The last few weekends, I`ve been running 295 way, way down into South Jersey chasing one of my favorite predator fish…… The invasive Snakehead! In my book, this is one of the most intriguing freshwater “Toothy Critters” that you can encounter and also one that can be quite a challenge depending on where you go after them, especially in a `Yak.
My Snakehead excursions began a few weeks ago when I was on vacation. Other than it was really great to be off for the week, the fishing was absolutely horrendous. Between several cold-fronts blowing in, coupled with a few really strong storms, the fishing for the most part was a wash-out. So the last Sunday of my vacation, I decided to try my hand at some Snakeheads, since I hadn`t caught as much as a cold all week!
I mapped out a spot where I had caught `Snakes a few months back, loaded up the `Yak and made my way south on 295. Once I got to the spot, I realized that launching the `Yak in the duckweed covered mucky swamp, was going to be a bit tougher than I had anticipated. So with my machete and knocked down a good amount of cattails and brush finally clearing a path to drag the `Yak to the swampy waterway.
In the first fifteen minutes, I had my first solid Snakehead “Blow-up”……. and miss. During the next forty minutes or so, I had two more “blow-ups”…… both missed. Now I was a bit puzzled because it actually seemed like the `Snakes were totally missing the top-water frog I was throwing. “Time to change my strategy” I thought to myself as I reeled up and switched the KVD frog with a smaller Jawbone top-water mouse.
Moving along quietly through the swamp, I set up on the next opening in the thick lily pads. Immediately on my second cast, I had a giant “swirl” in the soup-like duckweed as my mouse hit the water…….. A snakehead was lurking close by. I quickly tossed the mouse back in the same area, just giving it a twitch every now and then, rather than retrieve it. just trying to taunt the `Snake into a strike…….. Then it happened….. BAM!
Snakehead on! These fish are so aggressive when they hit and can be quite acrobatic once that hook is set!
Shortly thereafter, the snakeahead was in my `Yak.
I landed two more `Snakes that afternoon and felt the week of poor fishing had somewhat been partially redeemed by those few fish I caught that day.
The following weekend I was invited by two of my South Jersey friends to head down into their neck of the woods to chase those Snakeheads again. Heck just mention Snakehead fishing and you won`t have to ask me twice! HaHa! So the first trip was planned with Carmen Fanelli who I fished with back in June when he caught his very first snakehead ever and I landed that 7.25lb beast. Carmen wanted to try for them in a `Yak as he had never caught a snakehead or let alone any kind of fish in a kayak ever. So I burned a vacation day, loaded up both `yaks on Thursday night and was on the road by 4:30am on Friday. I met up with him at his parent`s house as they lived close to where we planned on fishing. We got to the creek and were fishing by 7:30.
And it didn`t take long. As a matter of fact, we were only fishing about fifteen or twenty minutes tops when Carmen yelled, “Yo…Yo Ken!”…. I paddled out of the pads and could see he had a nice Snakehead thrashing about by the `Yak!
I quickly netted his first fish ever in a kayak….a Snakehead! I couldn`t have been happier!
Now before I tell you all about my next couple days down in the swamps with my friend Andrew Dopkin, I shot a little video that I hope will give you a taste of what Snakehead fishing in the swamps of Jersey is really like;
Trekked Back down to the swamps on Saturday…
My friend Andrew invited me to head down his way the very next day to chase some more Snakeheads. So after a two hour journey back down south, I arrived at his home that afternoon. We jumped in his truck and were on our way to his secret Snakehead Honey-hole about thirty miles away in the middle of no where.
Boy…. and I mean in the middle of no where.
As we hiked down the steep drop-off, he explained that the interesting thing about this place, is that it wasn`t connected to any sort of tributary off of the Delaware River. Apparently the `Snakeheads got in here when it flooded and remained trapped and had easily adapted.
Andrew being a very gracious host, allowed me to take the first few casts into the swampy waters. On the fourth cast I had a “blow-up” which I missed. I told him, “C`mon… start fishing!” – And on one of his casts, as he steadily retrieved the frog, literally right before the shoreline……WHAM!!! Huge blow-up and fish on!
