On a Monster Mission: Fishing for Great Snakehead
Introduction: Like many other anglers
I have a number of fish on my bucket-list. Some are easy guesses like the
beautiful Amazon Peacock Bass (check), or drag destroying Goliath Grouper (also
check), but others are a little more obscure like the enigmatic Great Snakehead.
I finally had the chance to pursue this species on my recent media trip to South
Florida, where I had the opportunity to fish with the authority on Snakes in the
region, the current IFGA record holder for Great Snakeheads, Corey Nowakowski.
Our shore mission to find and
catch Great Snakeheads begins in narrow canals in South Florida
Snakes, why did it have to be snakes? There is a lot of misconception
about snakeheads, and as they have been branded as an invasive species many
anglers want little or nothing to do with these fish which originally came from
asia. These long narrow
shaped predatory fish have long dorsal fins and the ability to breathe air with
gills, which even enables them to travel for short distances over land. Though
they are considered a valuable gamefish and food source in other parts of the
world in the U.S. snakeheads are notorious and branded as an invasive species
that was either accidentally, or intentionally, released by aquarium owners that
simply didn’t want to deal with the fish once they reached a certain size.
Like many other exotic fish species that have found their way into Florida
lakes, ponds, and canals, the Great Snakehead has proven to
be very adaptable and has expanded their range through various bodies of water
in South Florida, especially many of the region’s canals and ponds.
Corey points out snakehead
activity, there is a lot of sight fishing involved in targeting the biggest fish.
Polarized glasses like Maui Jim's that most of us were wearing definitely made
the task of seeing the fish before they could see us much easier
When they first started appearing in Florida nearly 20 years ago some anglers at
first mistook the Snakeheads for Bowfin. Both fish have a torpedo shape and even
behave similarly in the way they pursue and strike prey. While many anglers
started catching them by accident when targeting largemouth and peacocks a
growing group of anglers started to actively target these fish, and snakehead
catch and kill tournaments were common.
Great Snakehead has become somewhat of a legend in South Florida, with anglers
focusing on catching “Snakes,” and many others traveling to the region
with the goal of landing one. This is the story of Corey Nowakowski, a bass
angler that migrated over to specializing in the pursuit of trophy class
This pursuit has taken a decade and over this period Corey started to not only
locate areas where these fish reside but also studied how catch them using a
variety of different techniques, including sight fishing and employing topwater
baits in narrow canals. What started out as interest in better understanding the
species and how to more successfully target them has transformed into a passion
for Corey, and today he is not only a Snakehead guide but the current IFGA
All-Tackle world record holder for Great Snakeheads.
Corey demonstrates a precision
cast under low hanging trees. Most of the Snakeheads in the shallow canals are
just a few feet from shore
These Boots Were Made for Walkin': When I was given the opportunity to
select from various types of fishing at the recent Pirates Cove Media event
fishing for Snakeheads was a high priority on my list, mostly because I had
never caught or even specifically targeted these fish before. Knowing that this
was likely going to be a very different experience I was extremely excited about
the opportunity to catch my first snakehead, and especially if I was able to do
so with a topwater bait.
I met with the
Corey the night before we were going to go out and he prepared me for what to
expect. I was not prepared. Like the rest of the freshwater fishing that I had
done in Florida I wrongly assumed that we would be fishing out of a boat,
navigating the lakes and feeder canals in South Florida, making casts towards
As Brad brings a snakehead to
shore Corey helps land it
While it is certainly possible to target Florida Snakeheads from a boat some of
the best spots and biggest fish that Corey knew were only accessible by driving
from one spot to the next and hiking along the shoreline, getting really tight
to the vegetation and sight fishing for them with either topwater baits or Texas
rigged plastics. He explained that some of the keys to not only finding the big
fish was a combination of stealth and accurate casts. Snakeheads are not
generally very line shy and while you can fish for them with mono or
fluorocarbon lines effectively targeting them from shore generally requires
braided line for instant hooksets and the ability to muscle the fish away from
structure and up over the bank.
We spooled up our Okuma Helios baitcasters with Yozuri 50lb. Super Braid and
tied on the Savage Gear 3D Fruck, a hollow bodied topwater bait that is a hybrid
of a frog and a duck, hence the name and the clever “What the Fruck” launch
campaign. The next morning we tied on our boots and head out to the secluded
canals and ponds that Corey had picked out for our Snake Mission, it was time to
pound the shore.
Brad and his first snakehead