By Mark Fike
When the first snakehead was discovered in the tributaries of the Potomac River near our nation’s capital years ago, there was an outpouring of fear, irritation and anxiety by some anglers, particularly bass anglers.
The fear was that this strange looking creature was going to decimate the bass population and ruin the ecosystem. Thus far that has not materialized. In fact, not much has changed in the river except maybe the number of anglers, particularly, the bass anglers, that are trying to catch them.
No one wants to encourage non-native species, aka invasive species, to invade our ecosystem. Some creatures are accidentally introduced while others are purposely introduced with hopes of doing some good.
No one knows for sure how the snakehead was introduced to our river system but they are here to stay. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries requires that all snakeheads caught are killed immediately and reported.
However, the cat is certainly out of the bag now and trying to even slow down their natural distribution is likely to be a waste of time. Since being found in Virginia’s Potomac River they have been found in the Rappahannock River and over a half dozen lakes. It appears they will continue expanding their range.
The best we can do is enjoy them for their ferocious bite and fight and table fare. Yes, I said table fare. Though odd and downright creepy looking, these torpedo-shaped fish are more than willing to smash bass lures and break rods if you want to tangle with them. The meat is very firm, white and delicious when grilled, broiled or even fried lightly. You are missing out if you refuse to give snakehead a try.
These fish like cover. Grass mats, weedlines, logs or any other place they can suspend and wait for a meal is a good place to fish. On a trip with a local, Monty Clift, we hit grass mats. Clift used Senkos and he used a topwater lure to draw strikes. I used a Mann’s Phat Rat to fish for bass and snakehead. I love topwater fishing and I love bass fishing in a peaceful environment without the roar of boats zipping by.
We had that exact situation going on when I flung the Rat out on the water. It landed with a SPLAT! The birds were wheeling overhead, geese were honking and only distant boats were heard. I let my bait sit for a second, twitched it a bit and then we both saw the water start to surge from behind it.
“Uh oh,” Clift began.
I immediately tensed up and tried telling myself to not set the hook too soon. “Just hold off a few seconds. Count to three before running out of the other side of the boat and snapping the rod back,” I tried telling myself.
The commotion and terrifying boil of water and splashing of the fish trying hard to destroy the bait was too much. My Rat came flying back at me, I ducked and my heart raced to near dangerous levels.
Once I calmed down, we both had a good laugh. Bass hit topwater hard and can really be fun to catch. This hit was something in a league of its own. This fish was not trying to simply inhale the bait. It wanted to decimate the bait and then eat it. Snakeheads hit with a ferocity that will make your head spin.
Interesting enough, they don’t really target gamefish to eat. They like killfish, mosquito fish and other minnows. Sometimes they will eat small bream or perch.
Using a bow and fishing for them with bright lights at night is great fun. The fish often will remain motionless when you put a light on them and as stated before, they fight really hard. Be sure to aim lower for water refraction when using a bow to arrow your next supper.
Troll around the grassy areas of creeks in waters known to harbor snakeheads. They prefer shallow, grassy areas.
First of all, watch out for their teeth. They have spiked or conical, razor sharp teeth that can do some damage. Make sure you kill them before trying to clean them. They are powerful and can cause your knife to go flying and do some damage where it is unintended. A .22 to the head will do the trick, an awl between the eyes and slightly back of the center will work too. Be sure the fish is dead!
Use an electric knife to cut down to the backbone and then down to the tail. Stop short of the tail and flip the filet over. Cut just above the skin and remove the meat. Cut away the two cavity/rib sections on the bottom of the fish. What remains should be good meat.
I fried a small piece with Old Bay. It was really good. I also grilled some pieces in aluminum foil and that was even better. Use some butter or lemon and a fish seasoning if you want. Since these fish eat fish, they taste really good.