Face to face with a bear (eel article, entry 46)

As we are now on the run-in to June 16th, I have decided to have a mini-campaign in pursuit of eels. The eel is one species that I have not targeted before, and for a while I have really wanted to have a crack at catching some decent ones. Therefore there is every chance that between now and the middle of June I can catch a personal best, which with my current top eel under 2lb, shouldn’t really present that much of a challenge. Well, at least that’s the verdict ‘on paper’ anyway!

Eels are unlike any other fish in that you simply don’t know where they are. Bream, tench, barbel and the like can all be located. Whether it be rolling fish, streams of bubbles from the bed of the lake, or just simple observation on a sunny day with a pair of polaroids, any angler can very quickly identify the whereabouts of his target species, and also the numbers and size in many cases.

But with eels that is not the case. They give out absolutely no signs of their presence, in fact, think of the last time you even saw an eel swimming in water. I never have, I don’t know about you. As for feeding, or any other indication to their presence – forget it! In addition, whilst you see anglers out and about who are obviously targeting a particular species, the specimen eel angler is almost as elusive as the quarry.

Hence, it was with a certain amount of excitement that I began to prepare for a concentrated mini-campaign in pursuit of Anguilla Anguilla. I did my homework in terms of preparation, and chose, for my first venue, a small pool located not too far from where I live, in the county of my birth – Worcestershire.

Arriving at dusk, as the last of the day anglers were leaving, I set up in a peg that enabled me to fish a couple or so feet from the bank in eight feet of water. I was fishing two rods, and for bait I fished half a gudgeon – the head on one and the tail on the other. Waste not, want not, as they say!

With a dry night predicted I was content to lie ‘under the stars’, literally just inches from the rods. Stretching out, even if I dozed off, I would be on the rod within seconds. Certainly when I’m fishing I am a very light sleeper, and find that I am always alert and ready for action. As can be seen from the photograph, I was fishing with a minimum of resistance involved.

I was using a tiny bomb, free running on the line, and I took all the weights from the hanger. Eels are very sensitive when it comes to resistance, but of course you can only go so far. The last thing you want to do is end up with a deep hooked fish. Therefore I tightened up just enough to keep in touch with what was going on beneath the water, yet at the same time offering as little resistance as possible.

Throughout the night I was getting mini-runs, small pick-ups whereby the buzzer would go for a second or two and then nothing, as the fish dropped the bait. I strongly suspected that carp were the culprits, as this particular lake has a large head of small to medium carp. And because I was fishing with a single hook through the bait, plus the minimum resistance, it was easy for the fish to reject the bait in a way that they couldn’t with a hair rig/bolt rig set up.

My suspicions were confirmed at first light, when I had a screaming run that saw me set the hook into a fish, that was by now racing off for the middle of the lake. Immediately I knew that I had hooked a carp, and after a very healthy fight, I netted a common. Caught on wire trace and a gudgeon tail, it is hardly orthodox carp fishing is it! Still, after my recent run of five bream blanks, although it wasn’t my target species, at least I hadn’t blanked!

However, it is always encouraging when you actually catch your target species, and I can report that I did just that on my second session of the week. It was a scorcher of a day, weather-wise, and with a low of 11C overnight, plus the dry spell we were in, I decided to put my bed chair at the side of the lake and again fish ‘under the stars’.

I did doze off, but just after 11.00 p.m. I was woken by a couple of bleeps on the right hand rod. Striking into the fish, I found myself connected with an eel. Laying it on the unhooking mat, I was encouraged to see that it was hooked in the mouth, therefore making detachment an easy job. If anything I prefer to strike early, and risk losing a fish, rather than get a deep hooked one.

Weighing it, I was certainly very happy to see the read-out go to 1-10-12. Whilst I would like to catch one over 2lb, I was certainly not disappointed. After all, it was a new personal best. I’m sure any experienced eel anglers will not get that excited over the size of this capture, but as we all know in fishing, size of fish is relative. For me, where I am at the moment in regard to eels – this is a good fish!

The rest of the night proved quite busy, with regular bleeps. I ended up with another three eels – the best at 15oz – and two common carp! With three carp so far in two sessions, maybe gudgeon heads or tails should replace boilies as the in-bait! Oh, and forget the technical rigs – a wire trace will do!

Once the sun was up, it was time to pack away and head for home. Turning the corner of the field, I was confronted with a badger. It was no more than two metres away, rooting around in the grass, which was still wet with the morning dew. It was so pre-occupied with the insects, slugs and worms that it was almost as if I was invisible. I stood there motionless for a good minute before it disappeared into the undergrowth.

It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a badger before. And did you know, although badgers are now classified in the weasel family, at one time they were grouped together with bears, hence the title! But believe me, if I had seen a real bear, I wouldn’t have stood there watching it!

(Originally published May 2004)

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