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…