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Event Article


On a Monster Mission: Fishing for Great Snakehead

Date: 5/23/18
Location: Stuart, Florida
Event: Pirates Cove Media Event
Event Date: 5/9/18
Reviewer: Zander

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.

Today the 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 Great Snakeheads.

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 structure. Wrong.


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


Next Section: Three lessons to charm the snakes...









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