Summer Northern Snakehead Tournaments in Maryland
As you can imagine, when a fish has a name like “northern snakehead,” there are going to be things about them that are good, bad, and ugly… but luckily, they’re also tasty. In Maryland, the love-hate relationship is so strong, there’s even a highly anticipated tournament series for them.
About the Northern Snakehead
First, the bad and ugly – what is a snakehead? As an invasive species in the Maryland area, the northern snakehead first appeared in 2002, a far cry from their native home in Russia, China, and Korea. They have a head that looks like – you guessed it – a snake, and teeth that look like they belong to your dog.
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This highly invasive species has quickly made itself at home and started families – large ones. Females lay eggs multiple times a year, with an average of 40,000 eggs each time (though it can be up to 100,000) which both parents protect. With populations growth that rapid, it hasn’t taken them long to settle throughout many of Maryland’s waterways, with hotspots in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore as well as the Patuxent River on the western shore of Maryland.
A predatory “Frankenfish,” northern snakeheads’ large populations quickly drain resources meant for other members of their ecosystem. To help prevent them from spreading further around the region, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has even gone as far as asking anglers to keep anything they catch, especially any of the tagged fish after recording and reporting. State law also prohibits them from being moved alive. Easier said than done, as simply putting them in a cooler won’t cut it (some snakehead species can survive up to four days out of water and even on land, as they are an air-breathing fish), so the law requires the head be removed or the fish gutted before transport.
The department has also recently created several videos on northern snakehead fishing tips, rules, and regulations.
Fishing for Northern Snakehead
Though they have a bad rap environmentally speaking, snakeheads have become quite popular with sport fishers and anglers for topwater fishing in the late spring to early fall, with folks driving hours into Maryland to get in on the action. Edwin Bramble, Owner-Manager of Woolford Store says, “Snakeheads are an extremely fun fish to catch. Snakehead fishing can be compared to bass fishing in the warmer months and topwater lures are very effective.”
Plus, you can skip the hassle of rounding up buddies to split a large boat fuel bill or taking a half-day to prep to go out.
The appeal continues to grow, as a quick scroll through the Snakeheadlife.com Facebook forum will show post after post of newbies looking for advice on spots, bait, and everything in between – they also get lots of helpful responses from the snakehead community.
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Besides bridges or off-the-road fishing, kayaking is very a popular option to track down snakeheads, and many kayak rental places in the area such as Blackwater Adventures, have the rigs and know how to get you onto the fish.
If risking a finger or two taking a hook out isn’t something you feel up to, another option popular for snakeheads is bowfishing – which almost feels like a mix of hunting and fishing – to keep bow skills sharp while most hunting seasons are out. (However, this method is not allowed in the tournament).
Northern Snakehead Tournaments
The Channadie Champion Trail is a series of four snakehead tournaments in April, June 1-2, July 13-14, and September 14-15 hosted by Snakeheadlife.com Woolford Country Store in Woolford, Maryland along with several other local sponsors. For more than 15 years, the store has been a sportsman’s stop for breakfast, lunch (can’t forget those cheesesteaks!), tackle, and more, and now finds itself right in the thick of the snakehead hotspots. (Channadie, the family name for snakehead species, rolls off the tongue a bit better than snakehead).
A tournament became a natural ideal with the influx of hopeful anglers passing through, but Bramble also says, “Caz Kenny of Snakeheadlife.com and I saw the tournament as an opportunity to raise awareness for maintaining a healthy balance of the new Snakehead population with our current established species in the area. Anyone who has fished in the Blackwater area in the past will tell you that it’s much harder to catch perch and crappie now than it has been. The numbers of those and other fish just aren’t as prominent as they have been in the past and we’re very worried that if we don’t create a proactive approach to managing the northern snakehead population then it’s highly likely that in the future these other species will be even harder to find in this area.”
Unlike other fishing tournaments, the snakehead series is anyone’s game as ultra-expensive boats and gear aren’t required and all fish must be caught in public waters by rod and reel only. From a kayak, bridge, or whatever, every angler can roll the dice!
Evolving from last year’s month-long structure between September and October where the competition was judged by weight only, this year offers multiple Calcuttas in each tournament with prizes based on the number of entries:
- Single heaviest snakehead harvested sponsored by Bassrack Outdoors
- Single longest snakehead harvested sponsored by Horseman Enterprises
- Most snakeheads harvested in a single day (minimum of 8” to qualify) sponsored by Blackwater Adventures
- Single heaviest snakehead harvested by bowfishing sponsored by The Crab Stand (Blackwater Snakehead Open Only)
- Single heaviest snakehead harvested throughout all four tournaments sponsored by S. Hubbert & Son, Inc.
There is also a FREE to enter youth division (17 and under) for the single heaviest snakehead harvested, and there will be an “Angler of the Year” award using a points system from all four tournaments.
The first of the snakehead series, late April’s Spring Kickoff, saw 30 anglers bring in 122 snakeheads total with an average of 25 pounds of fish, with the highest weight total being 67.5 pounds., longest fish being 33.25 inches, and the heaviest fish being 12.5 pounds.
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Next is the Snakehead Mayhem Tournament on the first of June, followed by the Snakehead Summer Slam (July 13-14) and Blackwater Snakehead Open (September 14-15), all of which take place in Dorchester County.
If you venture to the shore to get in on the action, give these guides a ring to set off on your snakehead adventure, and check the community of anglers on the Snakeheadlife.com forum on Facebook:
- Berlin: Dusk to Dawn Bowfishing
- Cambridge: Blackwater Adventures
- Potomac: Mid River Guide Service
After you’ve left your fishing spot as clean as when you found it, share your fisherman’s tales over some cold local beer from RAR or take worth-it drive down to Old Salty’s Restaurant for hot crabs. Need to head home? Grab some crabs and oysters at Lindy’s Seafood to fry up with your snakehead bites!
Be sure to check with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for information on snakehead fishing in Maryland before heading out. Also, check out the Plan Your Trip section of our website to find lodging options, fishing charters and guides, and outdoor retailers to get the most out of a fishing trip to Maryland.
Why not add a relaxing road trip to your itinerary while you’re fishing in Maryland? Take a little time with the family on your fishing trip to cruise our state’s scenic byways.
For those interested in learning more about the northern snakehead, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife are hosting Freedom and Fishing Snakehead Derby. Freedom and Fishing, held at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park on June 8, 2019 is poised to introduce anglers to northern snakehead fishing, its environmental impact, as well as northern snakehead tasting and cooking demonstrations. Participation is free, but registration is required. You can learn more about Freedom and Fishing on the department’s website.
All images courtesy of Shannon Chambers Photography