New Jersey Snakeheads Bring Challenges and Opportunities for Anglers

It’s one of those situations where the uninvited guest proves the most entertaining when the party-hearty host is on the fade.

Such is the case with the northern snakehead and the August meltdown of largemouth activity in the tributaries of the Delaware River in the New Jersey area stretching from Little Mantua Creek in Gloucester northward into the Crosswicks Creek in Burlington County.

If it hasn’t already, it is very likely that this voracious invader will soon infiltrate the languid 30-mile Delaware-and-Raritan Canal in Trenton (Mercer County). From there, it may enter the Raritan River proper during a catastrophic rain event (like the one that created Tilcon Lake in Warren County) and subsequent overland flooding.

Executed! What remained of an estimated 6-pound snakehead found along the walking path at Newton Lake in Collingswood.
Executed! What remained of an estimated 6-pound snakehead found along the walking path at Newton Lake in Collingswood.

For almost a decade, the presence of the Northern snakehead has been causing anxiety among fisheries managers, bass fishing enthusiasts, bass fishing clubs, and panfish—even more so than its fellow alien, the flathead catfish. Why? Because it’s an extremely prolific late-spring spawner, it’s an indiscriminant first-level predator, it can breathe air and survive out of water for several hours, and it has the tolerance to thrive in a variety of environments, even those that might also be called toxic waste ditches.

As per the “official” record, the snakehead’s origin in this area (it was already established in several tidal waters in Maryland and Virginia) was a lake in Philadelphia’s FDR Park. Whether the fish were released because they had become too large for a home aquarium or were freed to establish a source of food for a select residential population is moot. They soon found their way into the Schuylkill, and from there it was only a few flicks of their wide, slightly indented tails before they were in the Delaware River. The Big D’s tributaries beckoned, and anglers fishing these waters are now living with the results.

“There’s no doubt the northern snakehead is here to stay, and attempts at eradication would be futile,” says NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife principal fisheries biologist Chris Smith, himself a bass circuit competitor who has caught snakeheads during tournaments on the Potomac. He continues, “Trying to get estimates on how many are out there is impossible because, counting the tributaries, it now inhabits several hundred miles of water. The degree of the negative impact it will have on bass, panfish and forage populations in the respective ecosystems won’t be known for years.”

As far as largemouths are concerned, it should be recognized that they will feed on snakehead fry and fingerlings just as the snakeheads do with them. However, once a snakehead reaches, say, eight inches, it’s going to take a big bass to choke one down. Conversely, an eight-inch bass is a Happy Meal to a two-pound ‘head.

The torpedo-shaped snakehead is easily differentiated from the similar profile bowfin that inhabits some of the same swims. It has a distinct splotchy color pattern and a very long anal fin, as opposed to bland bronze coronation and an abbreviated anal appendage.

Declared fisha non grata by the Division, it’s an immediate death sentence for any snakehead that’s caught. Thrashed, bashed or otherwise trashed, any snakehead is to be killed immediately and disposed of. The species has a Rasputin-like tenacity for life, and the most certain form of death is beheading, plain and simple. The fish can be retained for consumption, but it must first be killed. Possession of a live snakehead (on a stringer, in a bucket or livewell, or squirming around on dry ground – remember, it can breathe air) is illegal.

The good news: the snakehead offers rip-your-face-off fishing, especially during the August heat. It is very cover-oriented and will hang under beds of lily pads and floating weeds, alongside laydowns, under overhanging brush, along the outer edges of cattails, and along (and sometimes within) thick mats of weeds. The snakehead’s profile is built for speed and lightning fast strikes and, with the teeth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, its clamp is unyielding. There is nothing a snakehead won’t eat. Shiners, sunfish, frogs, fingerling bass, carp and suckers, eels, small turtles, mice, Smart Cars…nothing is safe.

