FLORIDA: On the Hunt For Snakeheads

Arostegui Snakehead

UPDATE (April 2012): This is a personal weblog post about trying to catch a snakehead with a fly, not an endorsement of snakeheads. They are an invasive species that should not be in the waters of South Florida. That said, they are in the waters of South Florida, the same waters where I like to chase peacock bass and largemouth bass. My understanding is that you are supposed to kill a snakehead if you catch it, and that the FWC is promoting their edibility in hopes people will cull them for eating. Here is what the FWC says about what to do with a snakehead or any other non-native species you catch.

And here is one more FWC link, describing the habits and edibility of the snakehead. Everything else below is just a personal account from a few years ago.

For close to two years now, whenever work has taken me to South Florida, I have been on a quest to catch a snakehead on fly. I’m not sure why I had to do this, but the seed germinated while researching an article on Dr. Martin Arostegui, possessor of more IGFA fishing records than anyone else alive. (I had no interest in setting a record, I just decided trying to catch one on a fly would be an interesting pursuit.)

I bring a six-weight with me every time I fly to Florida. I’m usually driving on back roads in a rental car and will stop at certain spots to fish for peacock bass, largemouth bass, crappie, chichlids, and anything else that swims in the South Florida drainage system. I still prefer saltwater fishing when possible, but I also enjoy exploring these unseemly backwaters.

Yesterday proved no different. I jumped in my rental car and started criss-crossing local roads far removed from the ocean, picking my way through the ever-westward suburban sprawl that really should still be part of the Everglades. Arostegui clued me in to a few choice places two years ago, and I try to make those my starting and ending points as I fan out in search of snakehead water.

These fish have proved elusive for me. For one, they are extremely wary, not nearly the aggressive Frankenfish the media has made them out to be. The live along the banks of these shallow, narrow canals and are highly sensitive to noise made onshore or splashes rendered by clumsy casts. They spook like trout.

I honed my techniques to make short, precise presentations with minimal false casting. I’d make two or three casts and retrieves through a stretch of water and move on. But the end results consisted of a few curious follows, swirls, and missed strikes.

Yesterday afternoon I pulled into the parking lot of a Baptist Church, looking to explore a new canal that held promise. I made a few steps toward the bank and startled several iguanas sunning themselves on the bank. They jumped in the water and splashed away, temporarily ruining a large swath of the canal.

I made my way toward the road to cast into the still water of a bridge culvert, and stumbled upon a dead snakehead on the bank. Confirmation of their presence.

But I kept catching bass. Everywhere I went, that’s all that took my offerings. I drove to several other spots and changed flies many times, only to catch bass and plastic bags.

As the sun started drawing down, I pulled off the road next to a small, trash laden canal known as the “Snake Pit.” Its shoreline is an obstacle course of plastic bottles, coffee cups, an old shopping cart, rotting palm fronds. The water is warm, shallow and stagnant with a lot of vegetation, likely a perfect breeding ground for those amoebae of death. It’s about as far away from the idyllic origins of fly fishing as possible.

Bowfin on the Fly

I tied a size 2 olive and white half-and-half onto my 15-pound fluorocarbon shock tippet. I made a cast along the far bank and watched a v wake form behind the fly as I retrieved it. An ominous brown shape appeared and made a grab. It immediately started thrashing and I noticed the broad fanlike tail of what I thought to be a snakehead. I took it to the reel and tried to play it away from the canal banks. It used that broad tail to exert a slow but powerful pull against the drag. Then it did something I did not expect–it jumped. Again and again. I didn’t know that was part of the snakehead repertoire. I finally brought it to the bank and grabbed its lip with an Econo Grip–it registered six pounds. I took a photo and sent it to Dr. Arostegui. Maybe snakeheads don’t jump. His son, an expert on snakeheads and mudfish, carefully studied my photos. He says it’s a mudfish (amia calva) or bowfin, and not a snakehead, though the two look similar. Awesome fish, to be sure, but I’m still drawing a blank on the snakes.

28 thoughts on “FLORIDA: On the Hunt For Snakeheads”

  1. I am wondering where is the best place to look for snakeheads. My dad is an expert at catching them. I grew up watching him catching snakeheads in Vietnam. He has many interesting ways to lure and catch them. You mentioned it. Yes, you can also catch snakeheads on a fly.

    Wondering if they give any rewards for catching them since snakeheads are ban is USA. My dad is going to retired in a about a year. I am sure he will be really happy to catch them for grilling, too.

  2. Hi CD,

    I highly doubt there are any rewards for catching snakeheads. At least I have heard of none. I can’t give you any specifics because the people who showed me their best spots swore me to secrecy. All I can say is they are in the freshwater drainage canal system in Florida. Good luck to your Dad.

