Eel - (Anguilla anguilla)
Eels are very easy to identify with their snake like appearance and narrow pointed head. They have a dark colouring across their back and flanks which gives way to a creamy coloured belly.
Their dorsal fin stretches all the way around the tail to join the anal fin, which gives it its incredible propulsion, not only forward, but in reverse!
The reproduction cycle of the eel is one of nature’s most spectacular and it begins in the Sargasso Sea which is a region of the North Atlantic surrounded by powerful currents. Once born, the eel larvae use the North Atlantic Drift as transport to Western Europe, such is the power of this current, it only takes the small larvae around 300 days to make the long journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the estuaries of Western Europe.
During the later stage of the journey to Europe, the eel larvae metamorphose into another larval stage, and are then known as Glass Eels. They remain in this stage until they enter the brackish waters of estuaries, whereupon they change once more into a small version of their adult state, these small eels are commonly known as Elvers. These small Elvers travel upstream and frequent the freshwater system until they reach puberty, which for males is believed to between 6-12 years and females around 9-18 years. It is at this stage that the eel undertakes yet another change, their flanks become silver in appearance and its belly white, this is known as the Silver Eel. It is at this stage that the eel makes its way back to the Sargasso Sea. It is commonly thought that the change in pressure at depth is what makes the eel produce the final hormones needed for the last stage in developing their sexual organs.
Although exact location of the spawning grounds in the Sargasso sea remains a mystery, it is thought that eels spawn at depths of around 400-700m and produce over a million eggs. Once hatched these small larvae begin the miraculous cycle once again.
Natural Diet & Common Baits
The eel is a true scavenger and opportunist, it uses its terrific sense of smell to locate its natural diet which consist of live & dead fish, frogs, insects and decaying plant matter.
Some of the best baits to use whilst fishing for eels are large lob worms or small dead baits, maggots do work well, but can become unusable due to nuisance fish.
Eels are nocturnal feeders and very fond of areas which can provide them with cover, places to look out for are any tree roots which enter the water or any other significant under water snags like fallen trees. Steep drop offs and bridges are also good areas to target due to the cover they provide.
Tackle & Tips
- Any carp rod of around 10-12ft with a 2 - 2.5lb test curve will be sufficient for eel fishing at close to medium range.
- A good bait runner type reel loaded with 10-12lb monofilament or 20lb braid will handle all situations of eel fishing.
- Eels have teeth & that means they can soon make short work of mono or braid, and for this reason it is advisable to use a wire trace when fishing for them, especially If pike are present and you are using a fish dead bait.
- You will need to use fairly large hooks when fishing for eels, a size 6 hook with a wide gape is a good starting point.
- Any bite indication should be struck straight away when eel fishing as eels tend to wolf down their food which can lead to deep hooking - Always make sure your bite indication is as sensitive as possible to eliminate this risk.
- Before handling eels, always make sure you have water to hand to wet your hands and the eel. Handling with dry hands or cloth will remove the protective layer of slime which the fish needs as a defence against disease and parasites.
- The tighter you hold an eel the harder they will fight, so gripping tightly to an eel is not a great way to handle the fish as most of their vital organs are found just behind the head and gripping tightly here can cause lasting damage to the fish.
- Unhooking eels can be a problem, they are powerful and they wriggle, which means it can feel like a wrestling match. The easiest way to unhook an eel is to lay it down on an unhooking mat, wet your hands and gently stroke the sides of the eel, this should help calm the eel and give you time to see where the hook is placed. If this fails and the eel is still boisterous, try covering its head with a wet cloth.
- If the above techniques do not work, try moving the eel onto its back and then straighten it out. This position puts the eel into a trance like state which makes unhooking easier - do not leave the eel in this position for prolonged periods, as this can cause real lasting damage to the fish.
- Using strong narrow forceps to unhook eels is recommended, as using a disgorger can cause damage to organs found behind the head if you begin to poke around for your hook.
- If you find the eel has swallowed the hook and it cannot be seen, do not attempt to root around for the hook as this will inevitable cause damage to the fish. It’s recommended to cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Eels have been known to either pass the hook or regurgitate it with the bait attached. To eliminate the problem of deep hooking, strike all bites as quickly as possible.