Fishing with Jon Leavitt

DockTalk365 Virginia

Jon Leavitt is an Instagrammer who recently moved from Virignia to Vermont. Wherever he goes, he takes great photos of the fish he catches. While on his Instagram page, I found an interesting quote from him that complimented snakeheads as an exciting east coast freshwater fish to target. While I know fishing for invasive species is always controversial, Jon makes some very good points about why they can be exciting to fish for. Even if you don’t see the same beauty Jon sees in snakeheads, the interview also has great info on the Jackson CoosaHD kayak and smallmouth bass fishing.

Can you describe the beauty of a snakehead when up close and personal?
Man that is a good question! In three words: Curious, Alpha and Exotic!

Its not uncommon for you to be fishing and you look down and you’ve got a snakehead in arms reach just staring at you. They have zero fear once they are 15 to 16 inches long, other than birds of prey which are plentiful on the Potomac River, and by nature makes them exceptionally curious. Snakeheads have small eyes compared to their body size which consequently makes for poor eyesight, so to make up for that they have these little “holes” all over their head and mouth, the little “holes” are for picking up vibrations in the water. If you think about where they come from, South East Asia is a very wet place with lots of muddy rivers, and it makes sense why they cue in on any disturbances in the water especially topwater!

Being a curious and alpha natured fish makes targeting them more of a “hunt” rather than fishing trip. Silence is an absolute must with snakehead fishing. As I said before, they are tuned to vibrations in the water, which means any unnecessary noises can ruin an area. I also think that’s why glitter boats have a hard time consistently catching them. They just make too much noise and cant get shallow enough. A kayak’s ability to get in the ultra shallow water while making almost zero noise is what makes them an effective snakehead fishing platform.

They have been a very hot topic over the years because they are an invasive species but so far the scientific studies conducted by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are pointing to a minimal impact at best to the Potomac and her tributaries. I have from the beginning been a proponent of embracing these guys and trying to stop the indiscriminate killing driven by media hysteria and bad information. It’s a very rare thing to have a new gamefish with minimal impact be successful enough to support a game fishery.

They are beautiful to the beholder is what I’ve learned. To be perfectly honest if you were to show a picture of a snakehead to 10 people on the street, 8 are gonna say its an ugly fish. I see something different! They have some of the prettiest patterns I’ve ever seen on a fish, especially females. It is very reminiscent of an alligator’s color and pattern. They are 80% big, muscular and powerful tail and 20% head and jaw. Their jaw is exceptionally strong and with a very hard boney head. Bent hooks and thrashed gear is not uncommon. They have teeth which remind me of T-rex teeth but much smaller in size which makes them sharp!

So what you end up with is a curious almost intelligent fish who prefers hunting on topwater and is incredibly powerful. Throw in that all bass anglers have lures in their arsenal right now that will catch snakehead and you have what I called the most exciting freshwater fish on the east coast.

What makes you say they are the most exciting fish on the east coast, especially as a kayak angler?

Not to split hairs but I said “most exciting freshwater fish on the east coast.” I would be hard pressed to compare them to a marlin, tarpon or redfish. The reason I think they are the most exciting is their unpredictability, snakeheads are ambush predators and will seemingly strike out of nowhere. Sometimes you will see them crashing bait or creating a wake looking for food but their strikes are intense and violent. It is imperative that the angler is always ready for when the strike happens. Their fight tends to be lots of head thrashing and death rolls but because you are catching them in extreme shallow water there is not a lot of room for them to make long runs which means most of the time they are still “green” when you land them.

Typically the snakehead goes from thrashing and death rolls to puppy dog gentle in the blink of an eye but don’t let that fool you. I’ve always said “there is no such thing as being in control of a snakehead” and that is especially true when they are in your net or in your boat. When unhooking a snakehead they will burst back into fight mode instantly with zero warning. I’ve been slapped in the face with tails, head butted, cameras knocked off mounts, and rods snapped in two. This is the main reason I do not use treble hooks…I can barely control them with one hook let alone six.

