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By Matt Johnson

For many anglers, the sight of a small bootlace hanging on the end of the line is enough to make them want to give up fishing, but to a small band of devoted anglers, nothing could be further from the truth…

The Eel is a remarkable fish, for this fish to swim in your local lake river etc, it has had to navigate the Atlantic Ocean and the estuary to reach it’s current home. The Eel is known to breed in the Sargasso Sea, just off the coast of Brazil at depths unattainable to the modern diving equipment, which is why no-one has ever seen the Eel mate with other Eels. The ‘glass like’ larvae float passively in the gulf stream heading towards Europe, where they will undergo the change to becoming a Eel. The Elver as it is known, will then travel in their thousands up the estuary and rivers before changing into mature Eels. The Eel will travel through many waterways looking for their resting place before succumbing to natures needs several years later. These waterways may be open to Eel, before becoming land locked, leaving the fish to grow before dying.

When the time arrives for the eel to return to the sea to breed, it will do everything it possibly can, to reach the sea, even leaving the water if finding itself trapped.You will find eels in 99% of British waters, though numbers will obviously be dictated by the access to streams and rivers, and often the unpleasant factor of the eel trapper or netsman. Netsmen have been known to empty a water of eels in several weeks, all for the sake of a few quid. What these greedy bastards don’t realise is that they are upsetting the balance of nature for their greed. The eel is a scavenger full stop, eating dead and decaying animals and fish, and without their presence the apple cart is rocked. Anyway, where to look for the eel? 

Waters should be mature enough to hold big eels, the older the better, as the eel would have had a chance to pile on the weight (fat chance with my luck). So, gravel pits, meres, farm ponds, lakes, rivers, canals, reservoirs, the list is endless just as long as the water is at least 20 years old, you should be OK. There are two types of Eel in British waters. The broad headed Eel, which has a full set of ‘needle like’ teeth in its mouth, and is a full on predator. The narrow headed Eel, has a smaller narrow head, and feeds almost exclusively on small water invertebrates such as snails and worms, and though it is not such a predator as it’s broad headed cousin, it does have sharp teeth.Location of the eel, is sadly not like carp fishing etc.

Eels very rarely show themselves, and in twenty five years, I have only seen eels swimming naturally twice. These were both on bright days, and all I saw was the eel moving through weedbeds looking for food, so location is hardly easy! What you should look for is gravel bars, snags, ‘deep oles’ as the legend goes!, plateaus, island shelves, etc. Fish to any feature where small fish hang out and other fish feed, and the eels will not be to far away.Tackle needs to be good quality with a capital Q. Standard carp/pike rods and reels will be fine, though the rods should be fast taper to help set the hooks at long range, as eel fishing does not involve self hooking rigs, but does involve fishing at range with small baits and big leads. Reels need to have a good tight clutch setting as no line should be given to a fighting eel under any circumstance. A baitrunner facility is unnecessary, as all fishing should be done with an open spool. A wide spool is a necessity to aid the eel taking free line smoothly. Line needs to be a good quality type with good abrasion qualities, and have a breaking strain of at least 14lbs. A huge deep landing net is advisable, as these fish swim backwards out of shallow ones, trust me, I know! Go for a 44" net, though some of the catfish nets are excellent for eels being long and skinny. Bite indicators should not be the magnetic roller type as I have found that line not under any tension will not activate the buzzer, so go for a Optonic style indicator or the Delkim which works on vibration. Do not use swingers or hangers for indication of a run, as they will cause the eel to drop the bait when the line pulls out of the clip. My personal favorite is a bright yellow bottle top hung gently on the line between the butt ring and reel.

