Snakeheads are an invasive fish that have made themselves at home in South Florida’s freshwater lakes and canals.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, bullseye snakeheads are native to Pakistan, Malaysia and southern China. They were first documented locally in 2000. No one knows for certain how they got here, although they were sold by some pet shops, so it’s likely that aquarium owners released the fish, which can grow to about 15 pounds.
What anglers do know is that snakeheads love to chase down lures fished on the surface, they fight hard and their firm, white flesh is low in mercury and can be prepared in a number of tasty ways.
Your chances of catching a snakehead right now are as good as they’ll ever be.
“To me, this is the best time to go after snakeheads,” Capt. Alan Zaremba said. “They seem to be done with all of their spawning, they’re done with protecting their young. And they’re sitting underneath the cover waiting for food, and they’re feeding right now.”
Zaremba, of Hollywood, specializes in guiding anglers to peacock bass in South Florida as well as in the Amazon River basin in Colombia and Brazil (visit www.worldwidesportsfishing.com).
His local customers occasionally catch snakeheads while fishing for peacocks, but he will fish just for snakeheads if they request it. He said the good snakehead fishing will continue until local water temperatures get cold.
“It seems like when it first starts cooling down the fishing’s OK, but then it hits a point where they become much harder to catch,” Zaremba said. One of his best days was just before a November cold front when he guided Dr. Marty Arostegui of Miami to 20 snakeheads.
Zaremba smashed that personal best this past week when he and Ed Connell of Stuart caught and released 38 snakeheads up to 11 pounds, “and we missed a bunch.”
They were fishing in shallow, narrow, shabby looking canals in southern Palm Beach County. Snakeheads breathe air, so water quality does not matter to them. They do like canals lined with vegetation, where they wait to ambush small fish as well as frogs, lizards, snakes and baby ducks and birds.
On another recent trip with Drew Gregg of Davie, they were catching peacocks when Zaremba suggested they fish an adjacent dead-end, quarter-mile-long canal with heavy vegetation on both sides. The two men quickly caught eight snakeheads in that tiny waterway on Bagley Minnow B jerkbaits.
“When I get somebody who wants to target snakeheads, which I’ve had here of late, I take them into my scummiest, ugliest canals and that’s where the best fishing is,” Zaremba said, adding that many of those canals are 4-5 feet deep and shallower. “That’s not to say you can’t find snakeheads in deeper canals, but the ones that are actively feeding are usually in canals with not much water in them, and they’re usually very narrow.”
Zaremba, who caught his first two snakeheads in 2001 while fishing for peacock bass in the C-14 Canal in Margate with a Rapala jerkbait, said snakeheads readily hit soft-plastic frogs and speed worms as well as topwater plugs.
Regardless of the type of lure, Zaremba said snakeheads are wary, so long casts are essential to avoid spooking the fish. He rigs his spinning outfits with 15- and 20-pound braided line, which casts farther than monofilament line of the same strength, and has his anglers retrieve the lures across the surface and parallel to the bank.
“In these skinny canals you can almost throw the lure in the middle and they’ll come from either side,” he said. “You can throw it up on the shore where you can pull it off and it comes down along the bank. Snakeheads really nestle up very tight to the bank waiting for something to make a mistake.”
One of the thrills of fishing for snakeheads is watching the wake made by the fish as they follow a lure.
“I call it the ‘Jaws’ wake,” said Zaremba, who added that you don’t want to reel the lure too fast. “I like to keep it slower coming across the surface. The way to do that without the frog or speed worm sinking is to keep your rod tip up really high — 11 to 12 o’clock high. That allows you to keep the lure on the surface without having to pick the speed up to do it. When the fish hits it, you drop the rod tip, you reel up the slack and just before it gets tight, you set the hook.”
Zaremba said probably the best fishing right now is in Palm Beach County canals connected to the Lake Ida system. His top spots in Broward County include the C-13 Canal, which runs west to Markham Park in Sunrise, the canal along State Road 84 and the C-14 Canal. In Miami-Dade County, Zaremba has caught snakeheads only in the canal along Krome Avenue.