Snakehead Wranglin’: An Invasive Dinner Invitation - The Fisherman

Snakehead Wranglin’: An Invasive Dinner Invitation

An invasive freshwater species worthy of an invite to dinner. 

My infatuation with the invasive snakehead species began about six years ago. After having seen these peculiar looking fish through various posts on Facebook, I became quite intrigued by this creature from the swamps, to the point where I actually drove 150 miles just to get into some solid snakehead country.

This species thrives in just about any tributary off of the Delaware River. However, being from North Jersey, where there are not many actual tributaries, I trekked down into South Jersey for my hunt. They definitely prefer low-swampy, duckweed-infested waters, where they thrive very well. Thick, mucky water that is literally only 6-inches deep, can be a snakehead haven.

One July night last summer, my good friend John Walters reached out asking if I wanted to meet up and have a go at some snakes on that upcoming Sunday. The hotter it gets the more I have a hankering to load up the yak and venture into South Jersey. So I said I was in, and we met at one of our usual, heavily-fished spots. This spot gets pounded and pressured unbelievably, but I truly enjoy the challenge.

Now don`t get me wrong, I do indeed enjoy some nice easy-fishing every now and then. But on the other side of the coin, sometimes the challenge of putting the pieces of the puzzle together is much more rewarding.

author
The author with a hefty snakehead taken by kayak somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.

A Hunt For Heads

We met at daybreak and had the kayaks in the swamp before sun-up. We each had two set-ups; John was using an over-sized Chatterbait with a long twister-tail on each, while e I opted for a top-water frog on one rig and a Reaction Innovation Blue Swimbait on the other. Both of John`s reels were spooled with 30-pound PowerPro Braid as was my one 4000 series Shimano spinning reel. My baitcaster was a Shimano Curado paired with a 7-foot Browning med-heavy action graphite rod, spooled with 12-pound monofilament. I had my doubts about trying to hoist a snakehead with monofilament through the thick duckweed however.

The plan was to work the swamp until about noon and then call it a day, as the temperature was supposed to soar into the high 90s by early afternoon. We split up and began our quest working each side of the murky swampy waters. We were only fishing a matter of a few minutes when I lost a really nice fish. “Well that`s a good sign,” John yelled across to me.

“Good for who, you?” I replied with a laugh.

About an hour later John nailed a nice 3-pound largemouth. Which brings us to another topic; do snakeheads eat everything or do they co-exist? Yes, we can all Google all of the answers, but I would offer that I have personally caught bass in the exact same spot as snakeheads, as have many of my snakehead fishing friends.  I’ve also witnessed largemouth bass dining on baby snakehead fry-balls.

So who eats who? Just something to ponder.

ball-of-fury
If you find a fry-ball, whether you see them or not there are undoubtedly a couple of adult snakeheads guarding it from below.

A Ball Of Fry

The higher the morning sun got, the hotter it got as well as we worked diligently throughout the swamp to no avail; not a snake to be had. As the 10 o`clock hour approached and I decided to imply a different strategy. Time to fish a fry-ball. Now a fry-ball is a grouping of baby snakeheads and can be a very exciting way to fish for them.

The adults guard the balls of the fry and push them at intervals to the surface to breathe air. Spotting a ball of surfacing fry, following and casting can turn really exciting really fast. This is total sight fishing and most opt to throw a top-water lure over the fry-ball. The purpose is to attempt to aggravate the adults into striking. You may or may not see the adult snakeheads, but they are there. If you find a fry-ball, whether you see them or not, there are undoubtedly a couple of adult snakeheads guarding it.

After perusing back and forth a bit, I finally located a basketball size fry-ball in this out of the way cove. The water depth was only about a foot and a half deep at best. John texted me to say he was leaving, as it was getting pretty hot and the action was pretty slow. However I wasn`t going anywhere, as this fry-ball piqued my interest for the next two hours in the sweltering summer heat. Yes, for two long hours I worked that fry-ball, as I had seen the adult snakehead several times that appeared to be a really good size one.

Rather than throw a top-water frog like most at a surfacing fry-ball, I prefer to throw a white Zoom Fluke or swimbait past the fry-ball and work it under the fry rather than on top. This method usually works very well for me.

good-eats
While anglers are encouraged to kill any invasive snakehead that might encounter, one great option for disposal is the dinner table.

Great Fight, Good Eats

Off and on, I would see the adult snake occasionally as I tried different types of retrieves with the blue swimbait without a strike. Then in the last 30 minutes of that two-hour window, I didn`t see any sign of the adults. At this point, I was literally less than 10 feet off of the fry-ball in my yak reaching out dangling the swimbait, doing a sort of figure-eight near the fry-ball.  That’s when it happened.  The large female snakehead suddenly appeared and violently struck the swimbait! I didn`t even have a foot and a half of line out when she struck. The drag peeled on the Shimano Curado as the swamp beast dove into the murky water! I quickly went for the net as I wanted this to be a short fight, because of the monofilament line I was using. I scooped the river monster and threw her on top of me in the kayak.

But what happened next, was unbelievable.  So there I am with this massive snakehead half in the net and half on my chest, trying to open her jaw-like mouth to grab her with my fish grips. She literally lunged at my face and went completely through my hands and over my shoulder back in the river! I put my hands on my head in total disgust, “I don`t believe I just lost that monster,” I said aloud.   Suddenly the rod started getting pulled off my kayak and I realized she was still hooked!! I grabbed the pole and was given a second chance the wrangle in the river monster.

After I got her in the second time, I quickly went for the stringer and ran four hooks through her jaw and even wrapped up the fish grips in the net as well; she wasn`t getting off anymore!  It was a fine snakehead, 29 inches long, 7 pounds and 8 ounces worth of the best fighting you`ll ever catch; and believe it or not, pretty delicious table-fare as well.

HISTORY & FUTURE

So the question most folks have about snakeheads is, “Where did they come from and where are they going?”  The snakehead was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2004 at Meadow Lake in Philadelphia. This lake has many tidal sloughs and various waterways that connect to the Delaware River. The first confirmed snakehead in New Jersey was caught in 2009 from the Delaware River tributary Woodbury Creek in Gloucester County according to N.J. Division of Fish & Wildlife principal fisheries biologist Mark Boriek. And here`s another interesting fact; the snakehead can spawn up to five times, each time laying more than a thousand orange-yellow eggs. And sometimes they can lay many more, however, approaching 50,000 eggs per year. While they are invasive, they are not going away.

– K. Beam

The snakehead is absolutely one of my top fish to dine on. The fillets are simply beautiful as there is really one main bone, similar to that of a catfish. Before I fillet the snakehead, I like to bleed it by cutting its throat and gill plates, massaging the body in a bucket of fresh water several times to work the blood out, which will help lead to whiter filets.

I prefer to start my cuts at the top of the backbone because the meat is so thick in that area. It seems like I save a lot more meat by starting this way.  For kitchen prep, I like to bread the snakeheads in a fish-fry batter and then fry them in avocado oil. As I love to make snakehead Tacos as the meat is white and flakey and has a very mild flavor with no fishy aftertaste.

While anglers are encouraged to kill any snakehead that they encounter – given that they’re designated an invasive species – many anglers are targeting this powerful fish because of their vigorous fight. And one great option for disposing of it is serving it on the dinner table. I assure you, if you haven`t caught one of these powerful, acrobatic fish, you are in for a total surprise when one strikes.

And if you land it, it can provide a delicious meal to boot.

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