What Is A Snakehead – The Complete Breakdown of this Wild Fish

By Get Fishing •  Published: 02/05/23 •  8 min read

The Snakehead is an invasive species native to Asia and Africa. This freshwater fish is striking in appearance, with noticeable teeth and the ability to travel over land for short distances. Unsurprisingly, this makes them a threat to many habitats as they quickly become invasive. 

What is a snakehead

What is a Snakehead? 


The Snakehead (Channa or Parachanna depending on the location) is a species of freshwater fish that has adapted to take over where and whenever possible. They’re easily recognizable as they have an elongated body and striking coloration. The Snakehead is known for being able to breathe outside of water for short periods of time. 

Why is it Called a Snakehead?

They’ve earned their names from the shape of their head; it’s elongated and cylindrical, kind of like a snake’s head, but on a fish’s body. Snakeheads are also commonly called “Frankenfish” due to their aggression and lack of predators. They are considered invasive monsters by many people. 

What Type of Fish is a Snakehead? 

This is a perch-like fish, a perciform, native to areas of Africa and Asia. They are also predatory and come in a wide range sizes, with over 50 species of Snakehead existing in both countries. Snakeheads are also a noted invasive species as they have almost no predators aside from humans. Luckily, they’re considered a valuable food source. 

What Are the Different Types of Snakeheads?

Snakeheads come in two types: the Channa in Asia, and the Parachanna in Africa. Snakeheads belonging to both ranges vary in size and coloration. The only true “difference” between the two families is their native country. 

What Does a Snakehead Look Like?

With over 50 species of Snakehead, it’s hard to nail down a single description. But all species have a few things in common when it comes to physical traits. No matter their size, they have the same long, cylindrical body. Their heads are truly snakelike and long in the jaw. This species also has a long dorsal fin and small, pointed teeth. 

Snakehead Habitat

Snakeheads can be found in virtually any fresh water source. They can’t tolerate salt water, so you won’t find them in brackish estuaries or river mouths. They populate ponds, lakes, rivers, run-offs and more. When it comes to water temperature, they don’t have a preference, but will be more active in warmer water. 

Most species of Snakehead prefer to stay in areas of heavy vegetation where their coloration acts as natural camouflage. In many cases this means they’ll stick to the shallows or edges of the water source. 

Where Can I Find Snakehead? 

In the US Snakeheads have been reported in the following states, where they are an invasive species:

Are Snakeheads Invasive? 

Yes, Snakeheads are considered invasive in many parts of the world. This species has the ability to breathe air with their gills, which means they’re able to travel over the land for short distances. They can move from one pond to another, and can last up to four days on land as long as they are wet. 

In non-native habitats, Snakeheads quickly become the apex predator and can clear ponds and other water sources of many species. They also spawn up to five times a year, giving them a clear advantage over other fish species who spawn only once a year. 

What Do Snakeheads Eat? 

Snakeheads aren’t picky eaters, which means they can fit into most habitats. Young fish prey on plankton, mollusks and insects. Adults will eat other fish, frogs, and sometimes even small mammals such as mice or rats. 

How to Catch a Snakehead 

Many of the same techniques for Bass fishing will work for Snakeheads, as these are also large, aggressive fish. Snakeheads hang out in heavily vegetated areas, so you’ll need gear that can punch through mats of vegetation. Strong line that can hold up against abrasion and a rod that can handle a large fish are imperative.

Because they aren’t picky eaters, live bait vs. lures isn’t really a necessary discussion. They’ll go after either. Snakeheads love poppers, chatterbait, spinnerbait, and any hard or soft plastics that look like their usual live bait – from minnows to frogs. 

Interestingly, Snakeheads feed more aggressively when the water gets hotter. That means you have a decent chance of catching a Snakehead in the middle of the day, unlike many North American freshwater species. 

How Big Do Snakehead Get?

