Snakehead in the Rappahannock?

Are there Northern Snakehead in the Rappahannock River?

Snakehead were first found in the Rappahannock River in 2012, and their numbers appear to be growing. No one knows for sure how the northern snakehead first got into the Rappahannock River. It is speculated that they were either illegally stocked in Ruffin’s Mill Pond; which connects to the river or that they swam south from the Potomac and found the river on their own. Snakehead can’t normally survive in the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay that lie between the Potomac and the Rappahannock rivers but when there is a large rain event and fresh water begins to pour into the Chesapeake Bay the snakehead can follow the freshwater and use it to make the jump to the next river. Since their arrival in 2012 snakehead have made regular appearances around the fall line in Fredericksburg and there have even been verified catches as far upstream as Remington.

Rappahannock River snakehead
Snakehead populations in the Rappahannock are increasing

Fishing for Snakehead in the Rappahannock and Fredericksburg

So how is the snakehead fishing in Fredericksburg? The snakehead are definitely in the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg, but you won’t find nearly the population density here that you will in Aquia Creek and the other Potomac tributaries. You should fish for them the same way you fish for bass on the river. Topwater buzzbaits and frogs are great in the summer months while chatterbaits do a great job in the murkier waters below the fall line. Here’s our complete post on Snakehead Fishing Techniques and Lures.

Northern Snakehead, rappahannock
Freshly caught northern snakehead

Your best bet to catch snakehead in the Rappahannock is to find shallow, slow moving sections of the river. You should also be looking for lots of vegetation. This is where the snakehead will be during the summer.  It is very common to find them in as little as one foot of water. When you find an area with dense vegetation, look for signs of movement among the plants.  You can spot a snakehead (or possibly a different fish) by looking for lily pad movement that’s obviously not caused by the wind or water current.

Virginia Snakehead Fish
This snakehead was caught out of Aquia Creek

Another good spot in the Rappahannock is to look for tributaries into the river. The streams dump a lot of snakehead food right into the river, and they’ll also usually created a shallow area perfect for snakehead habitat. If you can get there, a good spot to check is where Massaponax Creek meets the Rappahannock River. This is the original source of snakehead in the river and is still a great spot to catch them.

Snakehead in the York and James Rivers?

Can snakehead end up in the York and the James rivers by travelling through the Chesapeake? Probably not. The further south you get the higher the salinity levels get in the Chesapeake making it more difficult for the snakehead to travel in the Chesapeake. Can snakehead end up in the York and James rivers unnaturally? Absolutely yes. Little can be done to prevent citizens from illegally transporting the invasive species to new watersheds.

Chesapeake Bay Salinity Gradient
Chesapeake Bay Salinity Gradient. To read more about the salinity levels in the Bay read here.

Punishment for Transporting Snakehead

In 2017 the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries upgraded the penalty for anyone caught transporting a live snakehead. The punishment was formerly a Class 3 misdemeanor and a small fine, but now anyone caught will be hit with a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable with up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500. Recent studies have shown that the snakehead population in the Potomac is not having the effect that was originally feared. However, snakehead populations in more sensitive lakes and trout streams could still prove to be disastrous for the local fish.  So please do not go illegally stock your local pond.  Check out the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries page on Northern Snakehead HERE.

If you catch a snakehead and are interested in eating it, here’s our favorite snakehead recipe.  Let us know in the comments below if you’re catching any snakehead in the Rappahannock River.

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