Yet another exotic invader to Florida’s freshwater ecosystem, the bullseye snakehead is an air-breathing, merciless predator that is similar to a bowfin in both looks and aggressiveness. In fact, the only way to identify a snakehead from a bowfin is by searching for the bright bullseye marking along the snakehead’s tail.
Indigenous to Asia and Africa, these exotics share the tannin-tinted waters of Florida with a host of non-native species including tilapia, carp, guapote, cichlids, walking catfish, knifefish, oscar and peacock bass. Non-native species are introduced through many venues, and many of these intruders established by aquarium releases now have sizeable populations throughout tropical regions of the state. In fact, there are 22 species of exotic game fish that have permanent reproducing populations within Florida’s freshwater community.
Pretty much anything they get in their mouth will be noticeably damaged and likley need to be replaced after a severe battle or two.
First documented by the FWC in 2000, bullseye snakehead require relatively warm water to survive, which somewhat limits their dispersion. Super aggressive carnivores that will feed on anything smaller than them including lizards, frogs, fish, turtles and muscovy ducks, snakeheads are now prevalent in almost every freshwater body in Dade and Broward, but have also been encountered in several other counties. These illegal immigrants of South Florida’s freshwater community have drawn repeated media attention and even enticed TV host Jeremy Wade of River Monsters to investigate the shallow canals and lakes of our urban watershed.
Snakeheads are vicious ambush predators and prefer the cover afforded by overhanging vegetation and underwater debris. Since these illegal immigrants are capable of obtaining oxygen by breathing air they can reside in stagnant water with very little oxygen content. Because of their unique attributes, snakeheads are notorious for lying in ambush along muddy banks or around underwater debris where they simply wait for the prime opportunity to strike unfortunate prey. Due to this close association to structure you’ll want to fish tight to the bank.
Although snakeheads are some of the most aggressive freshwater game fish they can be spooked relatively easy, so long casts parallel to the shoreline are required. Mature snakeheads are extremely territorial, so if you encounter a blowout or miss a smashing surface strike don’t expect another bite in the immediate vicinity. It’s best to cover ground and look for another fish. Remember that snakeheads breathe air, so keep a constant lookout for surface disturbances revealing your prize below.
While not every freshwater body of water is loaded with snakeheads, these fish are being captured with increasing consistency across the southern portions of our coverage area. The C-14 canal in Broward County is where they were originally encountered, so use this as a basis to start your snakehead expeditions. Almost all lakes and canals of urban South Florida hold snakeheads and if you haven’t already encountered them you’ll likely see them soon. If you don’t have any promising locales in your arsenal of honey-holes, jump on the web and start investigating Google Earth. This powerful tool is free to use and reveals many potential hot-spots.
When it comes to tackle for snakehead fishing your bass outfits will do the trick. Since these serpentine predators are so aggressive nearly any offering will work—topwater plugs, spinner baits and live bait will entice snakehead strikes. A buzzbait frog is the most lethal offering and works great around vegetation. Whatever you choose to throw it’s imperative you have backups. Snakehead jaws are outfitted with razor sharp teeth that can destroy a soft plastic frog in a second. Pretty much anything they get in their mouth will be noticeably damaged and likely need to be replaced after a severe battle or two. Snakeheads also have the uncanny ability to throw the hook at the last second, so care must be taken when landing and de-hooking. It is highly recommended you utilize a landing net and lip gripper to safely control these fish.
When the species first appeared on the public radar there were a host of doom and gloom scenarios that claimed snakeheads would completely wipe out native species, but there has been no massive impact on local fish populations. Captain Stephen McDonald of Bassmaster Guide Service tells us that although mature snakeheads prey on juvenile species like native largemouth bass, adult largemouths also prey on juvenile snakeheads. “It’s a fish eat fish world and as of now, snakeheads don’t appear to have had a super negative impact on the local ecosystem,” Stephen continued. Still, because they are an invasive species the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages anglers to kill all captured snakeheads.