Andrew easily landed the beautiful `Snake! I don`t think I ever saw a snakehead strike that hard nor swallow the entire frog the way that one did! The entire frog was gone!
Needless to say, the spot was red-hot and he managed to nail three more nice ones. As for me……. well…… hey sometimes you`re on and sometimes you`re not. In other words, I would`ve had a better chance of gettin` hit by lightnin` on that bright, sunny afternoon rather than catch a Snakehead! HaHa!
I had a good number of blow-ups and just couldn`t seem to connect and set the hook. So we were discussing poles, lines etc. and I mentioned that I had stepped on and broke the rod I had used back in June when I caught the nice 7 pounder. He said, “hey let me see that rod you`re using” – and said, “I think this might be part of your problem Ken, the rod is bit too light” and proceeded to show me his “Fast Action” rod.
“This(my rod) definitely doesn`t have a lot of back-bone when you set the hook like mine” he explained.
Which when I thought about it, made a lot of sense. After a few more hours, we called it a day and headed back to his house. On the way back, I said, “I`m going to see if I can find one of those rods up my way” as he said the local Walmart had them down there at a really good price. Well the next day, I searched three Walmarts up here and none had this fishing rod….. not even close.
One more time back to the swamps the following Saturday….
During the week Andrew and I shot several texts back and forth and he asked if I wanted to take a crack at those Snakeheads one more time on the upcoming Saturday. I said, “Sure….. and I want to try something” I explained that I couldn`t come down until the afternoon and that I might only have enough time to fish a couple hours. My plan was to fish at dusk till dark, with the intentions of possibly even getting into a Bowfin or two. I also said, “Go to Walmart and pick me up one of those Fast-Action poles too” – So the gamble was a four hour round-trip drive to fish about two and a half hours. But I had a hunch and wanted to see if it would pay off.
I arrived about 4:15 and we had a good twenty mile drive to reach this other hot-spot Andrew explained. Half an hour later we arrived at our destnation, as the afternoon sun was beginning to slowly fade into western horizon. We quickly hiked into the new territory.
I started casting into the first pond and within minutes landed my first Snakehead of the day with that new “fast action” rod!
Moments later, Andrew had a nice “blow-up” but missed – Then another shortly thereafter. He thought they might`ve been Bowfin as they as usually harder to set the hook with top-water lures. Then he had an idea.
He asked me if I had ever used “Trailer Hooks” and I said “Yep…. on Spinnerbaits for Pike” — He said, “No no… I mean on a top-water frog?” – I said, “Never knew they made Trailers for top-water” –
That`s a Trailer Hook…… the single hook that`s connected to the two main hooks. The idea is that you will have fewer misses because the fish gets caught on the Trailer.
Shortly thereafter, he did catch a Snakehead using this set-up……and that was about it for him. Seemed like the “curse” that I had the week before, had shifted to him! HaHa! But that`s why they call it fishing!
Yep….. the Fast Action rod was the ticket that evening and my hunch was right. The action was awesome from dusk till dark.
Couldn`t ask for better weather or better company. You know I don`t have a lot of South Jersey Fishin` Friends but the few that I do have, are the most passionate fishermen(Ladies) you`ll ever meet. And even though we all come from different walks of life and are pretty different age-wise, the “common denominator” is of course our passion for fishing. And when you`re enjoying that with a good friend or two,….. All of your troubles and worries seem to go away for that short period of time.
NJ Turkey Hunting is one outdoor activity that I really get excited about doing each Spring. The days are longer, the air is getting warmer & the Gobblers are gobblin` at daybreak! Getting up at 4am to hunt couldn`t be easier. But just don`t ask Sharon how I can get by weeks C & D from lack of sleep! ha! ha!
I always put in for a couple of permits during the “Lottery” and usually get them. However, the day that the over-the-counter left-over permits go on sale, I am on-line right at 10am that very day, attempting to score permits for each week A,B,C,D & E(for Saturdays). The reason I try to get all weeks is simply because I don`t always know when I`ll have a chance to chase `Birds with work & all. And because I`m a disabled Vet, all of my fishing, hunting licenses & all permits are free in New Jersey. So why not right?