Its extremely aggressive behavior makes the snakehead an ideal target for those who thrill at the sight of a surface strike. Buzzbaits, popping plugs, floating stick and propeller baits worked along edges and through alleys in the vegetation will elicit crunching assaults. The frog is especially relished by snakeheads, and amphibian imitators such as the Booyah Pad Crasher (swamp frog and bullfrog patterns) are pure snake charmers. Behind-the-dorsal-hooked shiners allowed to swim in the alleys of weeds are promised a violent death. Hardware-wise, opt for 40-pound braid tied directly to the eye, upping the tether to 50 or even 65 pounds if the pads are especially thick. If using live bait, hang it to an 18-inch length of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to ward slice-offs should the shiner be nabbed down deep.

How big are the snakeheads in southern Jersey waters? They range anywhere from 10 inches to 10 pounds, and Smith suggests that they can easily attain weights of 12 pounds or better. Mike Biel from West Wing Outfitters (609-647-6958), who operates an after-dark bowfishing guide service on the Delaware River in Bordentown specializing in giant common and grass carp, says he’s seen some that size on hot August nights.

Where to experience the snake’s bite? A better question is: where not to experience its jaw-grinding grab. The Delaware River is ground zero, followed by the likes of Cooper River Lake (Cooper River Park), Newton Lake (Newton Lake Park), Crystal Lake (Bordentown), Harrisonville and Woodbury lakes , the Rancocas Creek and its southwest branch, Oldmans (pro- nounced “Oldminz”) Creek, Little Mantua Creek, Raccoon Creek, Big Timber Creek, Crosswicks Creek…and more.

Despite being hated, loathed and despised, the fact is that the snakehead is, unfortunately, going places, and by that I don’t mean going away. It’s entrenched, and the only recourse is to make the most of the situation. In my view, along with the flathead it should be given a place at the state record table as it has in Maryland. Why not? Ignoring the snakehead’s pres- ence isn’t going to do anything to eradicate it, and if encouraging fishing for it will help put a dent, however slight, in the popula- tion, that’s a plus.

Oh yeah…and watch your fingers.

Information about Garden State snakeheads can be obtained by calling Chris Smith at 609-259-6964.

44 on “New Jersey Snakeheads Bring Challenges and Opportunities for Anglers

  1. Steve

    Most of the other species mentioned on the article are also non native “invasive ” species (bass, carp etc) introduced years ago that decimated the truly native species. So I guess the more things change the more they stay the same

    1. trishs

      ITS NOT INDEGIOUS TO OUR AREA . ITS ASHAME THAT IT WIPPING OUT OUR NATURAL HABITAT OF FISH .

  2. Biff

    I wonder if they’re andronomous too. I shudder to think what they’d do to striper young before they even get a chance to migrate. I say “kill the bastards”!!!! Ive also heard that they are quite delicious, and that Maryland put an actual bounty on each one caught. Make their deaths a cottage industry how bout?

    1. Carmine Nicosia

      White perch do more damage to striper fry than you can imagine. They devour them.

  3. John N

    I had saltwater fish tanks as a kid growing up in the 1980’s, I used to catch crabs, shrimp, whatever was crawling around under the rocks at low tide. I remember first finding the Asian Shore Crab it looked very different from the local crabs I’d find under the the rocks. Over time a lot of the native crabs have disappeared (except the Blue crab thankfully) and now this crab is all over the place. On the flip side I hear the Blackfish love them so that’s a good thing. At least this non native species somewhat filled a void it created. Although we may have lost some diversity. Hopefully the FrankenFish snakehead won’t damage the ecosystem and mother nature will provide a cure for control. She usually does.

  4. KenBeam

    So where can I guy nail a few of these Snakeheads?? I fish the Delaware River up around Riegelsville quite a bit. Any advice would be greatly appreciated as to “where exactly on the Delaware River” — Thank you! Ken-

    1. Matthew McArdle

      Maybe try casting out and real in quick do that a few times to piss it off. It’s a very aggressive fish

  5. mike

    I love catching snakeheads were I fish is a lake in south Jersey its loaded with snakeheads and I catch big bass and pickerill since the snakeheads showed up the other fish are more agresive nd bigger .. people fear what they don’t understand and listen to anything the average Joe tells them ..

