Brown-Lining for Snakeheads with the Recon Bass Rod

Written by: Rob Snowhite, Fly-Fishing Consultant

Once he figured out the pattern, the author was into a pod of northern snakeheads.
Photos by Rob Snowhite

I rarely have the opportunity to fish. I can count on my fingers the number of fish I have landed since in the last year. But when I do get a chance to fish, I target northern snakeheads in the tidal Potomac River. You could say I have an obsession with snakeheads. We don’t “blue line” out here—our water is murky—but instead we “brown line” for snakeheads. These fish continue to amaze me. They seem indestructible: My friends chipped one out of a frozen chunk of the river in February, and it started to flop about.

I knew I’d have some free time this weekend to fish, but I wasn’t sure when or where to fish until I got a text from Morgan of Tight Line Tales of a Fly Fisherman. Today was one of those rare days off. No kid, no clients. Morgan had sent me a picture of a northern snakehead caught on a 3-weight. The fish was in one of those spots you are not allowed to mention—a location X so valuable you keep it mum. Morgan shared the location via Google Maps with instructions not to do so to anyone else. This type of opportunity does not happen very often, and I started planning my trip.

These fish are all muscles and teeth, and they fight hard.

I picked up the new Recon 7-foot, 11-inch 8-weight bass rod as soon as it was available in April. I was introduced to this rod at IFTD last summer and could not wait to get my hands on one, as I knew it would be perfect for fishing in tight quarters around DC. This rod has the backbone to toss monster flies and pull big fish out of the weeds. It’s almost like Shawn Combs designed a rod just for me.

I checked the pushpin Morgan sent me, packed my gear bag and rod and was off. I only had a few flies—some Clouser Minnows, damsel nymphs, reaper-style flies, and Gutless Frogs. I won’t say how long the ride was, but I was there fairly quickly by local traffic standards. I rigged up my rod in the lot with my trusty old DXR reel and tied a leader that stepped down from 30-pound to 8-pound test material. These fish have some nasty teeth designed for holding prey, not shredding them, so there’s no need for a wire bite guard.

I walked down to the spot. I’ll just call it a big mud hole. The lady who owns the local Thai grocery calls snakeheads “mud fish” for a reason. I waited for the fish to show themselves. The water was murky and still. I started off with the frog, with no luck. Still a brilliant fly to watch in the water. Next up was the Reaper. No love. I worked this ditch for about an hour and didn’t see a single snakehead, even though these fish prefer to breathe air and will come up like a turtle. I was ready to call it a day.

Watch your fingers!

I had not seen a single fish breathe. If they were stacked up in there as Morgan had said, I’d have seen one by now. Was this a snipe hunt? At that point, I tried my damselfly nymph. Nothing. Looking for my water bottle in my bag, I came across two beat up Clouser Minnows mixed in with discarded tippet and other rubbish. I took a few steps back from the ditch and tossed the fly in there, but I hung up on a tree. Since these fish are lethargic and ambush predators, I had focused on that stump. A few casts later, though, I came tight and set the hook. I had no idea what was on the other end until the fish was about 20 feet away. I stripped in the line and took a few steps back. The fish was bending like a banana. I slid it up on the mud and ran to it. This is one species that you don’t have to worry about, when you keep them out for a photo shoot. They can survive out of water for days if they are wet.

At this point, I drank some water and just watched the ditch. I lost the first Clouser on that stump and tied on another one that was completely beat up. While I was pulling loose deer tail off the fly, I spotted two mouths come up for air. I threw my fly to the left of one of the rings and began to strip. The fish chased down the beat-up fly and sucked it in.

The fight was exhausting. These fish don’t play games. It did not want to be landed and was obviously bigger than the first. My 16-year old reel got the fish to my feet quickly, and I started taking pictures of the 22-inch fish. Some folks think snakeheads are the ugliest fish out there, but I find them stunning. No two look alike. Their heads are massive and solid bone. The rest is all muscle, and they will not open their mouth to give up your fly. I had to pry this thing’s maw open with my hemostat.

