The beginners guide to eels

Mon 18 June 12


I doubt that there are few fish that swim that are as unpopular as eels. Most of us of a certain age can remember our childhood being full of bootlaces, the ultimate tackle tangler and days spent catching little but these little devils and so our prejudice is formed at an early age.

Moving on though the chances are that these days few younger anglers will have those issues, thanks largely to the plague that has caused the eel population of this country to drop by 98%. The eel is in trouble.

Because of the problems with the eel population it is no longer legal to take indeed to kill an eel, all fish must be returned alive. However this in itself can be an issue, because like that other catch of our youth, little perch, eels are well known for wolfing down baits without giving much in the way of an indication. The truth is though that on the whole eels are no more likely to do this than any other fish, just so long as you get your indication set up properly to register the slightest interest at the business end.

So what first off do eels feed upon? Well the simple answer to that is that eels are pretty catholic in their tastes. I have caught eels on everything from boilies to bread, but as far as serious eel fishing goes my bait choice is usually just two – worms or dead small fish. Here again the eel shows a somewhat curious ability as eels are known to adapt to the type of food available to them and their heads develop accordingly. Where small fish are the eel’s main prey, and then the eels tend to have a broader, wider head and those where invertebrates and the like are the main prey the eels develop a much narrower head. Of course in the first instance you cannot know what type of eel you are fishing for, though there will be clues in the populations of other species. A low stock of small fish would tend me to favour worms in the first instance and vice versa for dead baits.

Moving along to rigs it’s fair to say that there is little need for anything particularly fancy, particularly as eels are extremely strong fish that will very quickly find the inadequacy in any set up. Therefore I tend to try and keep my rigs as straightforward as possible. My rigs are based upon a simple, free running set up. To that end I use a simple fox leger stem with a 2-4oz lead upon it so that the lead doesn’t shift upon the take and a hooklength of either multi-strand wire or Kevlar catfish braid of about 12-18 inches. The wire trace I will use when using deadbaits or deadbait sections just in case a pike should happen along and would be around 30lb breaking strain tipped by a size 4 single hook in a strong, forged pattern such as a carp hook. For worms I tend not to use the wire, in case some other species should take an interest. Instead I use Kevlar catfish braid sold by catfish pro tackle in 40lb breaking strain. This braid is strong enough to resist the eel’s Velcro like teeth, and is very strong as of course it was developed with cats in mind, again tipped by a strong size 4 hook.

Of course a simple rig that’s trouble free can be let down if you don’t get your indication set up spot on. To that end I use a reliable front alarm such as the RX fox alarms on the vibration mode, coupled with either pike drop off bobbins or lightweight front bobbins. However I would quantify that by saying that really you want a resistance free indicator set up, so bobbins will need to be fished on a long drop, otherwise the eel will tend to drop the bait when it comes into contact with the baitrunner. There is an indicator system available called the rollover indicator system that is perfect for eels as it releases upon a take very easily and an open bail arm can be employed, but personally I found them a bit fiddly in use, so I use drop offs.

Finally tackle wise we should look at rods and reels. Pretty much any reel that will hold 150 yards of 15-20lb line will do for eels as we will not be using the baitrunner facility. Rods though are a little more important. As I mentioned earlier eels are a very strong fish, that also have the ability to be able to swim backwards and because of this a battle with a good eel can be very much like a tug of war. Personally I prefer to use a pike rod in the 3lb test curve area. I prefer pike rods to carp type rods as carp rods tend to be faster tapers and very stiff compared to a pike rod and this bend allows you to put more pressure on the eel and enjoy the fight.

Finally a word about handling eels. This is probably the aspect that worries anglers more than any with eel fishing. In reality though bigger eels are not the pain that smaller ones can be. Once you have landed your eel and laid it on your mat then cover its eyes with the netting and gently flip it onto its back. Once this is done gently run your fingers down the length of the eel’s body on both sides and eventually the eel will go limp and just lay there. In fact eels will stay that way until you uncover its eyes whereupon it will slowly come back to life. If needs be then just repeat the procedure and taking that snap won’t be the problem that you think!

Eels are pretty much the last of the undiscovered or pioneering fish in this country and despite the problems they can still be found pretty much anywhere and in any part of the country. Maybe this summer it might be worth taking a change and having a go for the last great challenge?

Tight Lines

Mark Barrett


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