      1. Fish Hunter out

        Crown Point road in west deptford on exit 19 or 21 on 295 south, the snakehead are from 2 pound to 8 or 9 pounds, some of the bass I catch there are around 4 to 5 pounds and the black crappies are really big too. The minnow population there in the spring is crazy, there are hundreds of million of them there. Rooster tail, white spinner or shad lure are good. Best time of the year to catch them are in mid of April – early june. There are big bowfin there too. Carp fishing is awesome too. Well, good luck and go have fun.

        Fish hunter out

      2. John M

        Is that Lake Martha you guys are talking about?

    1. Tony

      Could you tell me the name of the lake.i love fishing for snakeheads.

      1. Tab

        Best spot is the abandoned golf course in wenonah. It’s now a nature walk but follow the path and there is a lake and a creek in the back. Filled with catfish, bass, carp and plenty of snakeheads. Got to reel in your catch fast or they’ll eat them!

  6. BowfinMan

    FishHunter – WTF dude? Really? You know these guys are just going to come and kill them.

    Just a warning for anyone that comes down. There are PLENTY of us down there and we catch you killing a snakehead anywhere near one of the places FishHunter just mentioned, you will get confronted. You will need the police. Go to Mantua Creek at the railroad tracks with the Cambodians if you want to kill them like jerkoffs. Don’t come by our spots that don’t drop into open waterways and kill fish we catch on a daily basis. That is unless you want to deal with (what was yesterday alone 13 guys).

    1. Jackson

      It’s against the law not to kill them. So don’t go threatening anyone. Division of fish and wild life will be checking this place out soon.

      1. BowfinMan

        A threat would have been, “do it in front of me and I’ll beat your skull in”. That wasn’t said. Learn to read jerkoff.

        However, when you idiots come down looking to kill them and get thrown in the water (like I saw three people have done to them in the past month), don’t be surprised. Your line gets cut, don’t be surprised. And what are you talking about Fish and Wildlife will “be out to check out this spot”?

        It’s been the biggest hotbed for snakeheads in New Jersey for the past 10 years idiot. Shows you have ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE what you’re talking about.

        So, if you like taking a swim in Delaware River run-off water, test your luck. I can’t help that the Jersey people that have been fishing there for 10 years are protective of their holes. I’m not even from there.

      2. Jackson

        “Just a warning for anyone that comes down. There are PLENTY of us down there and we catch you killing a snakehead anywhere near one of the places FishHunter just mentioned, you will get confronted. You will need the police.”
        I can read just fine douche bag and fyi, I been down here 4 times in the last month not one person threatened me or confronted me for killing snakehead and I didnt need the police. Like to see anyone try to cut my shit or throw me in the Delaware. Funny Internet tough guys.

      3. Jackson

        Hey idiot, i was down there again today and killed 3 snakehead’s.. still nobody threw me in the water or cut my shit. Be protective all you want and talk shit, the fact is the law states that they should be killed and when I catch them they will be killed with my machete. Hopefully you can read and understand.

    2. AJ

      Youre a complete nitwit. You want to threaten someone for following the law, and common sense? You’ll get your teeth kicked in if you try that with anyone over 16 and under 65, Bubba. Go back to your shitty government housing and airbrushed t shirts and leave ppl alone.

    3. Sheree

      Hell with killing them, I want to catch, cook and eat them! Will I be “confronted” for catching them for food?

  7. Sunny

    I am amazed at all the negative comments about Snakeheads being snubbed as Jaws.
    Believe me that in Asia and South East Asia,Snakeheads are considered as Prime Sports Fishing,bringing in thousands of dollars from local as well as overseas anglers.
    At the same time this fish is progressing with other native as well as imported species, without putting any dent in each other domains.
    So it would be very naive to call this fish as invasive or by any other name as it is a fish of FUTURE which will further strengthen our fisheries thus bringing in more revenue for further development.

    1. BowfinMan

      Dude, my buddy has a pond full of largemouth bass and snakeheads in Chester County, PA. That’s all that is in there. It’s been there for 8 years. Zero problems. Zero. Biggest bass in there is probably 9.5 pounds. Biggest snakehead is probably 12 pounds. Bass eat all of the frogs, snakeheads won’t touch frogs. Now, the crappie in that pond … phew. Both species destroy them. It’s awesome.

