Northern snakehead: a species that spark both disdain and adoration. As controversial as they may be, there’s no denying the excitement of pitching flies into their path. These frankenfish, native to Asia, have been making quite the splash throughout parts of the Eastern Seaboard for two decades. Anglers are drawn to their explosive strike, raw power, and succulent meat. But here’s the catch: at the end of the day, they’re still an invasive species that could be causing some ecological ruckus. Their true impact is still a bit of a head-scratcher, as our understanding is incomplete and biologists are still addressing significant knowledge gaps, but if the last twenty years have taught us anything, it’s that they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. In my view, you’ve got two options: succumb to frustration and resentment, or transform this unexpected phenomenon into a fishing and culinary bonanza.
The Snakehead 411
Alright, let’s break it down. When it comes to fly fishing for northern snakehead (Channa argus), we’re venturing into some relatively uncharted territory. Sure – it’s a thing, but it isn’t exactly sitting with the cool kids at lunch either. First off, we need to understand a snakehead’s preferred habitat. They often thrive in the thickest, most snag-infested waters you can imagine. Simply put, casting accurately is the name of the game. Keep your fly within the small pockets of open water and luck will be on your side. Weedless flies can help to level the playing field, but truth be told, you’ll generate more strikes focusing on your casting than you will focusing on some new ultra-weedless fly pattern.
Playing with Fire
Snakehead are not for the faint of heart. They’ll challenge your equipment, your patience, and your stamina. But after all, it’s that very challenge that makes them so alluring in the first place. Well, that and their taste of course. They’re a critter of extremes; to some they’re much-maligned but to others they’re practically worshiped. Either way, they’ve earned their stripes in the both the angling and culinary realms.
Their meat boasts a firm, ocean-fish-like texture and mild, widely-approachable flavor. In my opinion, it’s leaps and bounds above other comparable freshwater species. You don’t have to do a whole lot to it, simply pan-frying it will result in a happy crowd. But, if you’re looking to crank it up a notch, Psari Plaki is my go-to. So pull up a chair, log, cooler, or whatever you can fit around the campfire, because this one ain’t for the kitchen. In my book, there’re no substitutes for open air and hot coals.
Psari Plaki (Greek Snakehead) – Field Edition
- 2 lb snakehead fillets, pin-bones & skin removed
- 1 large white onion, sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 12 Kalamata olives, sliced & pitted
- 6 heirloom tomatoes
- 0.25 cup olive oil
- Fresh basil, chopped for topping
- 0.5 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 0.5 teaspoon sugar
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- Light a fire and prepare a mature coal bed.
- Place the onion, tomatoes, and garlic atop the coal bed. Allow to char for 3-5 minutes then remove.
- Place a Dutch oven atop the coal bed. Allow to preheat for a couple minutes.
- Meanwhile, largely dice the charred onion and tomatoes and finely dice the charred garlic.
- In the preheated Dutch oven, add the olive oil and diced onion. Sauté the onion until it turns translucent (about 4-6 minutes).
- Add the diced tomatoes, diced garlic, dried oregano, dried dill, crushed red pepper flakes, and sugar. Stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes, allowing the flavors to marry together.
- While the flavors blend, season the snakehead fillets with salt and pepper.
- Place the seasoned snakehead fillets into the Dutch oven, then spoon the sauce over the fillets.
- Cover with a lid and let cook for approximately 10-12 minutes, or until the fish is fork tender.
- Remove from the fire and garnish with sliced Kalamata olives and freshly chopped basil.
- Serve over a toasted baguette and enjoy with your favorite pale ale, India pale ale, or white wine.
Until next time, enjoy, and good luck out there!
Check out the companion video for this installment of “Flavor on the Fly” by following @flylords on Instagram. If you’d like to cook this recipe in the kitchen, instead of outdoors, check out the article below or click HERE.
Article by Flylords Food Editor Kirk Marks, an angler, photographer, and culinary aficionado based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow at @kirkymarks.