FLORIDA: Snakehead Success and More Peacocks


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.

I finally caught a snakehead. Dr. Martin Arostegui, who holds over 200 IGFA records with more than 100 coming on fly rod, took me back to the “snake pit” for a refresher course. The experience reminded me of a guides’ words from a Gilraker post a few months ago:

“The best fly-fishermen I know still throw plugs and bait, because it teaches them hundreds of unseen variables. I’ll never tell a client, or myself, that we can’t learn more. Most fly-fishermen who step foot in my boat are horrible anglers, because they’re close-minded. My job is to correct that.”

I had been too obsessed with catching one on fly. But Dr. Arostegui reminded me how difficult it is to get them to chase flies, because they hide along the banks of these shallow canals. Getting close enough to make the cast without spooking them is difficult. He suggested starting with a bass assassin on a spinning rod.

I’d cast a spinning rod maybe twice this year, and those were in grip it and rip it situations. As far as casting to specific spots in close quarters, my skills had clearly atrophied. I flubbed my first few casts, hooked a few trees and bushes, and felt embarrassed. Arostegui told me of a fishing club he belonged to where, to become a Master, members had to be proficient in fly casting, spin casting, and bait casting. He practiced each until his muscle memory allowed him to perform all three like clockwork. He is an excellent technical angler.

After a quick refresher I started making decent casts. By using the bass assassin and making long fast retrieves along the banks of these canals, I got three snakeheads to eat. I learned a lot about the pace they like, where they like to hide and ambush, and how they strike. After Arostegui left, I used the knowledge he imparted to me, and tried some new waters with a five-weight fly rod and a bass popper. It worked. I watched a snakehead dart from a grassy clump on the bank and whack the popper. But I didn’t set the hook. Next time, I will drive that point home.

I switched to a baitfish pattern for a while, but could not get it away from hyper-agressive peacocks. I don’t know if it was the time of day or a frenzy induced by an encroaching front, but the peacocks went into seek and destroy mode on first twitch. So much for the snakehead fishing…

10 thoughts on “FLORIDA: Snakehead Success and More Peacocks”

  1. snakeheads are the worst thing to happen to florida wildlife! they are a horrible gamefish and are killing the largemouth habitat. everyone caught should be killed for the better of south florida fishing

  2. I suggest that you check out this article titled “Snake Heads pose no threat.”


    Here is an excerpt:
    Early results from the FWC’s most recent electrofishing study in the C-14 (stunning fish with a mild electrical charge so they can be examined) shows that although snakeheads are abundant, they are not destroying populations of largemouth and peacock bass — the two main gamefish species in South Florida lakes and canals.

    FWC scientists using the marine version of electric cattle prods caught as many as 1.58 snakeheads per minute weighing up to 9.2 pounds.
    Examining the stomach contents of 127 dead snakeheads, they found the remains of 13 of their own species plus one bluegill, 11 mosquitofish, seven warmouth, two peacock bass, several lizards, bufo toads, small turtles, a rat and a snake. No remains of largemouth bass were found.
    Looking at 68 peacock bass’ stomachs, the researchers found 16 snakeheads. In 41 largemouth bass, they found one.

    “They seem to be complementary predators,” Shafland said, referring to snakeheads versus peacocks and largemouth. “We don’t see one dominating the others. I think they’re all pretty much holding their own.”

  3. I am with George on this one and I don’t care what that article says, I suggest you actually try fishing for them. I live in South Florida where over the past few years snakeheads have gone from virtually non-existant to now where I can walk out to the lake in my backyard at any time of day and spot at least a dozen of them. And at the same time only be able to catch largemouth no bigger than a pound when 5-10 years ago eight to ten pounders were common so I tend to get very angry when someone tells me they aren’t a problem. They compete with largemouth and peacocks very much so, not to mention snakeheads will kill simply for sport and leave mangled and dismembered fish to die. This is because snakeheads are highly aggressive and simply outbreed the local species, unlike most fish (such as largemouths who offer no protection to their young and will often eat their own young if they hang around their parents for too long) snakehead parents will remain paired up and protect vast swarms of their young until maturity. This behavior coupled with the fact that each female can have over 100,000 babies every year means that snakehead populations are growing exponentially while native species are not. Snakeheads are also bigger, faster, and stronger than most native species, ask anyone who has had one on their line. This means that they win when competing for food sources (one source being infant and juvenile largemouth) and once the native species become too thin, they cannot breed thus further reducing native populations. The snakehead is a serious threat to North American aquatic life and should not be taken lightly. It is common knowledge among S. Florida anglers that any snakehead caught should be killed and never thrown back. It is actually illegal to possess live snakeheads in the U.S. (that shoudl tell you something). It doesn’t take a genius to understand that, given the facts and shear numbers, snakeheads have the potential to severely and adversly impact N. American ecosystems not to mention a $30 billion a year freshwater fishing industry.

  4. That’s not a snakehead. It’s a bowfin aka mudfish. Snakeheads have a different fin pattern and have noticeably large teeth. I caught a bowfin two days ago on a spinner. They are easily mistaken for the snakehead, but check out the link I added.

  5. Yep snakeheads are no threat, do the math 127 snakes, 68 Peacocks, and only 41 bass caught, Yep No problem at all

    No worries I killed thee over 9 pounds this week and we killed a little over 100 over the weekend. with a bit more awareness this problem of Snkaeheads will get under control PDQ

  6. Caught four snakeheads today fishing the canals along Everglades and I27, about 5miles west of I-75. They ranged in size from 12in to about 15inches and heavy as hell. Gutted a female that was full of some of the most disgusting looking eggs I’ve ever seen. Glad I caught her before she could put that batch out.

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