      1. Tony

        Hey if you let me fish in your pond I’ll pay you. And I won’t hurt any of the fish

      2. Jason

        Bowfin man. The snakeheads are eating the frogs as well. They will eat everything that’s move. I fish for snakehead a lot and see slot and caugh a lot.

        And guys snakeheads are fun to fish and they give you very good fight. They also taste good as well. Don’t kill it if you don’t eat it.

      3. Kevin Mcsorley

        Bowfin man looking to take my 12 yr old snakehead fishing he has been aakinge for 3 mo any suggestions on where i can go?

  8. upstate NY live to fish

    I am an avid fisherman. Have been since I could walk. I love and respect the sport greatly. I also have always had fishtanks just as long. I had a red snakehead for many years one of the best fish I had the pleasure of having. I am very educated about snakeheads that’s why when they banned them in the U.S. I was puzzled and pissed off. Obviously whoever jumped to this ridiculous law doesn’t know very much. Many Asian varieties would never survive a northern winter let alone live out of water for days or somehow crawl from lake to lake (ridiculous). But I would love the opportunity to fish for some northern snakeheads. I love top water fishing. I fish the resaviors of upstate NY mostly for large brown or rainbow trout.,its also great for large and small mouth bass. Would love if someone would take me to fish some snakeheads and I would return the favor and take you fishing on an awesome resavior for beautiful trout or bass. Please e-mail me if interested. Thank you

    1. Truong Nguyen

      Hey upstate NY guy… I’m in the south jersey area and would not mind showing you the snakehead scene around here. If you ever come down to the Philadelphia area, let me know and I’ll show you a couple good spots. Tight lines buddy. Snakeheadstalker@Gmail.com

  9. Ken Beam

    Well…… it`s March 11th 2016 & I`m really starting to think about getting into some Snakehead Fishin`! My goal is to target at least one really nice size Snake this year & I was hopin` someone would like to show me/take me to some “Hot-Snake-Spots” I will gladly take you on a Pike Fishin` Adventure in a `Yak in exchange. I can even get a Yak for you to use as this sporting good store that knows of me, offered me one anytime someone wanted to fish with me. *Copy & paste this URL; http://adventureswithken.com/rattlesnake/see-all-of-kens-adventures/ and let me know if you`re interested. You can email me directly at kenabeam@aol.com

    Thanks a lot,

    Ken-

    1. south branch bass

      Ditto to the info about spots for snakehead. I’ll take you on a float in a flat b bottom aluminum boat on the south branch river up in Hunterdon county for awesome, nearly untouched bass fishing. Alot of guys just wade or fish for trout but it’s prime small mouth and good pockets of largemouth if you know where, and what to throw. Spinning reels need not apply! Thanks! Gambs44@gmail.com

    2. Tai nguyen

      Hi guys you have add fishing Snakehead give my add thanks you somuch

  10. f#ck snakeheads

    having never encountered a snakehead in new jersey, i am grateful for that sort of. i would like to catch one because they fight. and then i would kill its foreign ass.

  11. Rickey

    I just shot one yesterday with my bow while bowfishing in Lambertville New Jersey in the Delaware river. Was about 12″ long and about 5 pounds.

  12. Tony

    Saw 2 big snakeheads walking by Newton Lake this am. Couldn’t tell if they w ere fighting or fornicating but both looked to be about 10-12#. Very aggressive display! Talked to a guy who said he has pulled about 20 of them out of here in the last 12 months

  13. Brandy Harris

    Good to know. I love going fishing and that seems like the perfect spot. They have a lot of fish there, so it should be easy to catch them.

  14. Steven

    if you want to kill them, thats your choice. No one is going to cut your line or confront you. You may get weird looks from people like me that release snakeheads but nothing is gonna happen to u bc thats ur choice. There is basically ZERO evidence of any impact on the ecosystem from the snakeheads.

  15. Butch Backus

    Yesterday we caught a snakehead in Salem Canal up around the irrigation pipes the farmers use. Caught on a rubber worm on wood. 7/30/21

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *