Northern Snakehead Fishing in Virginia

Northern Snakehead Fishing in Virginia

The Northern Snakehead (Channa Argus) is an exotic species that was introduced to Virginia waters in the early 2000’s. The fish is native to Southeast Asia and was introduced when someone let one go into a pond in Maryland.  Since then it has become the poster-child of invasive species. Early reports on the fish made claims that it could climb out of the water and crawl on land for lengthy distances. This misinformation created quite a scare amongst Virginians as they began to worry for the already struggling native fish populations. People were scared that the introduction of a new top predator would do serious harm to the ecology and the largemouth bass population. Luckily for everyone neither of those things happened as more than a decade later it seems that the snakehead has filled a niche that no one knew about.  The Virginia fisheries have been on a major rebound in the past several years and the largemouth bass population is soaring to record numbers. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologists aren’t sure what the exact cause of this resurgence is but they suspect it to be a combination of increasing water quality, better regulation compliance, and possibly even the introduction of the northern snakehead.

Shallow water snakehead
Two Northern Snakehead hanging in the shallows. Photo by Virginia State Parks, Licensed under Creative Commons

Snakehead are here for good in Virginia, so we decided we should figure out how to catch them.  The current world record snakehead was actually caught out of Aquia Creek in Virginia.  It was 3 feet long and weighed over 17 pounds! Fishing for the northern snakehead is very similar to fishing for largemouth bass. The ideal waters are 2-4 feet deep with heavy vegetation. Snakehead are obligate air breathers, which means they come up to the surface on occasion.

Northern Snakehead from the Potomac River
This one we caught was about 4 pounds

There is no individual lure that works best as they are opportunistic feeders and will bite whatever swims in front of them but I’ve noticed they won’t chase very far for any bait. With that mind the most popular snakehead lures tend to be the ones that can fish heavy vegetation without getting snagged, such as weedless frogs and buzzbaits.  I always tend to have the best luck snakehead fishing in May and early June as they enter breeding season. Of the few dozen that I’ve caught bank-fishing roughly 70% of them have been from target casting; meaning that I saw the fish in the water and cast right next to it. Casting right on top of the fish will startle it and 4 out of 5 times it will immediately strike the hook. Precision is key when attempting this because if you land the hook behind the fish then you risk startling it and having it swim away. You need to be patient if you intend to catch any this way as they won’t show up if you’ve been fishing the area heavily in the past half hour. The other ones that I caught blind were all done on chatterbaits(white, black, and chartreuse) in 3-4 feet of water.

Virginia Snakehead Fish
This snakehead was caught out of Aquia Creek

The Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries used to require that all northern snakehead caught be killed immediately. They have since lifted this requirement and fisherman are now able to release snakehead if caught. Having a live snakehead in your possession is still a crime however.  

Northern Snakehead
One more snakehead that came out of Aquia Creek

Not only is the snakehead awesome for sportfishing, it tastes great. The meat is fairly firm, the best way I can describe it would be a slightly thicker tilapia. Snakehead can be cooked all sorts of ways. My favorite is either fried or blackened.  Blackened snakehead makes for an awesome sandwich/taco. If you try blackened I recommend this recipe http://theonlinefisherman.com/how-to-fish/recipes/blackened-snakehead-fish-recipe
Let us know what you think about fishing for northern snakehead in the comments below!

One thought on “Northern Snakehead Fishing in Virginia

  • August 10, 2017 at 10:47 am
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    Great way to combat invasive species

    Reply

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