Toothsome oddity caught by angler in Susquehanna

Father and son, Fred and Brian Twigg, of Bel Air, would have had a memorable day fishing the Susquehanna on June 9, even without the catch that left the two bass anglers puzzled.

In addition to the eight nice white perch they kept to eat and the three smallmouth bass they released to provide sport another day, they also boated a toothsome oddity more typically found in saltier water, an Atlantic needlefish.


The creature, which struck a deep-running silver crank bait in about 12 feet of water off the northern end of Port Deposit near the former Townsend's Marina, was more than two feet long, 28 inches to be exact, though its garden-hose shaped body gave it only slightly more heft than a large white perch. Brian Twigg, 48, estimated the fish, which his dad hooked and boated, weighed two pounds or less.

Brian Twigg said it was the most unusual fish he had seen caught in the Susquehanna in the 38 years he has been fishing the river, and, while Atlantic needlefish aren't common in the river, they do occasionally turn up in fresh water, according to a data sheet from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce.


The Smithsonian data sheet says the species can be found in the Western Atlantic from Maine to southern Brazil, including in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Though regarded primarily as a saltwater species, "it also occurs in a number of coastal rivers and streams and is capable of ascending well upstream into fresh water," according to the Smithsonian fact sheet.

Though the needlefish caught by Fred Twigg, 68, was a fairly substantial specimen, they do grow a good deal larger - the Smithsonian fact sheet listed top length in the 40-inch range and top weight in the five-pound range.

Brian Twigg noted that he used pliers to help him handle the fish his dad caught so as to avoid being bitten. He subsequently released the fish, but not before snapping a few photographs. Owing to their long, tooth-filled snouts, they are sometimes mistaken for gars.


"Despite their superficial resemblance to gars, needlefish are more closely related to flying fish ... and the leaping and surface skittering behavior of [needlefish] when alarmed or pursuing prey is well documented," the Smithsonian fact sheet notes.

Needlefish have been observed spawning in the Potomac River in late spring and early summer, and Brian Twigg noted he had been out to Garrett Island near the mouth of the Susquehanna earlier in the year, where he saw what he now believes was a smaller needle fish a few inches long. Initially, however, he thought it was a young pickerel, but in retrospect he concluded it could well have been another needlefish.

The Smithsonian fact sheet on Atlantic needlefish notes that, while they are widely distributed along the Atlantic coasts, they generally aren't found in large numbers in any particular location.

This is similarly reflected in the degree to which Atlantic needlefish turn up in the fish lifts at Conowingo Dam, which are in operation primarily in April and May during the annual American shad spawning migration.

A technical report entitled "Characterization of Downstream Aquatic Communities from Conowingo Hydroelectric Project" prepared for Exelon by Normandeau Associates Inc. and published in February 2011, notes the needlefish show up at the dam fairly regularly, but not every year.

Going back to 1972, one to nine Atlantic needlefish were caught during some years in the fish lifts through 2000. Curiously, in recent years, they have been showing up in larger numbers, with 16 caught in the lifts in 2002, 31 in 2005 and 17 in 2009.

While Fred and Brian Twigg have been out fishing since catching the needlefish, they haven't seen any more oddities, though on an outing earlier this week they caught a largemouth bass of about four pounds, a fish that's memorable in its own right.