The river close season in England can do strange things to an angler it does however provide the opportunity to experiment and have a go at new and different species. Now of course I seize all those opportunities because I love fishing and any type of fishing to although I am very biased towards predators. There’s something about catching predators that just hits the spot for me and I have often been asked “why predators?” and indeed it’s a question that I also ask myself. The answer is incredibly difficult to put into words at least concisely anyway and to keep it as simple as I can I would have to say it’s because there is something that is incredibly savage about catching predators. Predators are usually top of their food chain and when I was a boy I used to love birds and even back then birds of prey were my favourite and to this very day the Peregrine Falcon is still my favourite species of bird (after my wife and Kylie of course) and I’m fortunate enough to live where there are breeding pairs that I see every year. So whether it’s with lures or baits catching predatory fish is my forte and I absolutely love it and l live it. Also as an observation it would seem that predatory fish can also be perhaps a little scorned by some other anglers and for some strange reason I like that idea perhaps because I’ve never been one to follow the crowds. So be it wrasse, perch, trout, zander and my very own personal favourite the pike then I love to fish for them and just recently I’ve added a new species to that list and that’s what I would like to share with readers here.
Anguilla Anguilla – The European Eel
The European eel is an unmistakable fish in freshwater. With its snake like long body the eel really is an amazing creature with an incredible story to tell. They can live up to 50 years in our rivers, canals, ponds and larger still waters before being stimulated to return to the sea usually on dark moonless nights when they leave their watery lairs, crawl across fields, enter our rivers and migrate to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda to breed. The body is usually brown in colour with yellow or white down the flanks and the heads have developed into two types, one shovel shaped and larger for being predominantly fish eaters and the other smaller with a smaller mouth for feeding on small invertebrates etc. From an angling point of view they seem to be a species that people either love or hate and it would appear that most hate them probably due to bad experience’s with “snotty lines” and incredible tangles that the smaller eels are experts at and consequently they are experts at putting anglers off them for life.
Of course that said there are the special few that love them and whilst they are an incredibly difficult species to locate due to most captures being accidental rather than targeted then from what I can gather hunting specimen eels is mostly fishing for ghosts as they lead very secretive lives and anglers never really know to any serious degree the extent of the populations in the waters that they fish. There are however signs to look out for and they are a predator and a serious one at that and this certainly drew my attention to them. Of course the fact they are somewhat scorned, overlooked, under-appreciated and a little different from the norm for want of better words helped to.
A Feeling (or eeling, pun intended)
I have never fished for eels before specifically and have always caught mine like most anglers usually as a complete surprise on lakes by accident rather than by design. However a puzzle presented itself to me recently and it was one I determined to solve. It started off with a nagging feeling or intuition if you like and one that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. It started at a lake towards the end of March when I went to have a go for pike and to use up some small dead baits that I had left over. During the four hour session I managed a few pike and these as in previous years were quite skinny and not in great condition which always surprised me as I know this lake holds good numbers of baitfish and other specimen species of fish. So this was the first part of the puzzle which just didn’t add up or make any sense as the pike should be in a much healthier condition than the ones I always caught even taking spawning and other contributing factors into consideration. Of course before I had always lure fished it however on this particular day I had dead’s out. One on a simple running ledger rig and one float fished with snap tackle. As I fished I caught a few pike on both methods but I had an incredible amount of dropped runs or missed takes as when I struck there would be nothing there and this was puzzling. I intuitively knew that it wasn’t pike or perch and on this particular venue I could rule out crayfish, zander and trout but I was baffled as to what was happening. On the occasions I got my baits back I couldn’t even really see any evidence of a take yet it was without doubt takes that I was getting. This of course got me thinking and got me frustrated and it was only towards the end of the session that I had that eureka moment where it dawned on me, eels. It all suddenly made sense well in theory anyway. The pike were in poor condition because I thought there must a good number of eels in this lake judging by the amount of takes and from different area’s and they must be competing with the pike for food. The eel has an exceptional sense of smell and when a fish dies I guessed they were first to it which combined with the amount of dropped takes and missed runs supported my theory and I made a mental note to get back there when the temperatures warmed up.