The celebratory taco tasted sweet after a great day in the mudhole.

I realized that I had been on top of those fish and was probably spooking them. Once I gave them space, they began to move about and would eat a fly. I texted Morgan and told him I owed him one. I even found one of his flies from a few days back. I got tacos to celebrate.

I’m fine with not fishing all the time as long as I am having days this good. Many thanks to Morgan and Shawn.

Rob Snowhite claims to be the only full-time fly-fishing guide in the DC Metro area. Check out his website, Fly-Fishing Consultant.

17 thoughts on “Brown-Lining for Snakeheads with the Recon Bass Rod”

  1. Great story and congrats on the Snakehead. Was just talking to a big time fish-head and he was coveting a snakehead notch for his belt. There are a lot of people who have caught permit who can’t boast of a ssnakehead. I think you are on to something.

  2. What a nasty looking fish! they must be a blast to catch on the fly. In Oregon we have pikeminnow that I consider similar to snakeheads.

  3. From what I’ve heard and seen – dude has caught 3 snakeheads on the fly – all unintentionally in the past several years – and is considered to be a quasi-expert when it comes to snakehead on fly. As a “guide” – pretty sure he’s technically a “consultant” – I have not seen him do anything noteworthy outside of throwing san juan worms and shad flies while “striper fishing” for 8″ schoolies and then having his clients boga-grip them (wtf). Check out his instagram if you don’t believe it.

    Also – from the clues given in this story, this location X sounds like an illegal farming operation based on the proximity of the Thai grocery store and the fact it’s an inconspicuous drainage ditch….That said, way to go!

    1. As the person who discovered the spot and the person who is working with the DNR to survey the area, I can tell you it’s far from any Thai groceries or farming operations. In fact, it’s a few hundred yards away from one of the largest government-owned parcels of land on the East Coast. That said, drainage ditch is far from the description of this habitat as well.

    2. Mike,

      Anytime you want to fish with me let me know. On the house. Per your Boga grips comment, not everyone wants to touch a fish. Several are either scared of the scutes (shad), teeth (stripers), or slime. Some just have a fear of the fish. And yes, stripers up to 18″ will take a 4″ San Juan worm on the swing.

    3. Ha – haters gonna hate. Rob’s title as a consultant is a humorous jab at DC culture: everyone is a consultant here. And catching 3 snakehead is an accomplishment. They are really hard to fool, and things have to come together just so, like in permit fishing as Perk intoned. Rob has a picture of a 36 inch snakehead he caught which hangs proudly in the local Orvis shop.

    4. As someone who has been out with Rob as a guide for a day of fishing I can fully vouch that he’s an excellent guide as well as casting instructor. As for your comment about the clues – people in DC are pretty secretive about their fishing spots. They’re just aren’t that many. I’ve heard people call the Tidal Basin a muddy pond. The muddy ditch is also a pretty apt description of the Potomac or the Anacostia rivers.

      And as for San Juan Worms – what’s wrong with them? Even self-proclaimed dry fly purists like John Gierach are said to have fished them.

  4. Sounds like you were in Quantico or the chop. You fellas need to start shooting them at night. It’s s whole lot more fun and then you can get some big boys.

  5. Great report back, Rob! Glad you found some time to get out and enjoy yourself. (Ignore insipid, inane comments from lowly cowards who hide behind their computers. Get a life, Mike.)

  6. Rob,

    Great article and nice pictures of the snakeheads! I just received the same rod, but had to send it back because it arrived “broken” (tip top was not secured to the blank). I did a couple lawn casts before boxing it back up and it was truly amazing. Cannot wait to get the replacement and get out and fish it.

  7. LOL Mike . He is right in a way Rob you don’t have many grip and grin Snakehead photos. But your articles are very enjoyable .

  8. I have caught 59 snakeheads on the fly in last two summers in the Delaware river drainage , if you want to learn more about how to catch this fish on the fly check out the Facebook group titled Fly Fishing for Snakeheads and Bowfin our community should be able to help you achieve your goal.

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