How to catch the giant snakehead

The Sipping Fish

Both the snakehead variety are semi  amphibious. They are kind of the missing link between fish and reptiles. With a lung-like organ these creatures need to surface for air every-so often. They need to surface more often when they are hunting since air is released from their mouths when they open them to bite. This need to surface becomes handy for the fisherman as it gives away the position of the snakeheads. Among the Thai fishermen, we call this act “pla jib nam” (ปลาจิบน้ำ) literally translated to mean “fish sipping water”.

When the giant snakehead surfaces two sets of ripples are usually formed, the first from the head sipping in the air and the second from the tail propelling the fish back down into the depth where the prey are hiding. The best time to fish for the sipping snakehead is during the drought season (usually Feb-May) when the water level is low and the area for the snakehead to surface is dramatically reduced allowing for anglers to locate them much easier.

To catch the sipping snakehead the angler must:

1. keep an eye out to locate the sipping snakehead,

2. determine which direction the fish is swimming towards from the two sets of ripples

3. cast the lure out about a metre beyond the fish’s trajectory and

4. reel back the lure quickly and hope for a strike, which could be quite frequent given the right season.

The jungle ambush

The snakeheads also have a habit of ambushing their prey from vegetation. Anglers in Thailand will cast out surface frog lures into these little pockets along the banks all day in hope that there is a hungry snakehead waiting in the vegetation to ambush the hapless prey. This method is called “loh paa” (เลาะป่า), literally meaning “to skim the forest”. Though this method is used all year round it is the best method to catch a snakehead during the cool season (November-January).

The over-protective parent

Another trait of the snakehead that anglers like to abuse is the over-protective nature of the fish as a parent. During the beginning of the rainy season the majority of the snakeheads would enter the parenting part of their life-cycle. Males and females pair up and begin mating. Soon after they lose their black colour and start inhibiting green and purple colours in a camoflage-like pattern on their tops. Little snakehead hatchlings will swim in large shoals for safety and being much smaller than their parents they will surface for air much more frequently. The juvenile snakeheads begin their life as small blood-red fishes no longer than your pinky finger. When they surface for air, they will look like a living blood cloud moving up and down. It will sound a little bit like the pitter-patter of rain.

As they grow older, they will become more brown in colour while maintaining some red at the tail. The brown juveniles are viscous little creatures that will attack any lure together like a pack of hungry piranhas. Catching these are as easy as catching water when it rains.

The younger the snakehead juveniles, the more aggressive the parent. The parents of these little red hatchlings will violently protect their young. The parents also have a well-planned defensive strategy. While one protects the young from a close range the other parent will swim about 5-10 metres away to secure the perimeter while grabbing a bite to eat.

Fishing for the parents is called “Tii mae kohk” (ตีแม่คอก), literally “attacking the stable’s mother”. Like the sipping method, the fisherman waits for the juveniles to surface before casting the lure out to threaten the juveniles. Over time the parents will eventually see your lure as a threat and attack it. This is when you get ready for a big fight, especially if you hooked the female because she can grow up to 9 kilos.

The spawning period begins from July all the way until December but there are the occasional ones that decide to not stick to schedule but this is rare.

Note: it is extremely important that you release the parents after you catch them or the juveniles will be wiped out by the other predators in the area thus leaving less snakehead fishing for the next season.

Tackle required

Due the nature of the environment that the snakeheads like to hang in and the sharp teeth of the snakeheads, it’s important to have some heavy tackle when dealing with the snakeheads:

– a rod of 15-25lb or 20-30lb for heavy cover or parent hunting,

-PE braided fishing line that can handle at least 30lb although 40lb and above is highly recommended,

– though optional with lure fishing, a high abrasion leader line helps, preferebly a shock leader of up to 30lb


Recommended lures:

– Deep diving plug lures like the Rapala deep diver or risto rap,

– Pencil lure

– Propeller or non-propeller surface frog,

– buzz-bait.

  1. David Green says:

    great blog and great info for a new fisherman in Thailand. Every part of the world presents a whole new set of problems to be solved in order to be a successful fisherman and this type of blogs help speed up the process.

  2. David McInally says:

    Nice.. Good advice to anyone going for snakehead!

  3. Alex West says:

    Here is another technique which works, especially if you are trying to lure them out of their ‘forest’ hiding :

    – use the buzz-bait (with the special noise-maker paddle) just like you would use a popper!
    This gives extra noise and splash which just seems to piss them mighty off!

    Also :

    – The chatter-bait! (almost impossible to find in Thailand, but you can find a few copy-cats versions of it).
    This is new to the waters in Thailand (I think), and new noises seem to intrigue them to check it out and give it a bite or two…hehe.

  4. Paul Brasington says:

    1) Do the Snakehead live in the Mekhong river in Chiang Rai province that flows along the Loas border?
    2) What is the best fishing method to use in this area.
    3) Are there fishing guides in this area ?
    Thank you
    Paul Brasington

  5. Shamip Chettri says:

    Hi Hooker,
    Just read Ur blog,which I found while searching for the total parenting period (before releasing their baby from parenting care) of Channa marilus and straita….and something intrigued me as u said they bite lures specially while parenting/ guarding period…which seldom happens with C .Straita but C.Marilus never bites during this stretch……infact once the mating season is on….the adults ready to mate are hardly interested on top water frogs can’t try other lures as there is a thick cover of vegetation…I am in India .North Bengal….so we catch the big ones only after they release there babies.So by any chance would u be knowing how long do they guard their babies before they release them …..

    Tight lines,
    Thank you.

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