The Day of Reckoning
In early May I had the opportunity for a short four hour session in between the school runs and instead of heading off to the coast with the lure rod I decided to put my theory to the test. Heading off to Tesco’s I bought £0.68p worth of sprats which was probably around 25 small baits and excitedly rushed off to the lake.
I had one setup on a running ledger rig again although this time with a single hook attached to a wire trace and a Fladen float set up for pike that I was setting at about 12ft. I used wire as I knew there were pike in the lake plus eels could potentially bite through line as well and trust me this is sage advice. It is always wise when targeting other predators to use wire and good strong line especially in the warmer months when fishing waters that contain pike as any take could be one and wire will stop you from being bitten off and the strong line allows you to get fish in and returned quickly without exhausting them.
So I was ready for my first ever attempt at targeting eels and to be honest my expectations were low as this was just a hunch that my intended target was even present and tactically I had no experience at all plus I was fishing for them in broad daylight which is not the optimum time. Still if you have a line in the water then you always have a chance as they only thing that is certain in fishing is that you won’t catch at home and I did have enthusiasm and simplicity on my side. I’m a great believer in keeping things simple when it comes to fishing and I’m a huge fan of Fladen’s very own slogan “anyone can fish” so arriving at the lake it was time to put my theory to the test.
I cast out my float with half a sprat and chose the half containing the head as I’ve often heard that eels like fish heads especially small roach, sprats etc. and then proceeded to set up my bottom rod with a bite alarm and drop back indicator. Again I had heard or read somewhere that eels are very particular to resistance and therefore the least resistance possible was best i.e. using the bait runner would cause them to drop the bait and again this was already backed up by my experiences back in March. So as I set up the second rod I was amazed to see my pike float bob and then slowly disappear. I thought to myself “unbelievable, I’ve only had a bait in for ten minutes; it couldn’t be, could it?” Striking immediately I was in and to a good fish to but as to what sort I wasn’t sure. It gave a good account of itself and took line off my clutch but as I started to gain line back on it I knew that something was different. My braid was gyrating strangely in a semi-circular motion cutting through the water and I held my breath as I realised that this was an eel and a good one at that. After a few minutes I had the eel to the surface and I was praying I didn’t lose it and I couldn’t believe my luck as the fish I was playing looked to be well over 5lb’s and my mind was screaming that must be 7-8lb’s. Then it happened, that short twang and the feeling that vibrates up the braid and the fish was off. Trust me I lack the vocabulary to explain just how sick I felt and the words I did have are certainly not to be repeated her but I guess you can imagine.
Even now writing this I feel that loss deep down in the pit of my stomach and it still haunts me. Of course this happens in angling and is part of the territory and you have to pick yourself, dust yourself and start all over again but I was wounded, ten minutes in, a huge eel and I only bloody lost it! Thankfully though the fishing Gods smiled down upon me and within the next ten minutes I had a smaller eel in the net but I had broken my cherry and caught my first eel by design.
What transpired over the next few hours were six eels banked on both set up’s, lots of dropped runs and missed takes and an amazing session which had constant action and was great fun.
It was great hearing my alarms go and I was sitting right on top of the rods for the whole session again as eels can be notorious for being deep hooked and I’m pleased to report that not one was and all the fish caught were returned safely, including my new PB.
Reflecting back on it now I’m smiling as it really was great fun, the self takes were a nightmare and there was snot all over my lines and me. My landing net well let’s just say I’m scared to get it out next time I go fishing I as it looks like “slimer” from Ghostbusters passed through it. Oh and my theory well suffice to say I was right and I genuinely believe or I have another feeling that I’ve only scratched the tip of this particular iceberg and my eel fishing career is only just beginning. Like “Arnie” in the Terminator you can rest assured that I will be back!
Big up the eel!