  3. It’s a nice snakehead fish. In my place, Vietnam, snakehead fish is very common & it’s one of the most expensive fresh water fish at local market & supermaket.
    People catch this kind of fish very often that why it is not easy to find a big snakehead fish like yours. Today, people feed this fish in lots of fishing lake or fishing farm.

  4. I believe that I have a large one of these in my retention pond directly behind my house. Should I leave it alone or have it removed. I see it every day…and I have pictures if it helps to identify that it is actually a snakehead. Could you let me know please?

  5. i just caught a 26 1/2 inch snake head today in coral springs

    i killed it so it wouldnt eat all the other fish in the canal

  6. caught 2 snakehead fish yesterday in XXXXXX area.
    fish one weighed in 6+ lb. fish 2 was 4.2 lb.
    nasty things.

    is it illegal to put them back in the water after a catch ?
    ive heard that they are not to be released since they are
    an invasive specis, and ruin the native fishes chances of populating.

  7. here is a pic of one. clear tacklebox in the pic for size refrence

  8. I was just watching Monster Quest an seen the bullseye snakehead in Florida. Does the state offer anykida reward for catching an killing them?

  9. snake heads are not illegal to release back into the water if caught, they are illegal to possess alive. its either release as soon as you catch or kill them. they are a great fish though fun to catch also. they do not pose a threat to our native environment as some people suggest.

  10. Yes they are a big threat they don’t stop eating and have hundreds of fry….and they destroy lakes….if you catch them and care about your lake please kill them

  11. Release/Movement of fish
    Non-native fishes, except for peacock bass and triploid grass carp, must not be returned to the water nor may they be used as live bait, and should be consumed
    or disposed of properly.

    From FWC freshwater regulation manual

  12. I was wondering what lures and what presentations should i use to catch a few Large Snakeheads that are living in the lake where i live. I live in Pompano Beach, Florida. There is a lake their called Crystal Lake off of Sample Rd and Military rd and they have about 4 huge snakeheads, 3 to 4 feet long, and about 4 inches wide. i have tried to catch them lately but no success. Can you please help me. They are eating the baby Bass and Peacocks that live there. Hope to hear from you soon.

  13. as far as lures, bass assassins thrown close to the banks.

    Flies…half and halfs,clousers, dahlbergs, rabbit strip…

  14. I have been fishing for snakehead the last two years, I live in SouthI FL and just happened to get one today, he is 30 inches long, although I did not catch him with a rod, I used a speargun, not sportsman like I know but the state is not doing much to prevent them from taking over the canal system, we used to have bass gal lour until these fish came to town, they eat the same food as bass except they spawn twice as much and protect their young, very noble but very dangerous to the whole system. I also eat them they are fantastic,

  15. We are seeing them up here in Tampa as well.
    Several retention ponds in North Tampa have snakehead populations.
    I was told they will take a spinner bait, as well as a fly.
    I saw them on River Monsters, but the ones here in Tampa do not seem to get that big.
    I imagine the South Florida Snakeheads will grow larger.

  16. Hello Chris,
    Could you give me the locations exactly in North Tampa where I can go to fish snakehead on the next holidays (Xmas time).

  17. Lake Thonotosassa has them, especially in the fresh water ditches and canals leading into the lake.
    Tampa has a considerable Asian population, and they really like the Snakeheads. They eat them!

    Some retention ponds in Corey Lake Isles development in North Tampa are reputed to be full of them.

  18. Please open a book and try to comprehend some new things, you uneducated misinformed retard. I’m sick of these dumb anglers who go off of hearsay without doing any actual research themselves.

  19. I’ve seen Snakehead in the C14 canal off of Powerline Road in Pompano. I didn’t catch any, however one surfaced and stared at me for a good 5 minutes, almost like a puppy waiting for a treat. It’s head and eyes were clear out of the water.

  20. As a transplant to S Florida from Montana, I miss streamer fishing for big browns. I live in Weston and now spend a lot of my time bass fishing with standard gear. Until now. After reading this, I am certain I will not be able to enjoy myself completely until I can land a snakehead on the fly. Thanks alot. 🙂

  21. It is not illegal to kill Bullseye Snakeheads in Florida. The state will tell you that you can kill them, eat them or release them back into the same pond. It is illegal to catch one and release it into any other body of water.

    Today I caught my biggest one. It was 32 inches long and I killed it and threw it into a dumpster.

    Please be careful because mudfish/bowfins which are native to Florida look almost the same except the bullseye has a round reddish mark on the bottom of its body near the tail.

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