The "Frankenfish!" Chances are you have heard this name on your local news channel or on some overdramatized fishing show. The snakehead has received a lot of sensationalism by the media over the years with a lot of it misleading or greatly exaggerated. The snakehead is just a fish. They can’t walk on land to eat your pets and they don’t spawn five times a year. Just recently, John Odenkirk, the leading biologist on the Northern snakehead's impact on the Potomac with over 15 years of research has recently stated that he does not see the Northern snakehead as an invasive species anymore.
For a fish species to be considered invasive, it has to cause economic or environmental harm. To date, there is no scientific evidence to show that this fish is causing harm to the economy or existing fish populations. If anything the snakehead has boosted sales in fishing licenses and equipment in the area they're inhabiting. They are a blast to catch with spectacular topwater strikes and they are great table fare which makes them attractive to many anglers.
Since hearing that this fish was found in Meadow Lake in 2004 I was intrigued about this so-called devil fish. So, like any angler, I wanted to catch one. I took to the internet to do my homework and gather all the information I could to help me catch these fish on the fly. What I found was very limited: a few guys claiming to be experts but only had two or three fish caught in a period of several years. To me, catching three fish of a certain species hardly makes you an expert and the experts shared no info on what techniques to use other than they had flies for sale that would catch snakeheads.
After a disappointing search for fly fishing-related information, I turned my search towards what techniques conventional fisherman were using to catch this fish. I lucked out and found a YouTube channel called Noobangler On this channel, there was a group of guys that called themselves the Snakeheads Stalkers. They were based out of Pa and NJ that were targeting snakeheads in my area. After studying their videos, I had to find a way to translate what these guys were doing into fly fishing. Northern snakeheads don’t have great eyesight so they hunt mainly by sensing vibrations in the water. They also spend the majority of their time in aquatic vegetation, so I needed to find a fly that pushes a lot of water and is weedless. I took to the internet again to find something that fits my criteria for the fly that’s going to get one of these devilfish out of hiding to hit my fly.
My search was disappointing. There were weedless flies, but they didn’t push enough water, and flies that pushed a lot of water, but they were far from weedless. With my search coming up a dud, I needed to create my own snakehead catcher - one that is weedless but also pushes water. After a lot of wasted money spent on tying materials, at least ten or more prototypes, I had a fly that could do what I needed it to do. So how to fish the fly? Snakeheads like to hit lures that are moving with little to no pauses. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to be stripping my fly in like crazy all day to keep it moving at a pace that will get a snakehead's attention. Before I decided to catch a snakehead on the fly, I was known to hit the surf from time to time with the fly rod so I was very familiar with making my fly move fast using a two-handed retrieve where you tuck the fly rod under your arm so both hands are free, then you proceed to retrieve the line hand over hand. This makes for a lot faster retrieve and it is also less taxing than a typical single hand retrieves.
So, I have the fly and retrieve; it’s time to go catch my Frankenfish. It took me more than ten outings before I finally caught one. There were naysayers. Those people drove me to continue my efforts to get one of these fish to hand. I don’t think I will ever forget that day when I finally caught one. I ran right home after work and grabbed my kayak and my fishing gear and headed to one of my local snakehead holes.
It was hot and very humid out that day. I was paddling along the pads and in the distance, I noticed some nervous water in front of me. Nervous water can only mean one thing in water with snakeheads: there was a fry ball. A fry ball is a school of snakehead fry. Snakeheads breath air so the area where the babies are is always roiled because the fry are consistently surfacing for air. Snakeheads are great parents, both the male and the female guard their young on average for about four weeks. This is one of the easiest times to catch a snakehead they will hit almost anything that they believe is a threat to their young. Running a fly through the fry ball will anger the parents and BAM! - fish on. Once in a while, you will find some smart parents that won’t hit your fly, but if you get a few casts in the fry ball it usually ends in a bent rod.
Well, it was my lucky day. The first fry ball I paddled over, I made sure I didn’t get too close to it to scare the parents off. I dropped anchor to make sure I didn’t drift into the fry ball from the wind. After I made sure I wasn’t going anywhere, I just sat there and watched the fry and parent interacting to plan how I was going to get one of the patents to hit my fly. After some thought, I decided to cast a foot or two out of the fry ball and just strip my fly through the fry ball. I grabbed my rod and made about a forty-foot cast. My fly landed about three feet over the fry ball. I let it sit for a few seconds then I start to make my retrieve. I am at the edge of my seat the whole time. While my fly starts to go over the fry ball some fry scatter away then a huge deep pop noise with a splash. It took me a second to process what had just happened because I was still in shock from what I just witnessed. One of the parents annihilated my fly. My adrenalin was pumping so much I almost forgot to set the hook. I raised my rod up hard while simultaneously doing a strip strike FISH ON!!!!!! The fish immediately went for the weeds so I gave it the full strength of the butt section on my Sage Largemouth rod. After three attempts to go in the weeds and some water thrashing head shakes, I got the fish in my net and on the deck of the kayak. After some hand to hand combat with the fish to get the hook out, the fish stood still just enough for me to snap a quick pic. Right after that the fish flopped out of my yak and spit the hook out in the process. It was from that moment, that I knew I had to catch more of these mysterious, hard fighting fish that have taken residence in my back yard.
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