Snakehead Fishing

northern snakeheads

Channa marulius

Other Names: Giant snakehead, Great snakehead, Cobra snakehead, Indian snakehead, Giant murrel.

Description: 

There are two species of snakehead fish in Florida, the northern snakehead and the bullseye snakehead. The northern snakehead is rarely reported in the state, while bullseye is common in South Florida, especially in the freshwater areas between Pompano Beach and Margate. They are unique freshwater fish that can survive multiple days on land because of their ability to breathe air.

All snakeheads are distinguished by their torpedo-shaped body, long dorsal and anal fins without spines, and toothed jaws. This snakehead typically has red eyes and is gold-tinted brown to pale gray in younger fish, while older fish are generally dark brown with large black blotches. The most distinctive marking is the black spot rimmed with orange near the base of the tail fin, known as an eyespot or ocellus.

Florida is ranked as the top snakehead fishing destination, and these trips are usually combined with Floridas other favorite freshwater fish as well!

Florida Exotics

blackwater national wildlife refuge - potomac river system

There are now 31 documented exotic fish species reproducing in Florida’s fresh waters with the addition of the Florida Snakehead. Some of the better-known exotic residents include the walking catfish, Asian swamp eel, and oscar. The Florida Snakehead is an air-breathing fish similar in appearance and behavior to the native bowfin (or mudfish).

Anglers have been Snakehead fishing and catching them since 2000; snakehead fishing is mainly restrained to residential canals and ponds in Broward County, with a small population creeping north into Palm Beach waters. Most anglers initially think they are a bowfin until noticing the ocellus, a distinctive dark spot rimmed in brilliant orange near the base of the tail fin.

Asian fish, commonly known as a snakehead, is the most recent addition to the Florida fishing list of reproducing exotic fishes. It’s difficult to know or even speculate on what effects the presence of this snakehead will have; meanwhile, Florida Snakehead fishing is a great sport fish for anglers to have fun with.

Feeding Patterns, Habitat, and Habits

The snakehead fish is a bottom-dwelling, ambush predator that feeds mainly on crayfish and small fish. However, occasionally this invasive species will eat various other prey, including toads, turtles, snakes, lizards, and insects.

Snakeheads are freshwater fish found in the inland fisheries of Florida, primarily canals, primarily areas with overhanging shoreline vegetation, debris, and dense submerged vegetation. The snakehead fish is tolerant of stagnant waters due to its air-breathing capabilities. Because of this quality, they are often found in low oxygenated areas such as floodplain pools and drainage ditches. In addition, snakehead fish cannot survive in water temperatures that are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, making South Florida an ideal home for them to thrive.

It is a myth that they “walk” on land; they more so squirm their way through shallow water. Understanding their feeding patterns, habitat, and habits can help anglers know where to find and how to catch snakehead fish in Florida.

Native Range

Florida Snakeheads are native to parts of tropical Africa and Asia, occurring in China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and India, according to the FWC.

The species got to Florida by an illegal introduction of exotics in the first place; it is the only viable tactic along with educating anglers, aquarists, and others about the illegality of dumping or transferring exotic fish from one water body to another.

There are no quick fixes; once an exotic fish begins reproducing, there’s no stopping it. But, the bright side of things is Florida sportfish anglers have a new and very aggressive species added to the long list of fishing opportunities in the sunshine state.

Snakehead Fish Spawn

Snakeheads primarily spawn from March through May, with a smaller peak in August. The adult snakehead fish are occasionally seen herding their young into shallows until they reach about six inches long. The female bullseye and northern snakeheads build circular floating nests from pieces of aquatic plants then release their nonadhesive eggs on top.

Snakehead fish can lay over a thousand eggs each time they spawn, sometimes more, laying up to 50,000 eggs per year. Their eggs are orange-yellow in color and buoyant.

Fishing For Snakeheads

Florida snakehead fishing is an exciting adventure. This invasive fish puts up quite the fight, and the best part for anglers is they can catch as many as they desire without bag limits or season since snakeheads are the most invasive fish in the state.

