Ode to the Bullseye Snakehead

fishing-ode-to-the-bullseye-snakehead

If you’re looking for a tasty fish with a mean look, plenty of fight and a great backstory, it doesn’t get any better than the Florida “Bullseye” snakehead.

It’s prime snakehead season in the canals of South Florida, and whether you’re in a boat or on the bank, landing snakeheads can be a fun after-work thrill ending in a great meal.

Shaped like a torpedo with a flattened head, red eyes (really!) and long, sharp teeth like the creature in “Aliens,” the Florida “Bullseye” snakehead is centered in the Margate/Coral Springs/Pompano Beach area of South Florida. Ranging upward to sizes of 31 inches and about 10 pounds, it puts up a great fight on both jerk and live baits, though rubber frogs seems to be a particular favorite among fishermen. It’s a delicacy – prized for its medicinal benefits in countries of its native Asia – and there are no bag limits in Florida. Keep as many as you catch.

Florida snakehead lore begins with Hurricane Andrew, the massive storm that hit South Florida in 1992 and in the process wiped out an illegal breeding pen containing snakeheads. Just like in a horror movie, the snakeheads made it to the C-14 canal and began breeding wildly.

There are other snakeheads.  The northern snakehead has established itself firmly in the Potomac River system, and they have recently been found above Great Falls in the C&O Canal (north of Washington, D.C.), as well as in the upper Chesapeake Bay. Fears among anglers that they would wipe out other species and displace the largemouth bass have so far proven unfounded.

But anglers who know say the Bullseye snakehead is the most aggressive of any of the other North American snakeheads.  This is top-notch fishing with lots of explosive topwater strikes and hard runs. Important: make sure you have a heavy line and a heavy rod.

In September, a South Florida man landed a certified 14-pound, 4-ounce snakehead. The world record is 15 pounds.

Dan Bieniek told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel he landed the giant using a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy action rod and a Shimano Curado baitcasting reel spooled with 80-pound Power Pro braided line. The frog was on a 6-0 Gamakatsu hook.

“She went deep, she didn’t jump. I haven’t had a fish pull like that since God knows how long,” said Bieniek, who described it as a “Jaws” moment. “I skipped it under a dock and I started bringing it out, burning it across the top. It was about a 10×10 dock. There was nothing special about it, it was just another dock on the water. As soon as the frog hit the water, I start reeling.”

If there’s one consistent warning among veteran anglers to newbies, it’s to make sure you have strength in your line, hook and rod. Some describe the snakehead as being very wary, with “eyes on the top of his head” that can spot anglers in clear water. But they’re aggressive feeders. You can use a variety of poppers, bass bugs, weighted baitfish flies and tarpon toads. Use a fly that imitates a local baitfish. Snakeheads like to ambush frogs, lizards, snakes, birds, rodents and any fish.

“The first thing the snakehead will do is dive for its nearest underwater hidden snag, and then jump out of the water like a tarpon, to try and shake the hook loose,” warns Florida Sportsman. “Next, it will “alligator roll” until it tires out. You need every edge if you’re going to land a decent size snakehead on the fly. Every link in your terminal tackle has to be solid, or it’s going to break.”

Check out the video below for more tips:

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