Giant Snakehead Shots

Giant Snakehead Shots

Paul Arden | Tuesday, 19 July 2022

I’ve just had 12 days back to back with guests here on the lake. Day off today with Zoom lessons and a supplies trip to town. Two more days tomorrow then I’m heading to south Malaysia for a triathlon (going to be tough in this climate for sure!). I thought I’d talk about Snakehead shots today.

If you’ve been following my stay here you’ll have learned that fly fishing for Giant Snakehead is some of the most challenging fly fishing there is. Shots have to happen in 1-2 seconds and they need to be accurate. You also need to get an early shot in because the longer you are on the fish the less likely one will eat. This means we need to be stealthy to get close enough for a fast shot, far enough away that the fish doesn’t see you and it has to happen quickly and preferably on the first cast. That’s a tough call, especially because the fish move and while they are moving they are hidden from us through a layer of green algae-tinged water.

Boat positioning is an art in itself. I’ve been doing it for ten years now or over 3000 days. So I’m good at working out possible areas for subsequent rises (there is often more than one possible rise area, which needs to be taken into account). Also there are factors such as sun angle which tells you which side of the babies the adults will rise (when chasing them off babies) something you also need to factor in when positioning.

If you are fishing on your own (and not having me position the boat for you), then this takes time to learn. It’s very much harder to position the boat correctly in place for a shot and then make the shot, than just make the shot! I’ve only really realised just how difficult this aspect of fly fishing for Giant Snakehead is by renting out the Ronan boat and watching others try. I try to teach it of course but it’s something that’s very hard to learn in only a week or two. Of all the people who come here, only Flavio has truly learned it properly so far.

But that’s not what I want to talk about this week. What I want to talk about is three shots. The money shot, the almost money shot and the poor shot. There are actually two money shots and it depends on the size of the babies and the behaviour of the adults. The usual shot is to put the fly across a line 2 feet directly in front of the fish and pull it across the front of its path. Not short, slightly longer is fine, so long as it bloops across the path of the fish. That’s one money shot and the usual one.

However there is another one that is to put the fly almost immediately in front of the fish, say by about 6 inches. This is required when the babies are large (say over 10 inches long) and the adult is close to the babies. That shot should not only be close but actually must be close, otherwise the babies eat the fly first. This shot however will usually spook adults with smaller babies, in which case it’s too close!

Did I mention that accuracy is important? Those are some pretty tight shot adjustments to be making, especially in the heat of the moment.

Then there is the almost money shot. In the zone sort of shot. Let’s say the fly lands 4 feet away. That’s not a money shot, but if the fly is blooped it might get an eat. With the money shot the eat happens first or second strip, 90% of the time – assuming that was the first shot and taken early. But the almost money shot sometimes gets a chase, of which about 30% eat. Close but not close enough. Still in the game but not a 90%er. There are things we can do to increase the odds of an eat but better is just to put the fly in the right place to begin with.

And then there is the poor shot. This shot is 6 feet away, or behind the fish of any distance, or too short, or between the adult and the babies, or will pull through the babies. This shot you do not bloop. It never works (or if it does you should stop fishing immediately and play the Lotto), the Snakehead will hear the bloop and the next time it surfaces most of the time it will be spooked, and usually that means both adults spooked. So you leave the fly untouched, allow the fish to move on, reset the boat and go in again. Now your chances are less but they are not zero, as they probably would be, had you blooped the fly.

I find this whole game to be quite fascinating. It’s very interesting that the fish spook with a wide shot blooped. Yesterday Richard put a shot in outside the zone and blooped it. He asked me if I would have blooped it. I said I wouldn’t have put it there :D I’m not sure he found that funny.

We also saw some very interesting behaviour last week, leading me again to believe we have some intelligence here. Gourami as you know I think “intelligent”. Any fish that looks at the fly for five minutes before refusing, has to have something going on upstairs. What I saw with the Snakehead was a spooked set where one adult reversed direction and led the babies back into overhanging vegetation, so it could breathe right at the back of impossible structure, while the other adult swam away from the set and made spooked rises. To me this second adult was acting as a decoy. I’ve seen this before but I didn’t believe then that this was (possibly) their game. Now if so, then this is smart. What we need is for Planet Earth to study these fish properly and make a documentary about them. I find them to be quite amazing and they have unique properties that I don’t find in fish anywhere else.

It’s difficult to find good information on their evolution but from what I’ve read Giant Snakehead are an 8 million year old species here in SE Asia, descending from a 50 million year old species in Central Asia. So much to learn! If you know of any interesting publications on Giant Snakehead I would love to read them. Northern Snakehead as an introduced species in North America have been researched quite thoroughly. I haven’t fished for them but from what I can glean from those who do, it’s a very different game to over here, where in my opinion, they are one of the planet’s ultimate fly fishing challenges.

The fishing is good at the moment. Not loads of free-rising activity that you would expect at this time of year. It’s been a crazily wet Dry Season. But there are babies around.  I think with Richard we found 36 sets in 8 days. That’s pretty good. Best day was 9 sets.

Cheers, Paul