Fishing Methods for Catching Eels
The average-sized eel is mostly taken during daylight simply because this is when they are fished for. Few anglers fish for eel during the hours of darkness. But it is when dusk sets in that eels really begin to roam around and the bigger specimens come out of their hiding places. All-night fishing, in my experience at least, does not pay off. The best times are the hour or so after dusk and before dawn. Eels seem to go off during the period in
between. Most other eel fishermen with whom I have discussed this are of the same opinion.
Weather conditions are another important factor. Bright moonlight nights, for instance, are to be avoided, for eels do not seem to move then. So also are nights when the temperature drops suddenly or a cold wind springs up. Your choice should be dark, warm nights — the darker the better.
Take only essentials with you. Apart from the actual fishing gear, you should take the following : a good torch, a sharp knife, a pair of angler’s scissors, a strong sack, and a piece of string.
Take a companion with you if you can. It is no joke hooking an outsize eel in the dark when on your own. Handling the eel is quite enough for one person. Your companion can hold the torch.
Mount your hooks at home before leaving, or at least get to the water in plenty of time to do the job before dusk sets in. A dozen hooks should be sufficient. Mount a link-springto each hook length and put your baited hooks in a good tin box. This is a wise precaution, for I have known anglers who have laid the baits down beside them without such protection only to find that rats have made away with some.
Use a good rod rest or even a pair of rests after casting out. There are a number of ways in which you can detect bites. You can do it by sticking a piece of white paper on the side of the reel, or by laying a piece of light-coloured wool between the handles, or you can hold the line between your finger and thumb and feel the bite. I prefer the last, as it gives you an earlier indication and saves all fuss and eye strain. Some anglers I know clip a rod bell, as used in sea fishing, to the end of the rod. In addition there are, of course, a number of quite efficient bite detectors on the market, including electric.
When you get a bite, do not be in too great a hurry to strike, for many good eels have been lost that way. Usually you will find that a few turns are taken off the reel, then the eel stops. Then a few more turns and another stop. The eel then has the bait in its mouth and away it goes taking off line really fast. It is during this period that you must curb the tendency to strike.
Wait until it stops. Strike when it makes another run.
If good fortune is with you and the eel is well and truly hooked, it is then that the fun begins. You do not play eels, giving them a sporting chance as you would with other fish. The aim is simply to get the fish out of the water as quickly as possible, and you will be surprised how hard a big eel can pull. Exert maximum pressure all the time, keeping a tight line, and keep winding so as not to allow the eel to go down. If it once manages to get down to the bottom, more often than not you can count the battle as lost.
Your rod may be stout enough to lift the eel safely. If so, then wind up as tightly as you can, and grasp the line tightly to the rod, or alternatively hold the reel drum firmly and lift the eel straight out. This you can do with eels of medium weight. If your rod has not enough lifting power or the eel is too strong then you have to employ other means.
If the bank is low or gently sloping it is possible to slide the eel up. If, however, your bank is on the steep side, a good landing-net is a great help. It needs to be fitted with a long, stout handle, a big ring, and a net of good quality and small mesh. Here, too, that companion can be of real service.
When big-eel fishing at night, you do not waste time by trying to take the hooks out in the dark. This is where the sack and the scissors come in. With those eels you can manage to lift out on the rod, you get your companions to hold the mouth of the sack open, raise the eel until it is suspended over the sack, snip the line just above the hook, and drop it in. Tie the mouth of the sack tightly and there you are. You can bang the eel on the head in the sack, or at least try to, for eels take a lot of killing. With eels too big to lift out on the rod, grasp the line about 30 cm (1 ft) above the fish, and again lift it up and into the mouth of the sack.
To attach your line to the swivel on another baited hook length, either make another loop or use a half-blood knot. But remember — not less than six turns before you thread back through and pull tight.
To what size do eels grow in this country? It is a difficult question to answer. If old records can be believed, there have been some real monsters — eels, for instance, of well over 9 kg (201b).
There are eels to be taken which could raise the record weight very considerably. I am sure of this from personal experience, having seen three eels in my part of the country quite capable of breaking the record by a considerable margin.
The first was one I hooked while fishing a clay pit for pike. It was possibly the largest of the three. It took the live-bait at one go and, after a long struggle, escaped just when it seemed on the point of defeat. I should say it was the equal of a number of conger I have taken around the 6.7 kg (15 lb) mark.
The second I found dead on the surface of a good-sized pond. It was not marked in any way, and had apparently died from natural causes. On a spring balance which had been tested and found not far out, it weighed 4.7 kg (11 lb).
The third had brought about its own downfall. It had been hooked by an angler and broken away, taking with it a length of stout gut,which had become entangled around a snag. It must have freed itself later, but died afterwards, for next day I found it close in to the side. Rats had eaten at least a third of the body from the head downwards. As the remainder weighed over 3.5 kg (8 lb) this eel must have been around the 5 kg (12 lb) mark.
Many anglers fish for normal-sized eels for the table. When it comes to a matter of calories, even the salmon with 1,173 per 450 g or 1 lb has to take second place to the eel, with 1,635. As for other freshwater fish, none of these has more than 500 per 450 g or 1 lb.
Eels are, of course, found not only in fresh water but in coastal shallows also. Good-sized silver eels are to be found in the sea itself, especially in the region of estuaries.