A scary looking fish called a snakehead showed up in the Potomac River watershed about 10 years ago. They began biting hooks and lines and made numerous appearances in fish surveys. With all the negative publicity and hand-wringing by various game biologists, one would have though the Martians had landed and were eating our babies. Snakeheads, they said, were prolific breeders and would compete unfairly with our native species. Anglers were instructed to kill every snakehead they saw and report any catch to the Game Department.
Despite all those efforts, the snakeheads continued to spread throughout the Virginia waterways and up into Maryland, but they haven’t eaten any babies yet. In fact, they seem to be co-existing just fine with the bass, stripers, sunfish and their other pictorial neighbors. They are now a prized catch, targeted by many as they happen to be one of the best eating fish anywhere.
Northern snakeheads hail from Asia and tropical Africa, and they are one of the most sought after species of all, as far as being a food fish. By all accounts, they are delicious, with white, firm flesh and a delicate, non-fishy flavor. Anyone who has ever hooked up with one of these “Frankenfish” will testify that no fish battles like a snakehead. And the fight continues even when the fish hits the bottom of the boat. Because of the fighting ability and the great taste, anglers are now targeting this species on guided trips. Capt. Steve Chaconas of the National Bass Guide Service is a noted snakehead guide on the Potomac River.
“While I certainly support the DNR efforts to remove snakeheads from the Potomac, and more importantly, to not remove live fish from the river, I find them fascinating,” Said Capt. Chaconas. “They are an obligate breather and have to come up for air.
This makes them a prime candidate for top water lures.”
Chaconas recommends Mann’s Super frogs in black.
“I also add a red spot on the belly. The frog is a hollow bodied bait with skirted legs and I also replace the legs with black /blue skirts or black/red skirts.”
Chaconas said long, accurate casts are necessary because the snakeheads spook easily, especially when feeding on top. There is nothing subtle about a strike from a snakehead.
“Once the hook is set, bringing one in is like trying to pull a dog off a fire hydrant,” Chaconas noted. “They use their powerful snake bodies to try to back up away from you.”
Capt. Chaconas does up to 20 trips a year targeting snakeheads. He fishes for them in and around cover, especially docks, grass and pads. The average size fish landed runs from 8-10 pounds. And if the clients don’t hook up with a snakehead, they’ll catch plenty of nice largemouth – which also like docks, grass and pads.
When anglers catch a snakehead, they can return it to the water or they can kill it and take it home for dinner, but they can definitely not transport a live fish. Anglers seeking to eat a snakehead should bring plenty of ice and be prepared to kill the fish on the spot.
Since the northern snakehead is a prolific breeder – the female is said to lay as many as 40,000 eggs at a time and can breed more than once a year – it looks like the northern snakehead fish will be around for a while. So sport fishermen should take advantage. For a topnotch guide, contact Capt. Steve Chaconas at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-380-7119.