This fish varies widely in size with some of the smallest Snakeheads hitting only a few inches in length. The average size for most species is anywhere from 12 – 35 inches, with the heavyweights coming in at over 3 ft. 

How Fast Do Snakehead Grow?

It takes two years for Snakeheads to reach sexual maturity, and at this point they’re usually close to their adult size. Northern Snakeheads, the variety most often fished for in the US, are about one foot long at sexual maturity. Females will lay up to 15,000 eggs each time they spawn, and eggs hatch in a few days. 

What is the World Record Snakehead Fish?

The International Game Fish Association has a few different Snakehead species listed, however they also have a single “Snakehead” option in their catalog of world records. Under this heading, the world record holder for Snakeheads is just over 3 ft. This fish was caught by Corey Nowakowski in Florida, in August of 2013. 

Alternatively, the world record Northern Snakehead weighed in at 19 lb 5 oz and was caught in Virginia, in May 2018. 

What is the Lifespan of a Snakehead? 

On average Snakeheads can reach 10 years of age, but have been reported as having lived to 15 years.  

Can You Eat Snakehead Fish?

Yes, Snakeheads are considered an excellent food source. This may be part of the reason they were intentionally introduced to some areas despite their reputation of being invasive. Snakeheads have firm, flaky flesh that is white in color. The meat can be cooked a variety of ways and holds up to grilling, baking or frying. The taste is reportedly mild. 

How Do You Clean Snakehead Fish?

As with other large fish, cleaning a Snakehead isn’t particularly hard, but you need to pay attention to what you’re doing. 

Start by laying the fish out on a flat surface and making sure your filet knife is sharp. Cut in at an angle, toward the head, at the gill. This is a slimy fish so be careful while making cuts. Draw the filet knife down the spine slowly, making a shallow cut all the way to the base of the tail. 

Go back up the spine to make the cut slightly deeper. If there is noticeable blood while cutting the fish, pause and rinse it out with water. Continue cutting along the rib cage and rinsing as needed. Make the final slice along the base of the ribs, but be careful not to cut into the organs if you have not gutted the fish yet. Peel the filet back and, at the base of the tail, cut it free.

How Do You Cook Snakehead Fish?

There are so many great ways to cook Snakehead, it’s really tough to choose just one. This is a versatile fish with firm, mildly flavored flesh. The go-to for many fishermen is simply frying this fish. Snakeheads are a great option for a simple fish n’ chips dish. However, cleanup for frying fish can be messy if you don’t own a deep fryer.

Another fan favorite is grilling Snakehead. Unlike other fish, Snakehead’s firm flesh keeps its shape on the grill and doesn’t flake apart. A simple recipe includes drizzling olive oil over the filets and seasoning with parsley, salt and pepper as the grill heats. When you put the filets on the grill, it will need only 5 minutes on each side. 

Are Snakeheads Dangerous?

While Snakeheads can be dangerous to their environment if they’re invasive, they’re rarely dangerous to people. However, these fish do have very sharp teeth. If you happen to be fishing for Snakehead during spawning or immediately after eggs are laid, these fish may be aggressive when approached.

Can Snakehead Fish Walk on Land?

Yes – because they can breathe air through their gills, Snakeheads can move on land by using their bellies and caudal fins. Generally Snakeheads only leave their water source when conditions are poor and they need to seek out another, but they’ve been recorded as having traveled as far as a quarter mile. 

How Long Can a Snakehead Survive Out of Water?

If their bodies are wet, Snakeheads can survive for several days outside of water. 

Is a Snakehead the Same as a Bowfin?

No, these are two completely different species native to different areas. The Bowfin is native to North America. Many people think, based on looks, that the Bowfin and Snakehead are the same fish. They share many physical characteristics in terms of body shape and coloration, but have different preferences. 


Whether you’re in North America, Africa or Asia, if you’re looking for an aggressive fish that’s also good eating, give the Snakehead a try! You may be doing the area a favor by catching a few of these invasive fish. Happy fishing!