Fishing for snakeheads has become quite popular, and in many areas the impact of their arrival seems to be more or less harmless to the aquatic ecosystem. In fact, in the Potomac River – ground-zero when snakeheads first escaped into open Maryland waterways – most anglers and the authorities seem to agree that the bass fishery has remained about the same even as the snakes colonized multiple areas of the river. To some people, the escape of the snakes into our waters is even seen as a net-positive event. They often inhabit areas too shallow, weedy, and warm for other species, they fight great, and they taste fabulous as well. That was the point made by noted angler Joe Bruce, in his article Fishing for Snakeheads: A New Look. More about the fish itself in a minute, but we know that what many of you really want to know is how to catch these critters. Let’s start off by talking to some local experts and wetting our lines.
The Basics of Snakehead Fishing
- The simplest way to fish for snakes is to use a minnow and bobber. The larger the minnow, the better. An Eagle Claw 1/0 hook is a good choice.
- In cool weather suspend the minnow just off bottom.
- In warm weather suspend the minnow six inches to a foot under the bobber.
- Topwater, swimbaits, and chatterbaits can all be effective lures for snakehead fishing.
- A topwater bite can develop starting in the spring, any time there a few days in a row of warm weather and strong sunshine (the shallow waters of Blackwater can heat up very rapidly).
- When the topwater bite is on, surface-disturbers like the River2Sea Whopper Plopper are a good bet.
- When weed growth makes using lures like this impossible, weedless frogs are effective.
- Look for snakeheads deep in the weeds and lily pads during the summer.
- When the snakeheads are in the weeds use stout gear, so you can pull them out before becoming too entangled.
- When you see fry balls, remember that adult snakeheads guard them. Cast repeatedly at the balls of baby snakes to aggravate the big fish into striking, or drop a big minnow right into their midst.
- Virtually all the legal public access points in the Blackwater area offer a good shot at snakeheads. Kayakers can use the soft launches, and canoes work well in Blackwater too. Due to the shallow depth running powerboats here can be challenging and running aground is common.
- Be careful not to trespass, and make sure you haul out your trash. Thoughtful anglers will bring an empty trash bag and leave with a full one – whether it’s their trash they carry out or not.
The Impact of Snakeheads on the Blackwater
Unfortunately, according to the locals the minimal impact of snakeheads seen in other waterways is very far from the case in the Blackwater watershed and nearby rivers like the Chicamacomico and the Transquaking. These waters are literally littered with snakeheads, and they do seem to be muscling out other species. The DNR and US Fish and Wildlife are looking into it, but don’t have any significant studies we can point to just yet. That said, the anecdotal evidence seems overwhelming.
“We see a lot of problems right now,” says Caz Kenny, founder of the Facebook page Snakeheadlife.com. “I have nine crayfish traps that used to fill up overnight, and now I can’t catch a crayfish. I don’t even see their holes along the banks anymore. And amphibians have a serious problem. Where we used to be able to gig three buckets of bullfrogs, now we don’t even see any eggs or tadpoles.”
Commercial fisherman David Confair backs up what Kenny says. “I took some people out for frogs a while back and we could only find three,” he says. “We drove all over the place looking and went to places where normally you could get all you want. They just aren’t there anymore.”
When asked about the impact on other fish species in the local waters, Confair says “There’s just no doubt there’s a very serious problem. Places that used to be loaded with crappie, and places we used to catch bass, it’s all snakeheads now. The water’s loaded with them. It’s not unusual for people to catch them by the dozens and sometimes by the hundreds.”
Confair and Kenny go on to explain that the arrival of the snakehead isn’t all bad. They say the osprey and eagles feed on them constantly, and the influx of snakehead anglers has been a boom for the local economy. Still, as Kenny says, “We need to have a balance in the ecosystem. We care about this, and we can tell there’s no doubt that the snakeheads have thrown everything out of balance. We just want to make sure we can restore it. The ultimate goal is just to get some level of control, because right now, the snakeheads are completely out of control.”
To that end, many of the local watermen, anglers, and residents have teamed up to create a snakehead tournament series. The 2019 Woolford Store Channidae Championship Blackwater Snakehead Trail begins April 13 with the Spring Kickoff, and includes three more events through the summer months. Visit the Woolford Store for more info (and if you go there, you have GOT to try the cheese-steak subs!)
Everyone we met when we visited the Blackwater made it clear that they welcome people who want to come visit the area and try the world-class snakehead fishing. They also made it crystal clear, however, that people leaving trash behind is a serious issue. “This is God’s Country and we want to keep it that way,” says Kenny. Surely, any self-respecting angler reading this right now won’t hesitate to put a trash bag in their tacklebox, and leave with more trash than they arrived with.
Now go out there and get some snakes!
For the low-down on other snakehead hotspots in Maryland, check out Destination Snakehead: Fishing for Snakeheads in Maryland.