Last week was “A” week in New Jersey & it didn`t start out real well for me anyway. Monday was opening day & I planned hunting a couple hours before work. Now usually right around 5:30 to 6am, right at daybreak, I start to hear the first gobbles of the morning. But that first morning, not a single turkey was gobblin` anywhere even remotely close to where I was hunting in Warren County. Called it a day & headed back home by 8am to get ready for work.
As per Sharon`s suggestion, I decided to hunt every other day rather than get up every single day at 4am, so that I could catch up on sleep a bit every other day. She`s a smart gal & knows I get a little cranky from lack of sleep this time of year. So the next time out was Wednesday & the Springtime morning air was very cool & crisp as I shuffled out the door at 4am. Now another reason why I was really excited about Turkey hunting this year, was the fact that I had a Brand New Browning A5 3.5″ Shotgun to use! I`ve never had a new Browning in my life as I`ve always hunted with my old Belgium Brownings. I was really anxious to crack an old “Tom” Turkey with it!
I decided to try a different spot that morning a couple miles past where I was on Monday. I hiked way out into the darkness across several fields, stopping & listening. Hoping to hear the first gobble open up the morning air. But nothing. By 7:30 I was beginning to question what the heck was going on. “How the hell could this be?”, I thought to myself. By 8am I was on my way back to the truck……… & about 75 yards from the truck I hear “Gobble Gobble…..Gobble Gobble” – A turkey! Well within working distance. So I set up & decided to have a go at old Tom. Well I worked that bird for an hour & a half & at 9:30, he had decided that either something wasn`t quite right or he caught up with a hen & wasn`t interested in me anymore. He probably came within 60-70 yards then just walked away…….gobbling as he went further & further from me.
The third time I planned hunting was this past Saturday. I decided to stay in Warren County, but go to a new spot and really hike way out in this new territory. It had rained the night before, so with the wet leaves I decided to play “Run-and-Gun” rather then set up decoys, knowing I could move very stealthily through the woods that morning. “Which might just give me a little edge at daybreak”, I thought as I walked out to my truck that morning.
I arrived at my spot & scurried across the wet fields making my way to a wooded lot. As I approached the last field, I heard my first gobble at 5:20. It was still dark enough that I made my way to the treeline barely at first light. Then another gobble! Now I had a couple birds probably within 300 yards. So I sat up against a tree in a clearing……. and waited till it got lighter out. At about 6am I lightly worked my slate with a very light yelp. Gobble Gobble! A response!………. Still a good distance out. So I waited for them to fly down before I called again. About twenty minutes later, another gobble a good distance to my right. Old Tom was on the ground and started talking. As I worked a few light purrs & clucks, the Tom Turkey stated really getting excited and was turning towards my direction. Within thirty minutes, he was closing in fast on me! The last gobble was easily within 50 yards of me. However I still couldn`t see him. He was coming through an area thick with wild roses, so he`d have to step right out in the open in order for me to have a shot. Another gobble! This time he seemed right in front of me in those wild roses. I put down the call & raised my gun…… anticipating his next move being right in front of me. I waited…… & waited. Gun raised towards the roses……. nothing. No more gobbles…. “Where the hell is he?” I thought to myself. Then he gobbled the opposite side of me, probably 80 yards away! I quickly put down the gun & grab my slate & started clucking a bit wildly, trying to see if I could bring him back in.
And it worked! He turned back & was bee-lining right towards me again!
This time I kept clucking a tad faster as he got closer, then switched to a couple light purrs. And this brought the Tom right in. At 30 yards he showed, I slowly raised my Browning and BANG! I dropped the old Long-Beard in his tracks!
My “Run-and-Gun” tactic in the wetness had paid off & the morning NJ Turkey hunt had turned into quite the adventure indeed. **Scroll down to see all of the pics.
Dingo, our Aussie Cattle Dog wanted to be part of the “Wild Turkey-Photo-Shoot” too!