Aptly named for its rather snake like appearance, the snakehead is a unique, prehistoric species and a remarkable example of evolution. Elongate body; lower jaw protruding. Dorsal and anal fin bases long. Pelvic fins may be lacking in some; with 6 rays when present. No spines in fins. Scales ctenoid or cycloid. Airbreathing through suprabranchial organ. About 1.2 m maximum length. Important in aquaculture and commonly used in rice-fish farming. Some species are widely introduced. Number of species: 26
The key to finding them is in slow water with lots of vegetation. We're talking the exact opposite of a pristine trout stream, more like a scummy warm-water ditch filled with weeds, or a flooded backwater loaded with vegetation. The fish is able to breathe air and that helps it survive in water with low levels of oxygen, which means it can tough it out in murky eutrophicated water that is heavy with algae and pollutants.
Many snakeheads are caught in irrigation ditches that network the fields. These man-made waterways are some of their likely hang-outs. The snakeheads move in when the rice fields are flooded, hunting for frogs like a tiger in a bamboo jungle. From a distance, it looks like the angler is casting not on open water but in a green field of rice. They can travel on land by wriggling their bodies in muddy areas, thus it is prudent to not overlook even the most shallow and pathetic looking patch of water since that is sometimes their hunting ground.
Another sign of preferred snakehead habitat are water bodies with a muddy bottom. It is unlikely to find snakeheads over rocky or pebbled lake or river beds. These fish like the mud and the lush aquatic plants that grow there. Stagnant wetlands, slow-moving muddy creeks, and shallow, weedy farm ponds are the places to look. Snakeheads can be caught on open lakes occasionally when they are in cruising mode however that is an exception to their normal behavior.
Status in Pakistan
The Americans recently made as movie called “snakehead Terror”. It is a B grade horror flick about an introduced fish that can walk on land and happily devours people and children. The various snakehead species that inhabit the marshes and lakes of southeast Asia can actually survive out of water for prolonged periods of time as long as they remain wet. They use this unique ability to travel from seasonal ponds, which dry up, to other close by habitat where there is water. Rather than be afraid of this fish, we should be proud that it is one of our indigenous species that must be maintained and enhanced. This remarkable example of evolution is truly an amazing gamefish. One, which despite all the negative publicity is gaining popularity worldwide. Notably so in Thailand, where it is an esteemed gamefish. Snakehead unto 3-4lb is the staple catch of many Pakistani freshwater anglers, as they inhabit even the most diminutive of marshes.
Everything from bait to artificial lures work for these voracious predators. They have been known to attack waterfowl when large enough! Angling for snakehead involves fighting one of the most aggressive fish on earth. Especially considering it’s not a large fish. The most enjoyable and often frustrating way to catch a snakehead is to sight cast to adult fish as they guard their “balls of fry” in the breeding season. The fish take the lure, often a frog imitation, to be a threat to their fry and viciously attack the lure in a top water strike, which must be seen to be believed. Like a snake coils itself before unleashing an attack, so does the snakehead coil its elongated body to illicit the most power out of a strike.
They have even been known to attack humans in their breeding season. However, despite all the propaganda they are NO threat to people.
I remember a small marsh no more than an acre in size that I fished in June a few years ago. Ever so often a loud “snap” was heard followed by massive disturbance in the shallow water. The isolated pool had a lot of small tilapia in it, which the snakehead was gorging themselves on. I finally managed to hook one on a worm. The one-pound specimen proceeded to thrash around till I landed it, after which it promptly wrapped its mouth around one of my friend’s finger and refused to let go. When we got home 6 hours later, it was still alive and kicking despite being kept in a bag!
For a relatively small freshwater fish, a snakehead fights like no other. However, the real joy is in the hookup. Aggressive, even after it is landed the snakehead is pure power and attitude. Anglers who have caught the snakehead bug never turn back. There is no other fish for them as far as angling goes. Its flesh is white, flaky and a staple in Asia. However, all snakehead should be released. Especially when caught in the breeding season.
A snakehead attacking a surface lure is a stunning spectacle. Although there could be a bias because of its gruesome appearance, the strike of a snakehead seems extra savage and brutal, serious snakehead anglers almost exclusively use frog imitations. Yet among the bass fishing crowd that reported hooking into a stray snakehead, nearly all of them were caught on a type of soft plastic lure, usually a big worm, lizard, or salamander worked near thick cover.
The snakehead diet varies and they are opportunistic hunters. They will feed on small carp and fluttering dragonflies touching the water's surface film. For casting flies, the best choices are bass poppers, swimming frogs, large streamers, and of course; the classic woolly bugger.
(Article with thanks Pakistan game fishing association)