Invasive species are no laughing matter. But the giant spots, blade-like tail and small head of a clown knifefish might make you chuckle. Native to Southeast Asia, the colorful and strange clown knifefish came to America through the aquarium trade. Owners didn’t realize that the small fish they bought at the pet store would grow over three-feet long. When the knifefish are too big for their aquarium, some people released them into Southeast Florida lakes and canals. Kayak anglers Alberto Knie and Eric McDonald share their secrets to scoring a big clown knifefish that puts up an epic fight.

How to Catch Clown Knifefish

Expert Anglers

Alberto Knie (AK)

Tactical Anglers, St. Croix, Penn Fishing, Abu Garcia
Lake Ida, Lake Osborne, Florida

Eric McDonald (EM)

Pro guide, Hobie Top Gun
Palm Beach County, Florida

Find the Fish

AK: Clown knifefish are nocturnal feeders, but the areas where they live are infested with poisonous snakes and alligators. Look for the fish in shade under a bridge or dock.

EM: Deep lakes and canals, especially ledges and drops. Clowns love overgrown canals where they can hide in the vegetation. The territorial fish will stick to the same spot. Look for the fish gulping air on the surface.

Weather and Water

AK: Best to fish on overcast days at dawn and dusk. The fish can stand water with low-oxygen levels.

EM: The tropical fish prefer warm water, but are most active on cool days or dawn and dusk.

clown knifefish swim underwater
“In school, I was always the class clown.” | Feature photo: Shutterstock

Clown Knifefish Tactics

AK: Suspending minnows, crankbaits and jerkbaits will get bites when the fish are feeding aggressively.

EM: Casting Live Target lures into the shadows under docks and over hangs. Slow trolling a live shiner on a small hook. Paddle from one dock to another casting soft plastics and crankbaits.

Rod and Reel

AK: To pull big, spastic fish from the structure, use a seven-foot St. Croix Avid rod, Abu Garcia Revo Inshore 2INS35.

EM: Six-foot, medium-action rod short enough to pass under bridges and 3000-series reel.

Line and Leader

AK: For live bait, #1 hook, 30-inches of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader, 12 pound mainline. Hook the baitfish in the corner of the mouth to keep it lively. Add a split shot to get bait to the bottom.

EM: 20-pound braided line followed by three feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon.

Lures and Bait

AK: For lures, two-inch and four-inch suspending or deep-diving minnows. For live bait, shiners.

EM: Live Target lures. Small shiner on a small 2/0 hook.

Tips and Tricks

AK: Patience and more patience. Clown knifefish are finicky and cautious. Expect a slow pick. Work the lure or bait slowly, close to the bottom.

EM: Use a net to land knifefish. They are slippery with sharp teeth. Watch out, they can swim backwards.

cover of Kayak Angler Magazine, Fall 2017 issueThis article was first published in the Fall 2017 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

“In school, I was always the class clown.” | Feature photo: Shutterstock



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