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.
Snakehead wranglin` was most definitely on my agenda last week. I planned on going down into South Jersey at least once while on vacation despite having a very painfully infected leg. Apparently the week before I had been bitten by something underwater while fishing/wading knee-deep in a really swampy covered lake. Guessin` it was probably a snake as it bit me on the top of my foot……twice! And now my top of my ankle was pretty swollen and hurt like hell, just a few days later.
My girlfriend was a bit upset that I hadn`t gone to the doctor….yet.
But……. I had a date with some “Snakes” down in South Jersey first.
I was going after `em on foot as I wasn`t comfortable draggin` the `Yak all around by myself. Definitely not 100% confident about doing certain things since suffering a massive heart attack a month and a half ago.
But now I had a bad “foot” to complicate matters a bit.
I studied some maps of the Delaware River for a few days, looking at the various tributaries off the main river. This is where I was going to be targeting……… Accessible areas of the “tribs” by foot.
Got up the next morning, Sharon made me an awesome breakfast & packed me a nice lunch with plenty of drinks. It was definitely going to be a hot one as the weather forecast was calling for a high in the 90`s in the area I was heading too.
Then I saddled up and was on my way. My destination was approximately thirty-eight miles south of Gibbstown. At least that is what I wanted to scout out a bit, as the area looked ideal. Swampy and accessible.
After a two and a half hour ride, I arrived in the general area…… if it wasn`t the exact spot, it was close enough.
Eager to start throwing some top-water lures, I hiked about a mile into the abandoned swamp area of the tributary that was probably five to six hundred yards from the Delaware River. Good thing I had covered myself with Deep Woods OFF bug repellent before I left my truck, because hot, muggy and buggy best described where I was walking.
I was planning on throwing a KVD Top-Water Frog to start things off. Working my way into an opening, I began casting.
After about the sixth cast into the thick, green-pea muck, a magnificent swirl missed my frog as the thick green muck quickly calmed back down. I worked the area carefully, attempting to provoke a strike. Nothing.
Then next cast, just as the frog was literally six inches from shore, a violent eruption!!! Snakehead!!!
Fish on!…….. then just as quickly…….. fish off.
But as I was fighting that Snakehead briefly, I saw two others swimming in this pool of muck next to the one I I had on. I didn`t actually see the fish, just the swirls…….and there were at least two other demons lurking in the dark, thick green muck.
Four more casts……… all quiet. Then I decided to toss the frog in and just give a a few short twitches and not retrieve. It had to be out there floating in the muck at least five minutes………..then BAM! A violent explosion as the Snakehead smashed the frog I set the hook hard! Fish on! The snake gave quite the acrobatic show as it broke water and thrashed about! Then dove deeply into the thick green seaweed! This is where the 20lb. Power PRO Braid line would come in handy as I muscled the snake out of the water-grass and onto the bank.
My first “Snake” of the day!
I quickly got the stringer out as this Snakehead`s next destiny was going to be with my knife, as snakeheads are an absolutely delicious delicacy!
Working my way through the bush, I came upon another likely looking spot and began working the frog. Casting under the very edge of an embankment that had bushes over hanging it a bit. “The perfect ambush area for a hungry snakehead”, I thought to myself.
I purposely tossed the frog in the bush, to make it drop in the swampy water below. No sooner had the frog hit the murky water below and BAM! Another snakehead was on!
Another nice one for the stringer!
The Snake Party was on!
Over the next few hours, I fished the area hard and managed to call it a day and headed home with four nice size snakeheads in the cooler.
Got home around 7pm…….. had a bite to eat, then had some Snakeheads to fillet afterwords.
If ya like to fillet fish, like I do,…… you`d love runnin` your knife across the back of a snakehead. Beautiful fish to fillet. Very white and thick. Sort of reminds me of a walleye when you fillet it.
And if you like to eat fish, you`ll love grilled Snakehead! Out of this world. Awesome breaded and fried as well. Sharon used a Cajun Seasoning on the Snakes and I got to tell ya, it was like I was dinin` back on the Bayou in my Air Force days back down in Louisiana. Simply delicious.
I was back in my `Yak doing a little fishing for a couple hours up at Merrill Creek the other morning. Thursdays I go in to work at 1pm, so I got up at the crack of dawn and headed over to the beautiful Reservoir located in Warren County NJ, which is less than a half hour drive from our house.
The water was as smooth as glass as I paddled my way across the scenic water. Barely any breeze at all, as temperatures were expected to climb in the mid-eighties later that day.
The combination of warm Summer air, with the sun rising over the mountains, and seeing a few deer drinking water along the banks, as you paddle your way out, is very tranquil at that hour in the morning.
Wasn`t too long before I set the hook into something that felt really decent in the scenic, crystal-clear water of Merrill Creek! I thought I might be in trouble of losing this battle, as the fish repeatedly dove around the standing, half-sunken trees out there, making the drag scream on my reel!
I managed to tire out and net this beautiful, 24 inch, very thick Chain Pickerel! The only other time I had ever caught a Pickerel with similar girth, was while I was in the Air Force back in 1985 down in Louisiana.
Quite the Chain Pickerel!
Turn up your speakers, and enjoy this short clip of the day`s adventure out on Merrill Creek Reservoir-
After a little “C,C & R” (Catch-Click and Release) that beautiful Chain Pickerel was on his way back into the clear depths of Merrill Creek.
It was certainly a good morning to be out and about at Merrill Creek for a NJ Kayak Fishing Adventure!
Then again, anytime in my `Yak is just fine by me!