In this post, I hope to give you some insight into my Bullseye Snakehead fishing story. I tried to include some of the background behind what I’ve learned and the mistakes I made—hopefully you can shortcut the process of learning to catch them yourself. I hope you enjoy the ride, and maybe even have a laugh along the way. Most importantly, I hope you find a better understanding of these fish in their habitat, and some idea of how to pull them out of their habitat regularly.
When I moved from Texas to South Florida, I was thrilled at the prospect of living in a fisherman’s playground. I got out onto Lake Okeechobee at first chance to hunt up the infamous Largemouth Bass of the area. I jumped at every chance to search out the hiding spots of incredible species like the Peacock Bass, Snook and Tarpon. Not long after I started this exploration, I started hearing about a freshwater species that was supposedly a lot of fun to catch: the Bullseye Snakehead. My interest was piqued.
In some rainy-day research, I scrolled through the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) website, checking out the different freshwater fish species in the area. The Bullseye Snakehead is invasive to South Florida, with no bag or size limits. At the time, FWC recommended these fish not be returned to the water if caught.
Some happy-hour discussions with Adam Rizzi of Reel Deal Adventures gave me a little more insight. Adam didn’t just offer a few tips about fishing the surrounding area. He amazed me with his incredible library of Peacock Bass and Bullseye Snakehead catch photos. At the time, I was more interested in the bright Peacock Bass, and I figured the Snakehead could wait until after I’d perfected my Bass strategy. My first Bullseye Snakehead came by accident a few years later.
The First Bullseye
I was at Markham Park, fishing in one of the interior lakes with my kids. We were walking the shoreline with spin cast rods, using inline spinners. I heard water splash behind me, and turned to look. Seeing a ripple near a patch of lily pads, I cast past the ripple along the lily pad edge line. When I hooked something, I thought it was a bass. The fish was putting up a good fight and taking drag. When I managed to get it to the shore, I was surprised to discover it was a decent-sized Bullseye Snakehead.
Not long after this first catch, I started to target the species specifically. I read the FWC Bullseye Snakehead profile to get a good starting point and figure out where to fish. After all, there is no sense fishing where the fish don’t live. I talked to the locals, read all the articles I could find, and watched endless hours of YouTube videos.
I discovered that the majority of online fishing videos feature people catching the fish, though not many offer much instruction on what they are doing or why. Full disclosure: I watch most of these videos with the sound muted to focus on the approach and techniques used to land the fish. Thankfully, that eliminates most of the whooping and hollering about the “GIANT MEGA SUPER MONSTER FISH” caught in the video.
Though there are a lot of great resources online, there is no better teacher than experience. I decided that my target area for my learning adventure would be the canal system surrounding Markham Park in Broward County. I selected this area for three reasons: it’s close to my house, the canals are accessible for miles of hiking without obstruction, and I’d seen Snakehead in the area when visiting with friends who camp in the campgrounds.
Good Times at Markham
Markham Park offers excellent campgrounds for RV travelers and extended stays. My good friends Captain Brad Helton and his wife Monica stayed at the campground in their luxurious RV in the springtime last year, and hosted several excellent BBQ parties. Their campsite backed up to the north branch of the canal, not far from the north boat ramp in the Park. Every time we visited, I could not in good conscience leave all my fishing poles at home. So, it was pretty common for me to bring a pole and an assortment of lures, fishing through the afternoon and into the evening when I’d see Bullseye Snakehead still moving sometime after the sunset.
While working the shoreline to walk off a most excellent BBQ dinner, I noticed that I would occasionally disturb some fish very close to the shoreline, usually several feed ahead of where I was walking. I initially thought it was the Tilapia or Cichlids that are ever-present along the banks, though when I slowed down, I found that assumption to be incorrect.
Sure enough, I was able to sneak up on a silhouette in the water with a most unusual shape near the bank. I stared for several seconds before I realized I was looking at a full-grown Bullseye Snakehead hanging out in very shallow water right next to the bank. I ran to get my pole, and returned to that spot with several lures. I tried them all, and can’t describe the intense anticipation I had at that “game on” moment. Unfortunately, I only succeeded in disturbing the fish, who eventually spooked and swam off to parts unknown. My disappointment then was powerful, though it motivated me to search out right lures or bait to make the right presentation and hook up with this monstrosity. I made several attempts over the course of a few trips to Brad and Monica’s place; I needed to get good.
Through trial and error, and some more online searching, I found that the Bullseye Snakehead is a voracious predator who will strike just about anything. They are most aggressive however when presented artificial lures that resemble frogs.
I went to my local sporting goods store and picked up several varieties of frog lures and waited for my next opportunity to give them a go. Brad can’t resist a good BBQ, and when I offered to cook ribs, we had a date. I brought my fishing pole, and we ate very well while waiting for the sun to go down. At dusk I made my move. I walked the shoreline casting my new frog lure and was not disappointed. My lure had a large double-barb hook. The body was soft, and the feet of the frog were tassels or skirts similar to those you see on a hula popper or the like. I had several strikes, and one that hooked up solid before doing a series of acrobatic rolling and then spitting the hook.
I was getting better at enticing them to strike, though I was not quite there yet. More experimentation and research were needed.
