It’s just past dawn, and I’m standing, sopping wet and freezing cold, on a small bass-fishing boat in Plantation, Florida, a suburb about 30 minutes north of Miami. I’m with Ben Sargent, expert urban fisherman and host of the Cooking Channel’s Hook, Line & Dinner series. I’m utterly miserable, but Ben is unfazed. He keeps casting his line, hell-bent on landing a snakehead, the troublesome fish he has been after, unsuccessfully, for the past five years. “One just struck,” he shouts when the canal waters stir around his lure—but, upon reeling in an empty hook, he lets out an exasperated, guttural, “Oh, come on!”
After more than a hundred rain-soaked casts, Sargent finally pulls in a teensy snakehead, maybe eight inches long. He holds it up, full of pride: “I don’t care how small it is,” he says, “I finally got one.” Looking for a photo op, he continues to cast his line, aiming at driftwood and weeds. Then, suddenly, entirely by accident, he hooks a three-foot-long snakehead—one of the biggest he’s ever seen.
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We aren’t even supposed to be on a boat, or in a suburb. Sargent and I have traveled to Miami to check out the many bridges and piers where you can drop a line and catch a fish within city limits. Our goal: to learn what it means to serve local, sustainable fish in a seafood capital like Miami, and then taste that fish at the restaurants that cook it best. But we’ve been sidetracked by what Sargent calls “the damned snakehead.” He had already dragged a New York Times reporter to a dank marsh near LaGuardia Airport in search of one (no luck!) and had gotten so frustrated chasing them in Maryland that he jumped into the water with a snorkeling mask and spear.