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The Ultimate Guide To Fishing For Northern Snakehead

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Where They Live, What They Eat, And How To Catch Them

By Josh Dolin

Grant Alvis with a colorful specimen.

In 2004, Mark Zuckerburg created Facebook, America elected George W. Bush for a second term and the national news was reporting an invasion of a dangerous creatures from a foreign land.

The invader was a snakehead fish caught in a Maryland pond. Headlines warned about a fish from Asia that can walk on land, live out of water and slip under your fence to eat your precious pooch. The pond was drained, and all snakehead were killed. The State offered a bounty on any snakehead, dead or alive.

Fast forward 15 years and northern snakehead have spread across the tidal rivers and swamps from New Jersey to Virginia. And, the aggressive, shallow water, marsh monsters have become a favorite target for anglers across the region.

Artwork by David Graham.

They are, after all, a quality sportfish. Snakehead grow to 20 pounds and the meat is light, flakey and delicious.

The long brown and green fish feed aggressively, but they can also be coy. Snakehead will bite all summer, even when the water is too hot for other targets. To find snakehead, look for vegetation, mud bottom and slow-moving water. A muddy bottom keeps the fish cool on hot days. The fish are native to slow-moving rivers in Asia; so, I fish backwater areas with little current.

When I find slow, shallow water running through thick vegetation, such as arrowhead pads, marsh grass and hydrilla, I know I’m in the middle of the snakehead’s domain. Snakehead are voracious feeders. I have caught them on Chatterbaits and swimbaits. Other anglers report using live and cut bait. I prefer to catch snakehead with topwater lures.

Snakehead are the ultimate ambush predators. They will sit in pockets and voids among the lily pads waiting for the opportunity to pounce. Work a frog imitation along a weed line, covering water quickly. The fish are so aggressive, if there is a snakehead in the area, I know quickly.

I prefer a heavy action baitcasting rod to throw frogs. I wield a seven-foot, four-inch Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Series rod paired to a Shimano Curado 200 with 65-pound braided line. The heavy line will cut through dense vegetation. There are hundreds of frog imitations, but I like Teckle Sprinker Frog. The slow, steady gurgle of the lure’s retrieve is irresistible to snakes on the hunt.

Grant Alvis with a large Northern Snakehead from the kayak.

Coming tight on an ultra-aggressive snakehead is a pure adrenaline dump. The fish run, charge and jump. And they really turn on the heat after they’re in the kayak. Use a landing net to get the snakehead into the kayak. Then, I attach a lip gripper to control the fish’s toothy mouth. Often, snakehead fight hardest after they are in the boat.

Even if they were once feared, snakehead are now valued by anglers looking for an easy target and great fight. Oh yeah, they taste good, too. What’s not to love?

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