Wanting to make the most of the summer months, I have decided to switch my attentions for a short time to a species that is not very high on most anglers’ list of favourite fish – the eel. I’m sure there are not many among us that have not caught a ‘bootlace’ in our time, particularly if you fish rivers with maggots during summer. The lower Severn is wall-to-wall eels and that’s one of the reasons why, when barbel fishing, that I use boilies.
But it’s not rivers that I am going to be fishing over the next month or so, but stillwaters, and particularly those that are in close proximity to a watery vein. As we know, eels work their way up our running water system and find their way into ponds, lakes and canals. It’s there that they grow to specimen size, which is what I am hoping to do – catch a snake rather than a bootlace!
One of the exciting things about eel fishing is that it’s as close to pioneer fishing that you will get with any species in this country. Compared to the popular fish such as barbel and carp etc, the devotees of eel angling are quite small. In addition, for the vast majority of waters, the fish potential is completely unknown. And it’s that what really excites me. There’s no-one coming along to you as you set up, telling you every fish in the water, their names, who has caught them, and the weights they come out at! Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I prefer casting out and not knowing what to expect.
My first session after eels was on a lake that does not normally allow night fishing. So when an opportunity came up to do a one-off, I took it with both hands, or should that be with both rods perhaps! Anyway, however you look at it, as darkness fell I was sat at the water’s edge waiting for some action. As there was river not that far away and a brook connected the lake to it, I was confident that there were definitely eels in there. But all you can do is prepare as much as you can, cast out and wait!
My patience was rewarded in the early hours as the rod with the gudgeon head (I fished the tail section on the other) registered a take. Lifting the rod into the fish I felt the unmistakable feel of my target species on the end. As we know as anglers, fish fight in different ways and so even before you bring one to the net, you know what is on the other end of the line. It was a good fight, so I knew that it wasn’t another 4oz piece of string!
It wasn’t quite a 2lb eel, but nevertheless a good fish to begin my short summer campaign with. After re-casting though. I had no more action. Not until a jack pike picked up the bait at first light that is. That’s why you have to fish with suitable traces when eel fishing – particularly if pike are present in the water. And remember that eels themselves, like all predators, have the means to cut through line.
My second session was on a much larger venue, a gravel pit of more than 100 acres. But the common denominator with the lake previously fished was that it is also close to a river. Therefore, runs my logic, there must be eels in there somewhere! On this occasion I fished a couple of tail sections of fish, a gudgeon and a small dace. There is a gradual drop off on the section of the pit I fished, with depths going to 14 feet. I cast out both rods about 1.5 lengths out, and as before, sat back and waited.
Although I did have a couple of single beeps on the buzzers, nothing developed past that, and I soon found the sun peeping its head over the horizon once more to herald in a new day. I always take binoculars with me when fishing and I spent a while watching four oystercatchers on the far shore. There was also a family group of green woodpeckers in the trees around me, not to mention the wide variety of warblers both seen and heard. In fact as I took in the diversity of the bird life I was thinking that if I visit again I might come earlier and actually do some birding before setting up to fish.
I don’t know if you are like me, but I really appreciate the whole nature package that comes with angling. Whether it is birds, mammals or flora and fauna, I am interested in them all. And whilst I can tell my willow warbler from my chiffchaff and my marsh tit from my willow tit, I haven’t got much of a clue with some of the butterflies that fly past for example. But every time I see something new I try to identify it, and bit by bit I am piecing it all together. Maybe one of these days I might be a David Bellamy! Who knows, probably not, but I enjoy it and that’s what really counts.
(Originally published July 2005)