Stalking and Strikes
I learned that the Bullseye Snakehead is attuned to vibration, and is most active at night. When I walked the shoreline, the fish become spooked. At that point they usually either leave the area or become very cautious. They won’t attach to anything when they are agitated or spooked. To get a good bite, you have to stalk them, increasing the chances for a strike.
I started moving slower, casting as far in front of myself and as accurately as I could to ensure I was setting myself up for success. Stomping down the shoreline is a recipe for disaster. I had to get back to the basics for this to work: move slow, cast far and cast accurate. This change resulted in more strikes however I was still not getting good hooksets. I was still missing something.
Once I started upping the strikes count, I went back to work on my lure selection. I dug back into YouTube, and found a few experts using all soft plastic artificials with single wide-gap hooks. This is not the traditional frog setup, but I decided to change my double-shank frog hook out for something closer to resembling what I had seen on the videos.
I went back to the sporting goods store for wide-gap spring lock 3/0 hooks and dug through my lure boxes to see if some old soft plastic frog lures I had were still any good. I found them hiding in a little used lure box and there were in excellent condition. They were about 3.5” long with a solid body and two paddle tails for legs. I tied on the hook, twisted the body of the lure onto the spring lock, measured the distance of the bend to the body of the frog and then stuck the hook through the belly and seating the shank neatly along the back of the lure giving it a weedless presentation. I took the setup out to the pool in my backyard to see how the lure would present in the water. It. Was. Amazing.
Now I was armed with my new lure presentation, ready to test. By that time however, Brad and Monica were no longer camping at Markham Park. Though I’d been trying to fish for Snakehead after sunset, the Park closes soon after dark to all but campsite residents and guests. I decided to drive out to the park in the morning and give it a go regardless. At least I could get a feel for my new presentation.
I put together a hip pack of sorts (NOT A FANNY PACK!) with a couple of lure boxes, water, bug spray, leader line, extra hooks and extra frog bodies. I decided to walk the bank of the canal on the opposite side of the campground and headed out. I was skeptical of catching anything, as the Snakehead are primarily nocturnal and I feared I wouldn’t see much action in the morning. I. Was. Wrong. Soooooooo wrong.
My approach was to cast as far ahead as I could, walking the shoreline to cover as much ground as I could before heading back home. I made my casts as close to the shore as possible, which turned out to be a ticket for success. That trip I had several strikes, and I ended up catching several of Bullseye Snakehead and a few bonus Largemouth. I also had the occasional Peacock Bass take a swing at the lure, but I don’t think they are prone to inhaling big baits like the Largemouth and Snakehead.
On that trip, I was successful in catching my targeted species but I was still only landing about one fish for every six strikes. I won’t kid you; these fish are fun to catch! They streak out of their hiding spots and attack the lure. They will usually attack with an explosive hit from an ambush point, or they will sneak up behind the bait, creating a secondary wake behind the lure and snapping it up from the back.
It took significantly more trial and error to figure out how to land more of these fish. When a Snakehead strikes, it doesn’t initially inhale the lure like a Largemouth Bass would. This was my big failure point. I was fishing like a Bass fisherman and not fishing like a Snakehead fisherman. I was pulling the trigger too soon. Snakehead will bite their prey, swim to cover and then swallow it. I was ripping the lure out of their mouths before the hook had a chance to get a good stick. The Snakehead also has a very hard mouth. You have to set the hook like you mean it. Put some power behind the set, as you’re likely to lose the fish if you try to set the hook gentle.
Armed with that intel, I went out in the morning for one turned out to be one of the best fishing days since I’d moved here. I decided to try the canal between the Markham Park south boat ramp and Highway 27. The first mile of walking didn’t result in much except for a decent Largemouth. Once I got past the Park boundaries, it got much better. Nearly every strike turned into a solid hookset. I landed more Bullseye Snakehead that morning than I had ever caught in my entre life. I walked for several miles pulling in fish after fish. It didn’t matter what color frog I used that day. The Snakes were hitting white, green, purple and brown. It seemed to me they were more attuned to the vibration and action than the color, and I hold that belief to this day.
Catching fish is infinitely better than fishing for them. I got so good that when Captain Brad returned the following spring, I was able to give him a few tips and within minutes he hooked up with a three pounder.
The Skinny on Snakehead
Overall, this journey has been a multitude of fine days full of fun and adventure. Here are the lessons I learned to start landing Bullseye Snakehead along the canals of South Florida.
- Single hook Owner 2/0 Wide Gap with 3.5” plastic frog is best
- 20lb braid, no leader necessary
- Cast Far and Accurate
- Run the lure very close to the shoreline
- When the strike occurs, give it a two count. I usually say “here we go boys, here we go”
- Set the hook like your trying to take your fishing pole away from your ex-wife
- Reel it in and get that snapshot
- Bask in the glory of being a Bullseye Snakehead Fishing Badass
- Rinse and Repeat
I give some tutorials on how to catch them on these videos here:
- How to Fish Topwater Frog South Florida Canals
- Markham Park Kayak Fishing Bullseye Snakehead Tutorial
You’ll also find a couple of other videos and tutorials on my YouTube Channel, Captain Matt Webber.
Thanks for reading and have another fine day full of fun and adventure!
Captain Matt Webber, Certifiable Bullseye Snakehead Fishing Badass.