When the fish takes line, the bottle top falls off, giving the eel resistance free line to take with an open bail arm. I think Lemon Sqeazy bottle tops are the best eel bobbins ever, and members of the British Eel Anglers Club and National Anguilla Club can’t be wrong. Wire traces should be used for all eel fishing regardless of whether you are using deadbaits or worms. All eels have teeth and can make short work of nylon and braid. I have even lost a big eel at the net after it finally bit through my seven strand wire trace, though this is an exception, as they normally don’t do this, though this fish had not read the rule book! Quicksilver is also to be avoided especially if there are pike in the water, as they will make short work of this. I have landed pike to high doubles while eel fishing even on worms, and would not stood a hope in hell of landing them had I not been using wire, so don’t risk it! Hooks are a personal choice, though I don’t think you can go wrong with the Drennan Super Specialist, or the Jack Hilton Carp hook from Partridge, as they are both strong, and remain sharp for ages.Other essential items of the eel fisherman besides a sense of humour is forceps to aid the unhooking process, an unhooking mat to protect the fish on hard banks, a torch for all the night fishing which you will have to do, weigh sling and scales, carp sacks with a secure zip!!!! and a camera to take a photo of your prized fish, and a towel to wipe yourself clean after the event.

Rigs should be un-complicated and allow the taking of line with out any resistance being felt by the fish. The hook trace should be at least 12" long and attached to the main line using a good quality swivel. The lead should be attached to the main line using a weak link, so should it become snagged it will break before the main line does. Dead baits can be used whole of half, preferring the head half myself due to the fish oils and juices being able to escape freely. The hooking arrangements for deadbaits is as follows:Head only-hook through the eye socket,Tail only-hook through tail root,Whole fish-hook through eye socket.I have found the best size of deadbait for eels is a 2oz fish. My favorite deadbaits in order are Gudgeon, Dace, Roach, Bleak, Rudd, Tench, Skimmer Bream, Crucian Carp, Perch and finally Eel section. Small livebaits will also catch eels, and some of my best fish have fallen to small livebaits fished below the surface on moon lit nights. Livebaits fished on free roaming rigs work well, though can be a pain to watch all night.

I have found that suspending small live baits below the surface using a ledger rig with a small poly ball attached to the trace which pops up the bait to the surface is fine, and I have actually seen eels attacking the bait in the early hours of the morning, before getting screaming runs from the Eel as it takes the bait. This is even more exciting than floater fishing for carp! Worms are the traditional bait for the humble Eel, and the more you can get on the hook, the better. I fish with 3 or 4 lobworms on the hook, with the ends broken off to allow the scent to waft in the underwater currents to attract the Eel. Other baits which catch eels, though not normally associated with Eel fishing include cheese, meat, maggots, liver, bacon strips and squid. All these baits are worth trying, if only for the novelty value!When you finally catch an Eel, the fun, one assumes will begin.

Eels are notoriously difficult to handle, and you may end up getting covered in slime, but the bigger the fish, the more docile it is. Everyone has caught small Eels that wrap themselves around anything and everything, but trust me one the Eels get over the 2lb mark they become easy to un-hook. Once the fish has been landed, take the Eel still in the landing net away from the water, and place it on the un-hooking mat still in the landing net. Let the Eel calm down for a minute, before turning the Eel over onto it’s back. By doing this, the Eel will stop wriggling and calm down. The stroking of the fish along the length of the fishes body is also encouraged to help calm down the fish. Using the forceps remove the hook, though should the fish be deep hooked, cut the trace as near to the mouth as possible. Turn the Eel back to its normal position, as if the fish is left on it’s back IT WILL DIE. If you require a photograph of the Eel, place it in a carp sack while getting the camera ready, making sure the sack is in deep water. The longer a fish is left in the sack, the longer it will have to recover from the ordeal of capture, and be a pain on the bank when it comes to photography, so photograph the fish as soon as possible. I have found that a wet towel draped over the eels head helps calm the fish down, along with the continual stroking of the fishes body while it lies on its back (sorry its rather pornographic), the photographing will be easy if you follow these easy steps. Once the fish has been caught, weighed and photographed, it should be released un-harmed to the water. The ages of these fish can be anything up to 100 years old, so treat the Eel with the respect it deserves.

The future of Eel fishing is under threat from the trappers, so if you ever find traps or nets in a water, check with the water authority to see if the bastards have a licence. Be careful though if you remove the trap yourself, as a fist in the face is not pleasant, though the pain may be sweeter if you know the population of eels in the water are going to survive!  




(C) Baintonfisheries.co.uk, 29 May, 2014 . All rights reserved, no reproduction without prior permission

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