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Articles » Fish Guides » Freshwater Fish » Snakehead Fish: How to Catch Channidae

Snakehead Fish: How to Catch Channidae

The snakehead fish has been causing a bunch of problems in Georgia and other states. It’s an invasive species and wreaks havoc on the native populations.

There are many species of this fish. The two that are causing the most problems in the US are the Northern Snakehead fish Channa argus and the bullseye snakehead Channa maurlius.

How to catch bullseye snakehead
This Bullseye Snakehead is good eating. Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife

What’s even crazier is that this snake fish can walk on land.

Thankfully, if you catch one of these snakehead fish, you’ll be eating well. These invasive species shouldn’t be released back into the wild, so they might as well make a meal out of them.

Recommended Fishing Gear:

Overview

The snakehead fish is predatory and native to parts of Asia and Africa. It has an elongated body, long dorsal fins, large mouths, shiny teeth, and basically looks like a snake at first sight. Considered a non-native or invasive species, this unique animal is tolerant to extremely low oxygen levels because of its ability to breathe air. In other words, it can drown if it doesn’t come up to the surface to breathe once in a while.

They feed on zooplankton before they get big enough to eat small insects and crustaceans. Juvenile northern snakehead may feed on smaller fish such as loach and goldfish, and adults are voracious eaters that can hunt prey that is about 33% of its body lengths such as bream, carp, perch, catfish, and even frogs and beetles.

They can breathe air with their gills which allows them to survive on land. It’s not uncommon for them to waddle out of the water and move short distances to a new body of water.

Types of Snakehead

There are many species of snakeheads that have been released into the wild and have been causing problems in states such as California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusettes, Virginia, and Rhode Island.

Two of the most common actively targeted by anglers are the Northern snakehead fish and the Bullseye snakehead.

Northern Snakehead

Head of a northern snakehead fish
The head of a Northern Snakehead Source: NYS DEC

The northern snakehead has been introduced to states such as Florida, Philadelphia, and Maryland.

Bullseye Snakehead

The bullseye snakehead has become a big problem in southern Florida.

There are many more that we’ll cover in the future. These two are just the most common that are causing headaches for local wildlife officials.

Snakehead Facts

Scientific NameChannidae
Common Name(s)Snakehead, Northern Snakehead, Bullseye Snakehead
FamilyChannidae
Identifying CharacteristicsIt has an elongated body, long dorsal fins, large mouths, shiny teeth, and basically looks like a snake at first sight
Depth Range2.5 m
HabitatIt’s native to parts of Asia and Africa but has invaded North American waters.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest RecordedN/A
StatusNo

Where to Find Snakeheads

Snakeheads live in freshwater and can be found in lakes, ponds, slow-moving streams, rivers, swamps, and marshes.

They prefer shallow moving or still water with muddy bottoms and plenty of aquatic vegetation that it can hide for prey. It can withstand extreme cold and 15 – 18 ppt salinity. Most remain in shallow waters that are about 2.5 m deep only but can swim to deeper waters to spawn.

How to Catch Snakehead

 

Since their introduction in US waters, snakeheads have been on the list as a target sports species for all anglers. The fish hits hard and fights hard, so you have some competition on your hands when you target it.

Light tackle won’t cut it since you won’t be able to set the hook if the rod is too flexible. Snakehead has a large and bony head, so you need to set the hook forcefully. A basic bass outfit will work, such as a 7 ft medium to a medium-heavy rod that has a spinning or casting reel and is spooled with a 15 to 40 lb line.

The best snakehead lures are the topwater variety that is made of tough but soft plastic. This will work if you want to get your bait deeper in the strike zone. Use lures that can rattle in the water and produce vibrations that the snakehead cannot resist. If you prefer to use bait, use the largest bull minnow you can find to lure the fish out.

Plus, make sure that you have a landing net so you can wrestle a struggling snakehead iny our boat without getting injured or going overboard.

Fishing Tactics

  • To get a bite from a large and aggressive snakehead, cast lures as close as possible to the exact location and try to hit it on the head with it.
  • Since snakeheads prefer to remain in the shallows in submerged foliage, use frogs or surface lures with weedless hooks to ensure your line doesn’t get stuck.

Fishing Tips

  1. Snakeheads come to the surface every five minutes or so to breathe fresh air or risk drowning so you can spot them easily if you find the right spot.
  2. If you give even the smallest inch, the snakehead you hook will try to escape aggressively, and the odds will not be in your favor. Make sure that you maintain a steady tension on the line till you reel it in successfully.
  3. Cast a frog lure near the bank and reel in quickly. They are aggressive in nature and will tend to strike as the lure is passing by.

Seasons

Snakehead fish are abundant when the water warms up in mid-March and all the way through April. This is considered to be the best time of year to catch snakehead, especially if you can find the perfect temperature. During this time, the fish is foraging actively in the middle of water columns. As spring progresses, the fish start to spawn, which is the worst time to fish for it.

How to Clean

  1. Place the snakehead on a clean surface on its belly.
  2. Use an electric fillet knife (the fish is quite bony so a simple fillet knife won’t work) to cut behind the pectoral fin near the head and keep cutting till you are near the spine.
  3. Turn the blade sideways and cut through the body till you reach the tail, and the blade comes out at the end.
  4. Remove the fillet that comes off and put it to the side.
  5. Flip the fish and repeat on the other side to get the second fillet.

Recipe

  • Rinse the fillets and place them on a steaming plate.
  • Mix 1 teaspoon of oyster sauce and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce in a bowl and spread on the fillets.
  • Place some sliced ginger and some cut-up spring onions on the fillets.
  • Steam over medium-high heat for 6 minutes.
  • Remove the ginger and spring onions.
  • Mix some chopped garlic and oil in a bowl and heat the mixture in a pan for 2 minutes till the garlic turns crispy.
  • Sprinkle the mixture on the cooked fillets and serve.

FAQs

Q: Are snakehead good to eat?

A: Yes, the meat of this fish is firm, white, and flaky.

Q: How big do snakeheads get?

A: Adult snakeheads can grow as large as 33”.

Q: Why is the snakehead fish a problem?

A: Snakeheads were introduced to the US from Asia and Africa, but they threaten native species of fish.

Q: Can snakeheads walk on land?

A: Accounts of ‘walking snakeheads’ have been greatly exaggerated, but some species of this fish can wriggle overland to get to another body of water. It survives during this journey by breathing air through its gills.

Insider Advice

If you have a chance to visit Asia, then you should try going after the toman fish, also known as the giant snakehead Channa micropeltes. This fish can get to almost 44 pounds and five feet long!

If you’re in Florida, Georgia, or other states and have a pet northern fish, never release it into the wild. If you can’t keep it and don’t know what to do with it, contact your local department of natural resources and get their advice. The northern snakeheads have been ravaging local ecosystems and we need to do our part to protect native species.

The same should be said about those living in California for the bullseye snakehead. Please don’t release them into the wild. Contact your wildlife officials so they can dispose of them correctly. It makes me wonder if their ability to survive on land makes it that much more difficult to control this population.


The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom
Founder

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