Anglers of all ages and skill levels travel to South Florida to catch snakeheads along with other exotics, such as the peacock bass and our famous largemouth bass. Both the invasive species and native fish combined in Florida create the ultimate freshwater fishing experience of a lifetime!

They are found in most inland fisheries of South Florida, such as lakes, rivers, streams, and canals, especially the areas with dense vegetation. Florida snakeheads have become a top targeted game fish that grow to decent sizes; the South Florida snakeheads are compatible to the giant fish reported in the Potomac River. Florida Snakehead fishing can only be described as being extremely aggressive and voracious; based on our observations, the species collected in Florida appears to be one of the more aggressive species of snakeheads.

Fishing Tips

 

When on the prowl to catch snakehead fish, anglers should look for areas with thick vegetation and pay attention to banks and shallow flats. Usually, there is a snakehead waiting where the muck is or near docks and timber. They tend to frequent the tight canals and find spots where they can hide and wait for prey to swim past. Snakeheads can be caught all day but typically, the hotter the water temperature, the more active they feed. Many pros say the best time for snakehead fishing is from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Despite being an aggressive hard fighting fish, snakeheads still spook easily, so be sure to approach the area you hope to cast quietly. Also, snakehead fish do not school, so it’s usually best to move to another spot once you catch one.

Equipment

 

Best Lures

The best lures for snakehead fishing are topwater frogs, poppers, buzz baits, chatter baits, spinnerbaits, and walk the dog lures. The weedless frog fished parallel to the vegetation tends to be one of our guides’ most effective methods and fishing tips. However, top water lures, in general, are usually an excellent method when snakehead fishing. Fishing for snakehead fish with topwaters means spectacular explosions for the angler to see in front of them.

Best Live bait

The best live bait for snakehead fishing are minnows, frogs, and crayfish. When Florida snakehead fishing, it’s popular to fish with livebait under a bobber.

Edibility

Northern snakehead and bullseye snakehead fish are excellent fish to eat. They are known for having flaky, white meat with a mild taste that is compared to that of Striped bass. The FWC doesn’t support anglers throwing snakeheads or other exotics on the bank to die.

An Invasive Species

Snakehead fishing is highly valued throughout Asia for its food value and taste. Their popularity as food within the Asian cultures and now in South Florida may even explain the presence of the Snakehead in Florida waters. Some customers believe that in addition to tasting good, snakeheads have a medical benefit. The snakehead (also once called the “serpent-headed fish”) has inspired various other beliefs and myths through the centuries. For example, some oriental cultures erroneously believed the snakehead had a poisonous bite because of its serpent-like head.

A western scientist studying these species in 1878 wrote how the Karen people of Burma regarded this fish with “superstitious awe” and refrained from eating them. Another source stated in 1822 that the religious people of Bengal Province in India believed it was unlucky to regard the snakehead as either bad or good.

Snakehead fish are looked down on by many because of being an invasive species that potentially disrupt the natural ecosystem by competing with native fish for habitat and food, as well as prey on other fish, birds, reptiles, and small mammals. However, there is a recent argument that snakeheads should be designated as just another Florida fish since they have been in the region for about two decades now.

Laws

All species of Florida Snakehead are illegal to possess live in the state of Florida. Possession of live Snakehead is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine or 60 days in jail. Florida law also makes it a crime for anyone to release any exotic fish into state waters.

When you catch snakeheads, anglers are supposed to contact the US Fish and Wildlife Service or the nearest fish and game agency to share data regarding the number, size, and location of the snakehead fish to help them control the invasive fish.

Snakehead Fishing Charters

Since their arrival, we have spent years targeting these fish in our local waters. We have caught as many as 40 on one trip and usually average around 15 per outing. It is fun fishing with lots of explosive topwater strikes and hard runs. Not to mention that anglers on board a Florida snakehead fishing trip will probably catch plenty of other species, such as the famous largemouth bass and peacock bass. You have to love South Florida, the melting pot for everything, including fishing. With all of our native and non-native species, we consider South Florida the most exciting freshwater destination in the World. The Florida snakehead is a fish that many anglers try fishing for and end up returning again and again.

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