They are Houdini like with their ability to escape nets, fish grips…I’ve had them turn a pair of expensive grips into bent up pieces…and I’ve even had one break a stringer.  The most effective way I have come up with to control them is by using a saltwater hand gaff which I stick into the lower part of their jaw. This doesn’t hurt the fish but keeps it and myself safe until I can release it.

Speaking of your kayak, what is your current rig?

I paddle the Jackson CoosaHD and it is my favorite kayak I’ve ever had for its ability to adapt to pretty much any situation! The CoosaHD has the same qualities as the regular Coosa with being a great river boat but it’s a little wider which has allowed me to take it into large lakes, the Chesapeake Bay and even into the ocean on occasion…although it has to be a pretty calm day for me to take any kayak into the ocean. I would say its biggest strength is its versatility for different water scenarios. I have felt very comfortable in it on rivers with substantial rapids and it does pretty good in the wind. It has high/low seating positions so on windy days I can easily drop the seat to the deck which helps with the most hated weather of any kayak angler and that is the wind!

What could be improved for your kayak fishing?

I think every kayak angler would like his/her boat to be faster. So I would say if there was a way to make it faster without losing its stability and comfort I’d be all for it. But I think that would be impossible without giving up stability or comfort.

What accessories have you added to make it a fishing machine?

I didn’t do much to my CoosaHD other than add Railblaza’s Starport System to multiple points on my boat and this was for the intention of filming. The Starport System allows me to quickly move my cameras around the boat for unique angles while still being safely secured. The majority of add ons or modifications I’ve made to my boat has been for the sole purpose of creating different camera angles for my videos and pictures.

What are your favorite in-state Kayak waters to fish?

If we are talking about Virginia, its hands down the Potomac river. The Potomac is definitely in a class of few with its wide variety of fish to target. It has striper that come up all the way to DC to spawn, some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the state, a huge population of largemouth bass, enormous blue catfish, and at its mouth its not uncommon to get into redfish and speckled trout at certain times of the year.

If we are talking about my new home in Vermont it has to be the thousands of small lakes that dot the entire state. Most of these are unknown to the general public and have very little fishing pressure on them. In the short time I have been here, I have fished a small percentage of them and have had multiple personal bests with smallmouth and northern pike. I am really looking forward to what more Vermont has to offer because so far she has been spectacular!

What do you consider the second most exciting fish on the east coast?

This is a hard one because they are all exciting when they are tugging at the end of your line! I would have to say musky, which is funny because I have not actually landed one. Musky are my nemesis I have targeted them dozens of times and with the exception of a few follows and even fewer hookups they have managed to thwart my every attempt at landing one. The repeated failure with these guys just makes me want to go after them more and more, I also seem to get extra pumped when fishing for them because they have beat me so many times!

My second favorite that I have caught is the smallmouth bass, pound for pound not many fish fight harder! They unlike their lazier cousins the largemouth bass typically live in an environment that requires them to be ruggedly tough fish.

What are your favorite methods to catch smallmouth?

For smallmouth my favorite bait is a tube! There is something about the way a tube looks in the water that drives smallmouth crazy throughout the entire year. Its very easy to fish and has out fished other baits 10 to 1 the majority of the time! My confidence in them is just like any other of my favorite baits, all it takes is for me to have one good day with them and then I will spend the time to figure out how to fish it most effectively.

You take some impressive photos along your fishing journey. What camera are you using to capture these photos?

Being typically by myself fishing the GoPro has been the most effective camera for hero shots. I usually carry at least three strategically placed around my boat where I think the action is going to happen. The GoPros with their very wide field of view make missing a shot rare, the GoPro 4 is my favorite because it allows me to shoot in 1080 at 120fps which gives me butter smooth slow motion shots and those are the most captivating. I also carry a Nikon d5200 with a 55-200mm lens, the camera is a older model but still takes amazing shots and the lens allows me to shoot from far away but it looks like i’m right on top of what I’m shooting.

Thank you Jon. Such great stuff. I can’t wait until you get better acquainted with all of those Vermont waters for a follow up interview. 

Make sure to check out all of Jon’s great photos on Instagram.