Snakehead fishing in Thailand at Srinakarin reservoir

photo of snakehead showing teeth The fish you see in these pictures are called Snakehead, a species found in the mountain lakes and jungle rivers of South East Asia ,the Indian sub continent and  recently due to escapes and illegal stocking the southern states of the U.S.A , it is an ambush predator living in and around weed beds and other submerged obstacles which is similar in its habits to our own pike. Its diet consists mainly of various smaller fish species, frogs and water fowl. They are usually caught on locally made surface lures but will on occasions take shallow diving lures and live baits if the presentation is right.

Photo of snakehead action

Snakehead fishing action with topwater buzzbait lures.

I first learned of these magnificent sporting fish about five years ago during a chance meeting Thailand’s #1 professional fishing guide Jean Francois Helias, who over a period of time passed on to me some of his vast knowledge of the species, which enabled me to become quite a proficient Snakehead angler in my own rite, and this new found knowledge has resulted in some pretty decent captures during my subsequent visits to the remote jungle clad, mountainous areas of the country’s Northwest.

Photo of snakehead territory

Snakehead Territory in Thailand’s Mountainous North West. Submerged trees, weed and branches make great hiding place for Snakehead to Lurk waiting to ambush their Prey.

One of the many interesting characteristics of this fish is that after spawning the parents stay together to guard the nest site and after the eggs have hatched they stick around to protect the vulnerable youngsters until they are big enough to fend for themselves. During this period they are very aggressive and will readily attack noisy, fast moving top water lures cast at the shoals of brightly coloured blood red fry, mistaking them no doubt for some other form of aquatic predator such as the jungle perch, which will try to eat just about anything that moves and can on occasions provide great alternative sport for the Snakehead angler.snakehead_fry

As mentioned earlier Snakeheads are most often caught on locally made surface lures which are equipped with a large buzz bait type propeller, these cause a lot of disturbance on the retrieve which in common with most other surface baits is the major factor in triggering a strike, colour as those of you who regularly fish top water lures will already know, seems to make little or no difference. The standard treble hook is always removed and replaced with a double to reduce the chances of getting caught up in the various snags where these fish like to hide, it also makes unhooking a little less problematic for both the angler and the fish. sometimes the lure is hit with such ferocity that it is swallowed whole and in a case like this the fish is usually killed then taken for the table and as regrettable as this is, it does have its compensation’s because whether served up barbecued, steamed, or fried they taste delicious! Unfortunately because of this they are regarded as something of a delicacy and so the greatest threat to the well being of the species comes from man, just as Eastern European immigrants threaten to decimate our own native fish stocks, so the economic and political refugees from Myanmar (formally Burma) are poised to do the same thing in Thailand. I have witnessed first hand these people casting fine mesh nylon nets at the fry shoals and removing them from the lake hundreds at a time, these are then sold to agents from Bangkok to be raised in tanks until big enough to be sold on to the restaurant trade. I suppose it is easy to be judgemental with a full belly, a regular income and a roof over your head, but it really is a crying shame that this sort of thing is allowed to go on unchecked, because quite obviously fish stocks are going to struggle to recover from this kind of pressure and will eventually reach the point of no return. So my advice to anyone thinking of having a go at catching these exotic hard fighting beauties is to do it now whilst they are still around to be caught. The most practical way to do this, unless you speak fluent Thai and have reliable local contacts, is by using a guiding agency and the very best one of all is Fishing Adventures Thailand who will do their utmost to ensure that your trip is one you’ll never forget.

Most Snakehead fishing trips are tailored to the requirements of the individual and usually last from four to six days. a typical scenario would see you picked up at your hotel in Bangkok and transported to the lake by air conditioned mini bus, stopping off on route for a bite to eat, and perhaps a walk around the local market to stock up on any bits and pieces that you forgot to buy in Bangkok.

Photo of Peter cartwright with a Giant Snakehead (Channa micropeltes) caught fishing in Thailand

Outdoor writer, Peter Cartwright with a nice Giant Snakehead (plah Shado) caught fishing in Thailand

Photo of Tilapia that has been bitten in half by Giant snakehead

Snakeheads will eat almost anything. This is the kind of damage a bite from a Giant Snakehead can do to a Tilapia.

Fully refreshed you will resume your journey and arrive at your destination around four hours later, where you will climb aboard a longtail boat and begin the final part of the trip to your accommodation, a floating raft house located exactly in the middle of nowhere! Every morning just after first light you will leave by boat with your guide, who will have already briefed you on tactics and tackle all of which incidentally is provided as part of the package and is real top quality stuff, usually comprising of
4000 size Shimano twin power reels loaded with 30lb braid and stiff actioned, custom made spinning rods between 6ft.6″ and 7ft in length. Having fished all day you will return just before dark, totally worn out but still buzzing with excitement after hopefully experiencing for the first time the explosive strikes and screaming runs of some very angry fish. I say hopefully because as with any other branch of the sport, success is by no means guaranteed and you have to be prepared to miss as many strikes as you hit. Perseverance is the key and eventually that magical moment will arrive when everything falls into place and you hook your first Snakehead, which will fight all the way to the net and then once unhooked will try its best to bite your fingers off as payback for ruining its day.

Written by Peter Cartwright, Photo’s Jean-Francois Helias