For many people, catching a snakehead has been an accident, typically caught while fishing for bass in the Potomac River. But how to catch snakehead has become a very common question on VA Outdoors, so much so that we recently opened a new forum just to discuss this very topic. Once anglers key on a few aspects, they will begin to realize that targeting snakehead and catching them consistently is fairly easy – and a lot of fun.
To target snakeheads means that you must first understand where they live, what they like and their habits. We will break down each of these pieces and give you the critical knowledge to take down a few snakehead. We are learning more and more about snakehead movements, spawning and overall habits – a lot is still unknown, but patterns by anglers have become more prevalent. This article is more of the angling aspects and what a group of us have learned from targeting snakehead over the years.
Step one is to understand what type of water snakehead love to be in. Starting in May, as the water temperaturesinmostofthePotomac River rise, the snakehead will begin pushing in to the shallower portions of the main river and creeks. One area that has become a snakehead hot spot has been the areas of Arkendale flats and Aquia Creek.
In the month of May snakehead aren’t quite as consistent as other times of the year, but they are readily catchable. Snakehead will be feeding and looking for suitable mates and locations for the spawn. Baitfish and water temperatures are the more critical factors to their movements. Snakehead will continue to move in search of warming waters and baitfish up until the spawn. Focus on key points and shallow flats where the temperatures climb higher earlier in the season. They can be tricky and harder to find earlier in the month than later in the month.
One thing we always recommend to people targeting snakehead is to fish marsh banks. But, often times, people either are unsure of what marsh banks really are, or they hit one stretch and have no luck and don’t stick with it. The picture to the right provides an idea of what type of marsh banks we like to target. Marsh banks are also dependent on the tide; there needs to be enough water up on the bank for a snakehead to be on the bank.
In some locations, the water along the banks stays deep enough, where the snakehead will stay throughout the day. Other locations are only good at high tide. One specific location we always target is only good at high tide – at low tide it sits bone dry and the snakehead pull off the bank 20-25 feet until the tide switches. With enough time on the water, you will begin to learn which spots are good throughout the day versus those that are only good at high tide. Everything that has been mentioned for marsh banks also holds true for any place that holds lily pads.
As May moves in to June the location of snakehead becomes easier to identify. The fish will stay in the shallow flats and creeks even as the water temperatures climb in to the high 80’s. Throughout the river system in June, the river grasses are topping out, and anglers unknowingly are providing great habitat for snakehead. This happens as anglers fish the grass much harder for bass, when they motor through the grass, they cut it, and this cut grass gets matted and drifts along the river. As the cut grass gets pulled by the tides it will get trapped along the shore line creating a natural shelter along the marsh banks.
Where the grass gets matted up along a marsh bank is exactly where I am going to target first. If I see a great marsh bank but nothing floating on the top like cut grass, then I am moving along to find more productive water. Refer to the photo above as a frame of reference – keep this in mind as you look for prime waters.
One piece worth mentioning is that as the snakehead move into their spawn, the females won’t be quite as aggressive – we tend to catch more of the smaller males. However, we know that often times a 3-4 pound snakehead means a 7 plus pound female can possibly be coaxed in to biting.
The first spawn for snakehead tends to be around mid-May through the end of May. But, as with all fish, this isn’t always a hard and fast rule. However, once the females are through the spawn and snakehead starting guarding fry they become much more aggressive and are prime targets.
As June moves into July and then August, snakehead tend to follow a similar pattern. As temperatures
climb and summer heat affects water flow and movement, snakehead will push out of some of the shallower creeks and flats as they become completely choked out with grass. They won’t go far and will tend to relocate fairly close by.
TYPES OF LURES
I love to target snakeheads with top water – nothing beats a top water explosion. That being said, snakehead will aggressively hit a wide variety of baits, but it should be noted that snakehead aren’t picky. One piece of advice is not to freak out when it looks like a submarine is rising up behind your bait. Just don’t get anxious and mess it up with anticipation!
On VA Outdoors you will see a lot of discussions about frog fishing. There are a ton of different frogs on the market, ranging anywhere from $5.99 to $20 or more. Since snakehead have heads filled with razor sharp teeth, I don’t recommend higher priced frogs just to target snakehead. They will get ripped apart over time. So buy the more expensive frogs and fish them for bass, and once they start getting beat up and taking on water, keep them for snakehead. Almost any kind of frog will work, from the Bass Pro Shops Kermies to the Spro Bronzeye Popping Frogs. I tend to lean more towards poppers than other style of frogs. Color isn’t always as important – early summer I like those that have a whitish belly to light green or chartreuse to mimic killifish and bluegills. Later in the year they seem to hit anything that moves.
With this bait, cast it to the edge of the bank and work it out deeper. Usually if there is a snakehead around it won’t make it more than a twitch or two before being crushed. If the cut grass has matted up along the bank, the key here is to work the frog on top of the cut grass right to the edge – hop it off the edge once or twice and get ready. This is identical to the ways guys target bass, but usually in some different locations. But this is often times why the snakehead is an accidental catch in bass territory.
It’s not uncommon for a snakehead to miss a frog because of their eyesight, due to the way their eyes are situated. If he misses the bait, pitch right back and often times they will hit it the second time around. Just be quick with the cast.
Buzz Baits and Spinner Baits
This one is easy – snakeheads just love them. One thing you will notice is that it doesn’t take long for a snakehead to completely destroy one of these baits. A non-titanium spinner bait will look like a train wreck after a single medium size snakehead. The good news is that they aren’t picky, just grab your pliers and straighten it out. These can be great just working them right down prime banks or other grass flats where snakeheads like to roam. Typical colors that have worked are black, white, or chartreuse skirts – again, they aren’t picky.
Chatterbaits are another solid go to bait, if you aren’t getting the hint just yet, I will say it one more time – snakehead aren’t picky. If it makes noise, has action and is giving the impression of fleeing or being injured, then it gets eaten. Chatterbaits can trigger a bite when frogs can’t so always keep a few handy. The first thing you should do with any chatterbait is throw the clasp away that came with the bait. Go buy yourself 20 pound plus strength clasps, unless you want to lose a $5 bait. Colors should match the baitfish, including shad, killifish and bluegill.
If you are going to target snakehead, be prepared to catch a double digit fish at some point. When you do and you land it, you will understand that your gear has to be matched to the fish. Bass in the Potomac River fight harder than most any other bass. Snakehead of similar weight fight twice as hard as bass, and have vicious head shakes.
My typical outfit is a 7’ medium heavy rod with a fast to extra fast taper. This gives me the tip action I need and the backbone to set the hook and turn a decent fish. It also gives me enough leverage to deal with grass later in the summer. There are many choices in rods, but not all medium heavy blanks have the same backbone to them. Test them out in the store and pick the rod that is on the upper end of rigidity. My rod of choice is the Bass Pro Shops Carbonlite rods – I keep 5 of them rigged and have had no issues to date.
As for reels, capacity is never really an issue as compared to the reel’s drag. When we fish the Potomac we are using anywhere from 40 to 65 pound braid with the drag on the reel completely locked down. This gives us no line stretch, great strength and solid hook sets. A poor drag will certainly give up quickly. I fish a variety of reels from Daiwa Advantages to Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature series. Other guys I know fish Abu Garcia Revo’s and love them. A solid quality drag is most important.
I hope this article has given you some additional clues to targeting snakehead. I am sure that once you catch a few, you will quickly become addicted to a species that is here to stay. See more snakehead discussions and reports at VA-Outdoors.com