Fishing For Snakeheads in the Delaware River
Part 1: Snakeheads in the River
Welcome to the Northern Snakehead fishing on the Delaware River, an Snakehead Educational series.
In this series of Articles we will be discussing the nature, history, and habitat of snakeheads in the tidal Delaware River system. As well as covering the various types of lures to use for snakeheads, recommended equipment, how to locate snakeheads and the tactics to employ to catch snakeheads through various stages of the seasons.
About Snakeheads in the Delaware River
Snakeheads have been in the Delaware River system for well over 20 years, they have been caught in all regions of the Delaware River as far as New York. Snakeheads are not often found in fast moving water. When they are found in fast water they are typically moving through to find a creek that may or may not have a pond at the end of it. Snakeheads typically will live in slower water where an abundant amount of cover is presence as well as a food source such as; sunfish, perch, turtles, frogs, salamanders, river minnows, dacies, chubbs, and other forage fish. Because snakeheads do not inhabit 90% of the water smallmouth live and hunt in, they are rarley caught within the non-tidal section with the exception of the slow water above damns and in well protected coves. In a survey conducted to Smallmouth anglers on the Delaware River, only 22% precent of anglers have ever caught a snakehead in the Delaware River, only 4% have caught a snakehead in the non-tidal range. 88% of the smallmouth anglers never caught a snakehead and 56% of the 88% have never seen a snakehead in the Delaware River.
The tidal section of the Delaware River makes a perfect habitat for snakeheads. Slower moving water, edges lined with spatterdock, coves, creeks, channel edges, slow flats, and an abundance of forage fish and other food sources. As you travel further south towards Philadelphia and below, the marsh creeks provide an unlimited areas for snakeheads to live, grow, reproduce, forage and thrive.
How did Snakeheads get into the Delaware River System?
We do not know the answer to that but the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is a passages that connects the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River. Snakeheads can tolerate a level of salanity so it is feasabily they have travel through this canal to the Delaware Rivers southern range. It is also very possible and probable that snakeheads where transported to the Delaware River eco-systems in several locations or placed directly into the Delaware River.
The southern range of the Delaware River as far as Wilmington, Delaware and across the river to Salem, NJ is where the snakehead population has started to be established 15 plus years ago. Snakeheads have moved north and have grown with an increasing presence along the banks, creeks, and rivers that feeds the Delaware. The Tinicuim area south of Philadelphia that includes John Heinz park has been a well established snakehead grounds for over a decade, as well as racoon creek, Mantua creek, Brandywine Creek, Stoney Creek, Christina River, Darby Creek, Woodbury creek just to name a few. Snakeheads have continued to their range as far north as New York but they have well established in the tidal section about 7-10 years ago where their population is exploding in numbers.
Why Fish for Snakeheads?
Snakeheads are fierce predators that strike baits with intensity making a heart pounding experience. They frequently hit top water lures so you'll get to witness the explosion as it chases down and eats your bait. Snakehead fishing is a hybrid of fising for largemouth bass and muskies. Their jaws have the power, strength, and teeth to mangle tackle and leave you breathless as they try to rip the rod out of your hands. The actual tatics used for hunting snakeheads is also a hybrid of largemouth bass fishing (pitching baits into heavy cover and covering ground) and sight fishing the flats. When the optimum conditions of no wind, clear water and the tide align, sight fishing becomes the main tactic that we employ. Stalking fish and pitching baits as they gain interest in you lure becomes a test of fishing skills and patience. When they stike it is with a level of commintment not seen from many fresh water fish make them one of the most sought after fresh water experiences.
Are Snakeheads are Challenging?
Snakeheads eat readily, when the conditions are right. They have been known to become very picky when the water temperature is cooler, before the spawn periods (spawn twice a year), when they are on their guarding their fry (can also be explosive action), and when spooked. Generally fishing in lakes and ponds they are in heavy cover at all times and feel more secure when striking a lure. In the river however when the tide recedes it may leave snakeheads in the wide open with no cover to hide in. This opens up opputunity for sight fishing but it adds a level of difficult as not to alarm them and send them to deeper water for refugee.
When fishing dense cover the anglers skill set needs to be sharp and honed to delivery a perfect cast into the cover without snagging oe spooking the fish. We will dicuss this in the tactics section "where and how to pitch baits into cover".
In the warm water periods snakeheads motabolism speeds up cause them to eat more frequently. The warmer water also will entice snakeheads to make longer runs to strike a bait, oppose to the cooler water where the bait will need to pass through a 4 foot radius around the snakehead to triggeer them to bite. Warmer water will increase that raduis up to as much as 8 feet or more that a snakehead will travel to strike a bait.
How do Snakeheads Strike?
As mention above snakeheads will strike with tremendous tenacity and display an incredible battle with a good prencentage of that being thrashing at the surface, head shaking, and jumping. It is not uncommon for snakeheads fully breach the water when attacking your topwater lure, they will also jump out of the water to try and shake thew lure from their mouths when in battle. Their also times that a very slow methodical fishing approach is needed, you bait may sit still for 30 seconds before even twitching the bait. From there small movements and twitch's are used to entice the snakehead or to have them hone in on the bait. You follow a twith with a large rip and stop of the lure and it will generally cause the reaction bite. These strikes range from hard hitting to slurping your bait in gently. Subsurface bites on spinners, swimbaits, flukes, and other swimming style lures can trigger dead stopping strikes followed by a vicous and violent fight for their lives. Snakeheads give everything they have to try to get away from being captured.
Can you fly Fish for Snakeheads?
Yes, certianly fly fishing is a tactic used to tame these dragons.