked a fish once that swam away with the force of a submarine and parted a 15-pound test line as if were a sewing thread. I practice catch and release only." Thank you for sharing that story with us, Stuart. You, too, can share yours at 800-433-8850. In the world of invasive species, one especially ugly fish is always on people's mind, the snakehead. What do we know about how this fish is doing in our region, John?

  • 12:31:39

    ODENKIRKWell, first off, I don't necessarily think they're real ugly. I used to. But the more I work with them, the more I appreciate them.

  • 12:31:44

    NNAMDI'Cause you're on a snakehead fishing task force.

  • 12:31:47

    ODENKIRKTheir inner beauty, I guess.

  • 12:31:50

    ODENKIRKBut, now, well, they have done quite well since we first found them in 2004. And their numbers have increased dramatically, significantly every year like we thought they would. But what they've done that we didn't think they'd do was move substantial distances, both downstream and upstream. They've proven quite adept. You know, we sort of think of snakeheads as being a slack water, sluggish, shallow, vegetation-choked habitat-loving species.

  • 12:32:18

    ODENKIRKBut -- and they do seem to prefer that habitat. But we have seen them now crossing the channel of the Potomac, going up above Fletcher's Boathouse, up in the rocks and the fast water. And they're congregating up at the base of Great Falls now. There are reports that they're in the canal system, trying to get around Great Falls. There have been some reports they may be above Great Falls. That hasn't been verified yet.

  • 12:32:38

    ODENKIRKBut the other thing, on the -- the amazing side of it is downstream, you know. We thought that around Colonial Beach, we figured the salinity would be a good blockage 'cause the literature that was out there, which was thin, suggested they didn't really -- couldn't handle salinity. Well, they can handle salinity, especially when you get these fresh -- it's in the spring. You get a lot of freshwater coming down, which is less dense than the saltwater.

  • 12:33:00

    ODENKIRKAnd the juvenile snakeheads can tolerate much higher salinities than we thought. And so they started turning up around the mouth of the bay and, in fact, now, are even out into the bay in the tributaries north and south of where the Potomac enters the bay. So they have colonized much, much greater areas than we thought. And their numbers are increasing. But we really don't know what the impacts are.

  • 12:33:20

    ODENKIRKWe hadn't been able to point our fingers at anything that's definitely happened. So there's no catastrophe yet. It's not something we really wanted, but we're just trying to learn from it and figure out what's happening at this point.

  • 12:33:30

    NNAMDIYou mentioned, I think, in earlier conversations, that snakeheads stick with their young for a very long time and protect them, and that's one of the reasons we have so many?

  • 12:33:38

    ODENKIRKWell, they have a number of sort of competitive advantages. If you look at other naturalized tornado fish species that are here, that they're competing with, the snakeheads have a very high fecundity rate, meaning they have a lot of eggs in their ovaries. They spawn multiple times in a season. The parents guard their young for a long time, you know, substantially longer than most species that we're accustomed to.

  • 12:33:59

    ODENKIRKAnd so all these things combined give the fish a competitive advantage to be prolific and be successful in a strategy -- a life-history strategy. And because of that, you know, they tend to do very well. They can tolerate -- they're obligate air breathers, which blows my mind, you know. It took me two or three years after working with them. I thought they were facultative air breathers, meaning they could breathe water, you know, take up oxygen through water like most fish.

  • 12:34:22

    ODENKIRKOr they could be like a turtle and come up and get a gulp of air. In reality, they're obligates, meaning they have to breathe air, which is just bizarre to me and -- but what that does is it enables the fish to live in anoxic environments, you know, conditions that would kill most other fish. So, again, that opens up more habitat to the fish where they can potentially out-compete something that can't do that.

  • 12:34:43

    NNAMDIHow do you feel about the inner beauty of the snakehead fish?

  • 12:34:46

    CHACONASI -- you know, everyone always asks me about the first time I caught one because they are ugly. They were mean. They were nasty. They were slimy. I thought I'd hooked a lawyer at first. But then John cut them open. We saw they had a heart, and we knew they were a fish. I'm in John's camp.

  • 12:35:00

    NNAMDIBut is it a bottom feeder?

  • 12:35:01


  • 12:35:02

    NNAMDIThen they can't qualify to be a lawyer. I'm sorry.

  • 12:35:05

    CHACONASI'm with John. I think they are a beautiful fish. I target them. I have people coming from all over the country and even from overseas that want to come here and try to catch the snakeheads. And I use information -- like John said, when they -- they come up to breathe and they spend a lot of their time coming up to breathe, so I use fishing lures that actually cover the surface.

  • 12:35:24

    CHACONASSo I'm taking advantage of that little attribute that they have to try to catch these fish. I think they're gorgeous. I really do. And I have a lot of clients who'd actually taken them home, eaten them. And John has actually eaten them, and he -- look at him. He looks healthy.

  • 12:35:37

    ODENKIRKThey're quite good. They're very good.

  • 12:35:39

    NNAMDIWell, let me ask our listeners. Have you ever had the chance to meet a snakehead face-to-face, tried to eat one? Call us, 800-433-8850. Tell us what that experience was like. We got this from Keith in Silver Spring, Christophe. "If fishing in the Potomac, which covers D.C., Maryland and Virginia, will I have to get a license from each?" And before you respond to that, I think we have a similar question from Donald in Washington, D.C. Donald, your turn.

  • 12:36:06

    DONALDHi. How you doing there? Yeah, I was wondering about the reciprocity of license holders. And plus the fact I'm 67, and I don't -- I'm not sure if I need one in the District.

  • 12:36:16

    NNAMDIAh, I think there's an age thing there. If you're over 65, you may not need a license. Does anyone know about that?

  • 12:36:23

    CHACONASYeah, in D.C., you don't need a license over 65. In Virginia, I think it's the same way, isn't it? John is going to look that out for us. Basically, the Potomac River is three jurisdictions. Above the bridge, it's a diagonal line from Jones Point, which is at the Wilson Bridge, to a point across the river, about a northeast diagonal to Fox Ferry. From that point above, you need a D.C. license.

  • 12:36:48

    CHACONASBelow that, the Virginia freshwater and the Maryland title licenses do reciprocate. But I do have to throw one more twist there for the Virginia and Maryland license. You have to register in Virginia with the FIP, which is a saltwater registry, if you're going to fish in the Potomac. And it's a free registration. You go online and do that. And the same thing -- you have to register with Maryland's equivalent of it.

  • 12:37:12

    CHACONASNow, if you buy the Maryland title fishing license, you only need to register with Virginia. And I hope that hasn't confused too many people.

  • 12:37:19

    NNAMDIDonald, if you look as young as you sound, you'd better take your I.D. with you because I'd give you a citation in a minute. You don't sound over 65.

  • 12:37:28

    DONALDHow do you go online to register in Virginia, though?

  • 12:37:30

    ODENKIRKDonald, this is John. It's -- 65 and over in Virginia, you pay $7. It's a reduced fee. But -- and there's a good reason for that, but I'm not going to take up time on the air. I'll explain it to you later, but...

  • 12:37:42

    NNAMDICan he do it online?

  • 12:37:43

    ODENKIRKYou can go to And that's our website. And you can buy your $7 good-for-a-year license there, and that'll cover you. And then you can also go to VMRC, Virginia Marine Resources' website. And that's where you get the number, the FIP, the fisherman information program. It was a federal program, basically, that, if you wanted to fish rivers that ran to the sea, you had to register.

  • 12:38:08

    ODENKIRKAnd the Fed started that out, and it was free. But then they started charging. And the states -- if we have a saltwater license, we can get around that by registering you, and you don't have to pay. So, basically, it just takes you a few keystrokes on the computer, on VMRC's website to register, to get that number and write that on your license that you get from us. And that way, you'll still only give 7 bucks for the year, and you won't have any hassle.

  • 12:38:31

    NNAMDIDonald, thank you very much and good luck to you.

  • 12:38:34

    DONALDThank you.

  • 12:38:35

    NNAMDIWe got a comment on our website. "Where can you catch bass in D.C.?" Christophe Tulou?

  • 12:38:40

    TULOUYou can catch bass just about everywhere. And as Steve was mentioning, you know, we've got folks who will be participating in tournaments that actually will come into D.C. waters to see if they can find the big one here. So, yeah, you, you know, you have to know the fish, as Capt. Steve was mentioning, as to where to find them, but they are there. And so you can catch them in D.C. waters.

  • 12:39:05

    CHACONASOne of the nice things, Kojo...

  • 12:39:07


  • 12:39:07

    CHACONAS...about D.C. is that you have largemouth, but you also smallmouth bass, which are a different species of fish. But they are a lot more fun to catch for a lot of people 'cause they fight a lot and they jump and they run. And you have those -- you have a better chance of catching those in D.C. waters, fishing around the bridges and fishing around any grass beds that you might be able to find.

  • 12:39:27

    NNAMDIHave you been eating fish you've been getting out of the Potomac or Anacostia? Call us, 800-433-8850. We've been getting a lot of tweets about people who want to know where are there locations to get fish cleaned and filleted in the Washington area. But I think there are a lot of such locations, aren't there?

  • 12:39:45

    CHACONASWell, you would -- it's self-service basically. When you catch your own, you can clean them and fillet them., the website I was talking about earlier, has just about all that kind of information, shows you how to fillet and prepare different species of fish.

  • 12:40:00

    NNAMDIGo down on the waterfront in D.C., you can probably find somebody there who can do it for you, also. I usually do. Here's Bill in Baltimore, Md. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:10

    BILLHi, Kojo. I used to fish just downstream of Chain Bridge on the Virginia side in 1960. And we used a big bamboo pole so that we could get the fish to come straight out instead of dragging it across the bottom and picking up sneakers and tires and stuff. And I would take the fish home to my mom, and she would say, oh, Billy, that's wonderful. You've caught some big fish. We'll have them tomorrow for dinner.

  • 12:40:35

    BILLBut then she would throw them away and buy some fish and have it for dinner. I only learned this a lot later. So the question is I fell in once, and the water felt so greasy and dirty. And I wondered if there has been improvement in the quality of the water since 1960, if Steve would comment about that. And I'll take my comment off the air.

  • 12:40:56

    NNAMDICapt. Steve?

  • 12:40:57

    CHACONASYeah, absolutely. The only thing that we worry about in the Potomac are the heavy metals and the PCBs that work their way into the food chain. The water itself, for the most part, in -- for most of the time of the year is clear. We have a lot of water skiers. A lot of people swim in it. It's cleaned up a lot since the Clean Water Legislation of the 1960s that was enacted.

  • 12:41:16

    CHACONASSo to answer your question, what you probably felt back then could have been a lot of different things, things that have been eliminated. We're becoming smarter consumers of the environment, and we're not polluting it as much. So get out there and enjoy it.

  • 12:41:27

    NNAMDIBill, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. You can continue our conversation about the dangers of eating area fish and subsistence fishing at WAMU's blog DCentric. Just go to After the break, we’ll come back and talk about fishing in the Washington area. You can still call us at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to, a tweet, @kojoshow, or just go to our website,

  • 12:41:53

    NNAMDIJoin the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:43:42

    NNAMDIWe're talking fishing this Food Wednesday with John Odenkirk. He is a biologist working for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Christophe Tulou is the director of the District of Columbia, Department of the Environment, and Capt. Steve Chaconas has fished the Potomac since the 1960s. He leads fishing tours. He also covers bass fishing tournaments for radio and for newspapers.

  • 12:44:03

    NNAMDILicensed anglers are expected to no maximum and minimum sizes for a bunch of species. John, why are these limitations important?

  • 12:44:12

    ODENKIRKWell, size limits are designed to regulate the harvest of fish. Generally, we look at a population, and we try to look at its metrics, the population dynamics, and determine if it's being over-harvested, under-harvested, what it needs to sustain itself. Is it -- is there -- should the fish be a certain size to reproduce to be able to enhance the population and carry it on? And so these regulations create limits.

  • 12:44:34

    ODENKIRKAnd size limits are designed to ensure against over-harvest, so that there's fish available for the next time somebody comes out. And we try to minimize those. In fact, over time, the last 10 years, as people become more and more oriented towards catch and release, whether it's just an ethic or due to some contaminant issues, we've had to -- we've been able to do away with a lot of restrictions. And so there are actually less limits now in Virginia than there were 10 or 15 years ago.

  • 12:44:59

    NNAMDIGot this comment from Gupta on our website, who says, "My sister is a biologist, who did a study of mortality for fish that were caught and released. Depending on the circumstances, at least 40 percent won't survive the experience. If you must catch and release, please, get them back in the water as quickly and gently as possible." Good advice, Capt. Steve?

  • 12:45:18

    CHACONASAbsolutely. If you're going to catch fish -- and, again, the wintertime is not so bad. But the summertime, with the fish being stressed out from the heat, you definitely want to get the fish in the boat as quickly as possible. And that's why we use heavier lines, a little heavier rods, so the fish don't get stressed out during the fight. We get them in, take a picture and let them go, release them, taking care to make sure your hands are moist or wet when you handle the fish.

  • 12:45:42

    CHACONASThat way you don't release the fish slime. And for the tournament anglers, they need to really be more diligent, that when they release their fish after tournaments, to ensure that most of those fish will survive as well.

  • 12:45:52

    NNAMDIHere is Ron in Washington, D.C. Ron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Oh, Ron, I didn't click on you properly. Now I have. Ron, go ahead, please.

  • 12:46:03

    RONGood afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 12:46:05

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 12:46:05

    RONI sail a great deal in the Potomac, but I haven't fished yet. I'm interested in fishing. I know, as a sailor, we take account of the high and low tide. I'm wondering, how do the tides affect fishing in the Potomac?

  • 12:46:17

    NNAMDICapt. Steve.

  • 12:46:18

    CHACONASWell, if you are a student of the sport, you should be able to catch them at any tide. And although a lower tide is generally easier because basically it shrinks the playing field, whereas in a higher tide, the fish could be spread out through a lot of lily pads or grasses or even up into the woods, when the tide recedes, the fish are forced to -- along with the bait fish -- to move out to the edges. So fish the last couple of hours of the outgoing tide for your best chances while you're learning.

  • 12:46:48

    NNAMDIGood for you. Here is Brian in Falls Church, Va. Brian, your turn.

  • 12:46:53

    BRIANHello, gentlemen. About seven years ago, I saw a new segment about baby ducks disappearing from that pond on the Mall, and catfish are suspected. So a couple of weeks later, when I got a D.C. license, I went down there and pulled two bats out in less than hour right there on the Mall. Needless to say, a lot of tourists kind of thought I was crazy.

  • 12:47:16

    NNAMDIWas he, in fact -- is he, in fact, crazy, Christophe Tulou?

  • 12:47:20

    TULOUHey, I think the proof's in the pudding there. Now, the man is probably the smartest fisherman in Washington, D.C.

  • 12:47:26

    NNAMDIOh, good. Good for you, Brian.

  • 12:47:28

    BRIANThank you, gentlemen.

  • 12:47:29

    NNAMDIThank you for your call. John, shad play an especially prominent role in Virginia. Every year, politicians and others gather for shad planking in Wakefield. But of all the things to celebrate, why shad?

  • 12:47:42

    ODENKIRKIt's history more than anything, as far as I can tell. And they are -- we call them the poor man's tarpon. American shad are a wonderful fish. Their stocks have been depleted over time, but they are coming back now, thanks to some stocking programs. But they fight great. I mean, you know, American shad would be four, five, six pounds. You hook them. They jump. They peel the line off. They are actually very good to eat smoked or otherwise.

  • 12:48:07

    ODENKIRKThe roe is what's prized, you know, and is a great tradition, and especially the further south you go, it seems shad roe is a bigger, bigger part of the diet -- kind of like grits, I guess. But, yeah, it's just -- it's a fantastic fish with a lot of history, a fabled fish. There's been books and books written on it. And we're trying to bring it back. We really are.

  • 12:48:25

    ODENKIRKAnd we've had some -- this year, on the Rappahannock, was the best year we've ever seen in 20 years, anyway, that I've been around. And the Potomac's still got a pretty strong population, thanks in large part to that -- the brood-stock collection in restocking it, Potomac River Fisheries Commission and Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Jim Cummins and his folks and VDGIF.

  • 12:48:44

    NNAMDIThe fish are splayed open and then smoked for hours on wooden planks. Here is Nancy in Mathews, Va. Hi, Nancy.

  • 12:48:52

    NANCYHi. How are you?

  • 12:48:53

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 12:48:55

    NANCYGood. I was calling as a woman fisherperson. My dad in Maryland, Catonsville, specifically, raised me up to largemouth bass fishing when I was probably 6 years old. And so I carried that with me from the waters in Maryland to the waters now in Virginia. And as a woman, I found that it was a lot of fun. Largemouth bass give you such a fight. And when you go to reach in, you grab that fish by the lips.

  • 12:49:29

    NANCYIt's a lot easier than when you're trying to pull any other kind of fish out of the waters with -- well, my husband laughs at me. I have a fishing glove, so I don't harm the fish when I release because we always catch and release. But I wanted to share that there are women out there that thoroughly enjoy the sport. And it's probably the most peaceful quality time that my husband and I can spend together out on the water.

  • 12:49:55

    NANCYLargemouth bass fishing, it's wonderful, and I'm enjoying your show. So I'm going to get off the phone and let you all...

  • 12:50:01

    NNAMDIOh, just one question, Nancy. Is it peaceful with your husband? Because they say the reason why men like fishing is that we bond. We sit there for hours and never have to speak to one another.

  • 12:50:12

    NANCYOh, but that's the secret. When we're out on the boat, Kojo, we actually have very little conversation because we're very involved with the activity of catching the first fish. And my husband has a fishing song that he'll fish -- he'll sing if he catches a fish, and it's very competitive. But we're quiet, and we enjoy each other's company when we're in our boat, just cruising along, catching the fish. It's wonderful.

  • 12:50:38

    NNAMDII learned a long time ago the secret of a good marriage is learning to be quiet when it's necessary. Thank you so much for your call, Nancy. Capt. Steve, care to comment?

  • 12:50:47

    CHACONASYeah, I take men and women out fishing, and I love the ladies because they do something that the guys don't. They actually listen and ask questions. So the guys just don't want -- oh, I'm a guy. I don't need any more help, you know. But the ladies are wonderful, and you're always welcome on my boat.

  • 12:51:01

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. On, now, to Luciano in Leesburg, Va. Luciano, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:51:11

    LUCIANOHi. Hello, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I'm new in the Metro area, and I need to find out where I can go trout fishing. I just moved from California, and I'm used to -- fond of trout fishing.

  • 12:51:25

    NNAMDIWhere, Capt. Steve, can Luciano go trout fishing?

  • 12:51:28

    CHACONASWell, yeah, I'm going to defer to John because John -- that's actually John's region that he covers. All over the place, really, John.

  • 12:51:35

    ODENKIRKLuciano, you ended up in a great spot. You've got a tremendous diversity of trout resources in Virginia, starting right here in the local Metro area. We got some delayed harvest trout streams, where you can go out right next to the Beltway or go to Cook Lake and catch -- put and take rainbow trout, brown trout during the colder months. But you don't have to drive very far.

  • 12:51:55

    ODENKIRKShenandoah National Park -- probably one of the best strongholds of wild brook trout in the world -- fantastic resources up there, and we've got some great, you know, bigger river trout fishing closer to the mountains -- Lake Moomaw, Blue Lake Moomaw, and the Jackson River tailwater, Mossy Creek. We've got, really, some world-class trout fisheries. is our website. Go there.

  • 12:52:17

    ODENKIRKJust click on fishing and then start looking for some trout resources. You can send a message to the webmaster. It'll find its way back to me. And we'll get you some information. But just go to that website,, and you'll get all you need. And you've got a lot to choose from.

  • 12:52:32

    NNAMDIWe got this email from Carlos. "Does my little brother need a license? I wanted to know if my little brother, 10 years old, needs a permit this weekend to fish in Shenandoah National Park with me. I have a freshwater and trout license."

  • 12:52:43

    ODENKIRKIn Shenandoah National Park, there's -- I do not think there's any special permit needed to fish the park. You have to have -- you don't even need a trout license because you're fishing for wild trout. So all you have to have if you're over -- 16 or over is a fishing license, unless it's June 3 through five, and you don't need any license.

  • 12:53:01

    NNAMDIThere are a lot of misconceptions in this area that you hear from people who fish. And one of them, of course, is where you need a license and where you do not. Another is don't fish between the bridges. Have you heard that one, Capt. Steve?

  • 12:53:15

    CHACONASYou could fish between the bridges. The D.C. Harbor, the Coast Guard and the Homeland Security boats will let you know if you can't fish there. There are a couple of areas that are off-limits. In Washington Channel around Fort McNair, they have it off -- blocked off, and it's kind of like an arbitrary block-off there. But, for the most part, you could fish just about anywhere there. Because of the heightened security, you will be questioned.

  • 12:53:41

    CHACONASYou'll be stopped because you're -- stopped in your fishing. And it is a very secure area around here, with the airports, the Pentagon, et cetera.

  • 12:53:48

    NNAMDIOn to Sekou (sp?) in Washington. Sekou, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Sekou. Are you there? I think Sekou went away. We'll put Sekou on hold while we talk with Mike in Alexandria, Va. Mike, your turn.

  • 12:54:03

    MIKEHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm an avid fisherman on the Potomac. I'm also a high school rowing coach. And my question is about the hydrilla in the Potomac. I know it's cleaned up the Potomac a lot, and it's great for the bass fishing. But I've noticed an incredible increase in the amount in the area that it covers. And I wondered if anyone knew, like, how it got there and if it poses any more risk of actually taking over and being harmful.

  • 12:54:29


  • 12:54:31

    ODENKIRKWell, Mike, the hydrilla in the Potomac goes through cycles. Nancy Rybicki with USGS has done some tremendous work on looking at that over time. And, to be honest, my impression is, right now, the hydrilla is probably less abundant than it has been, say, 10 years ago. There's a lot going on there, not just hydrilla, but there's Eurasian water milfoil and other invasive exotic -- submerged aquatic vegetation.

  • 12:54:53

    ODENKIRKAnd you've got native plants, actually, coming back in large part, Nancy believes, because of the favorable habitat that's being created by the exotics. So it's an interesting dynamic. It changes. It shifts every year with nutrient flux and the sediments and the propagule transports. And there's always different things going on. But I understand, probably more from a rowing aspect, that you're concerned about the SAV.

  • 12:55:16

    ODENKIRKBut as I can tell from a fishery manager and from natural resource standpoint, the existing vegetation in the Potomac is probably beneficial and is not necessarily headed towards anything worse than it has been. If anything, it's probably getting better, is my interpretation.

  • 12:55:34

    NNAMDIMike, thank you for your call.

  • 12:55:36

    MIKEThank you.

  • 12:55:37

    NNAMDIOn to an email we got from Jim. "There's a big amphibian called a Siren, which lives in the Greater Washington area. It looks like an eel at first glance and is often assumed to be an eel with two tiny front legs. As a kid, I saw several of these caught by fishermen in this area, but have not seen one in decades. Do any of your guests know if there are any recent sightings in this area?" Capt. Steve.

  • 12:56:00

    CHACONASOh, boy, you got me there. Now, I've never heard of that. But if you haven't seen it for a while, chances are there are a lot of species that kind of disappear, either because of habitat or something else taking over its neighborhood. And -- or it's losing its food source.

  • 12:56:16

    NNAMDIHere, now, is Frank in Arlington, Va. Frank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:56:22

    FRANKHi, Kojo. And thank you for having this show. I -- my question is I just got a boat with -- and two small boys. Well, I've had the boys a while. And I keep it at Columbia Island. So the question is -- right by the Pentagon. And I'd like to take them fishing in the Potomac. Would I be better advised to go up towards the Three Sisters and up towards the Potomac Gorge, or down past the Wilson Bridge, into one of those little bays down there?

  • 12:56:49

    CHACONASAll right. Well, I'll take that, I guess. First thing is make sure that the kids have a life jacket on, a personal flotation device, and make sure your boat is safe. That's the first thing. The second thing is to kind of understand how long your kids can really tolerate fishing. We don't want to overdo it and get them, you know, to the point where they're, oh, no, we're going fishing. It should be, oh, great, we're going fishing.

  • 12:57:10

    CHACONAS'Cause a lot of kids are really getting into fishing as a sport, and it's great that you're encouraging them. You could start off maybe by fishing in and around Columbia Island itself. And you can go either north or south. I would start first with, you know, drop an anchor and having plenty of food on board and just waiting there, try to fish for the big catfish that John Odenkirk was talking about.

  • 12:57:32

    CHACONASAnd start there and see what their tolerance is and see how they want to grow. The kids will let you know when they want to move on to something else. So start off close to home and then move from there.

  • 12:57:43

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have, except for this email from Kimberly in Philadelphia. "My boyfriend has recently reintroduced me to the peace and joy of fishing, which I haven't done since I was a kid. He has a life-enriching view. If you're having a rough day, go down to the river or canal, pond, et cetera, and cast 10 times. Even if you don't catch anything, you generally forget your troubles after 10 casts and get a little perspective."

  • 12:58:06

    ODENKIRKIt's perfect.

  • 12:58:06

    NNAMDIHey, amen to that. Capt. Steve Chaconas has fished the Potomac since the 1960s. He leads fishing tours. He also covers bass fishing tournaments for radio and newspapers. John Odenkirk is a biologist working for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. And Christophe Tulou is the director of the District of Columbia Department of the Environment. Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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