Waterways Fishing Series: So you want to target Snakehead?

So you want to target Snakehead?

What was once considered an invasive species has now become the pinnacle for many anglers world wide. Snakehead originated in Asia but have been found more recently in states such as Maryland and Florida. 

Today, we got the chance to chat with avid angler Bart Shortall. Bart has been chasing snakehead in the Maryland Area for a handful of years now and has become quite knowledgable on these predator fish. 

Can you give us a quick backstory on the history of snakehead?

Yes, snakehead originate in Asia and are actually quite a commodity there. Many people in Asia actually cook snakehead as they are quite enjoyable to eat. The wives' tale goes that a pet store in Maryland were caught having snakehead illegally in their facility. Someone within the pet store released them in the area and before we knew it they were in every body of water around here. 

What makes snakehead unique?

Well, for starters, snakehead can breathe in water or in air. I am not too sure of any other fish that can do that. They also have teeth and ambush prey in very shallow water. The shallow water equates to a lot of visuals of the fish ambushing your bait, and that is really the satisfaction of targeting these fish. They also spawn two to three times per year which means they are plentiful. 

Snakehead can spawn multiple times per year?

Yes, they generally spawn two to three times per year and still grow to be quite big. Some of the fish I have caught more recently have been in the thirty five inch realm, to give you an idea.

So what kind of gear do we need to target snakehead?

Well, that can be preference, but I prefer a sort of two-rod setup. Two rods allow you to fish top water and sub surface and really keep your lures in the water as opposed to tying all the time. 

When it comes to topwater, I prefer to have a longer rod as I find it gives you more leverage to get a good hook set. snakehead are often fast and hit when I least expect it. Having a good hook set is crucial to landing these fish. In addition, you really want a fast retrieve for top water, so I generally go with a bait casting reel. A good braided line will go a long ways here so I always encourage that you splurge a little more in this category.

  • Set up No. 1 "Top Water"
    • 7.5 ft, Medium Fast Action Rod
    • Bait Caster Reel
    • Braided 30lb line

Some people will argue that you just cannot target snakehead in deeper water. I find this to not be true. This is why I recommend a subsurface fishing setup so you can fish snakehead year round.

  • Set up No. 2 "Subsurface"
    • 6.5 ft, Medium Fast Action Rod
    • Spinning Reel
    • Braided 30lb line

 What kind of baits are you using to catch snakehead?

Well, I usually have topwater baits in addition to subsurface baits on me at all times when I am on the water. I find that buzz baits and frogs do very well when it comes to fishing them on the surface. On the contrary, when the topwater bite is off, I will throw minnows, paddle tails, swim baits and even chatter baits. 

Where do snakehead live?

Snakehead prefer to live in shallow areas, typically when the weather allows it. They will generally be somewhere between six and twelve inches of water. They tend to push into these shallower water areas so they can ambush their prey. As the water temperatures begin to drop, you will see them deeper in about three to four feet of water. 

Is there anything fancy about the hook set?

Yes, the hook set can be the most challenging part for a lot of anglers. When you are fishing top water baits, you almost want to slow down and let the fish take the bait before you set the hook. At times, it can be very hard to let the fish run. When they are subsurface, you will actually notice bubbles rising to the surface that come from the fish when hey open their mouth. 

Any similarities to other species of fish?

Yes and no. They are very responsive to colors and fight very similar to bass fish. A lot of bass anglers have an easy transition when they get into chasing snakehead. Alternatively, bass anglers typically struggle with not spooking fish. I find snakehead to be very spooky and almost similar to trout in this way. This species is really an even playing field for trout and bass anglers all around. 

When is the best month to target snakehead?

I typically find that April through September offer the best chances in our fishery to land quality snakehead. Every year, the season starts and ends a little differently, so I always encourage getting out there and giving it a go when the chance comes. 

In conclusion, snakehead is one of those species of fish that we truly cannot explain or understand. We encourage you to give it a go and we look forward to hearing about your epic fishing trips.

 Bart Shortall Kayak Adventure List

Jake Smith
Waterways Marketing Team
Angler... Bart Shortall