No cats, but a couple of eels! (eel article, entry 110)

After three weeks of pursuing barbel I decided it was time to get back on track with the eels, after all I’ve only had a couple of sessions for them so far this summer – hardly much of a campaign. Although in my defence I have been really busy for a number of reasons for a few months now, and night fishing not only takes up time but also energy. Sometimes it can take an extra day to recover from an overnight session.

But with the desire burning strong to target eels, I made my way to a pool about 30 miles from where I live. With petrol now pushing the £1 a litre mark, one has to consider distances like never before. In the past I would have thought nothing of doing a 60-mile round trip for an evening’s fishing. But now, I try to maximise my time at the water’s edge so that I can get my money’s worth, so to speak.

The pool where I fished is in the middle of ‘big cat country’ where several sightings have been reported in recent years. As I walked to the pool I saw a mangled carcass of a badger. Looking at it, it was quite clear that something had been at work that was beyond the ability of any of our natural species of mammals. Apart from the fact of its death – and badgers are no pushovers – the way that it had been eaten indicated something very powerful had been at work.

With the kill being literally yards from the lake, it was a ‘funny feeling’ knowing that there could be a big cat in the area. But as of yet, no-one has been attacked in this country (we’re not talking about lions and tigers but much smaller and reserved cats) and so I had no worries about becoming a missing statistic! I simply pitched my bedchair up, cast out and lay back waiting for some eel action. I get more worried about where I park my car than of anything relating to the actual fishing itself!

One of the advantages of having an easy-going and angler-friendly wife is that I have a bait freezer at home. With it being well stocked with all types of things, it means that bait is never a problem. With several species of fish in there, everything from mackerel to gudgeon at the moment, if I want to go predator angling it’s nothing more than a case of opening the lid and choosing my bait. For my first session I went for gudgeon, which I like as an eel bait.

The session itself was very quiet, apart from a few single bleeps I had nothing at all. In fact I was able to doze off and although I am a light sleeper when angling (perhaps catnapping would be more appropriate!) nothing really disturbed me on this occasion. As soon as the sun was up though I packed everything away and headed back home. The fact I had been able to sleep right through was evident in that I had a full day’s work the next day and never wavered. Ironically it is when I catch fish that I get tired the following day, which if you want the former you’ve got to have the latter!

The next session I made I decided to head for a new swim on a pool that I have fished before and caught eels. Previously I have fished into deeper water, but with the summer now being well and truly at its height, I decided to switch to the shallow end of the venue. And shallow it is – nothing more than a couple of feet for quite some distance from the bank, with slightly deeper water about thirty feet out. Fishing dace sections (head on one rod, tail on the other) I lobbed both baits out into open water. With no features to fish to as such, it was a case of waiting for the eels, which will cover some ground as they search for food at night.

I did have several single bleeps on the indicator, but of course these can be anything. However, in the early hours there was no mistaking the signs of a bait picked up by an eel. Striking into the run I could feel the fish on the other end. As we know as anglers, you can often tell what species you are connected with by the way it fights. And this was an eel! It fought all the way to the net, and in typical eel fashion, once in it as well!

Of all the fish I photograph, without doubt the eel is the most difficult. Trying to pose with an eel for the camera is like trying to control an hyperactive child who had overdosed on e-numbers! But you do manage to get a decent enough shot eventually, and you can then return the fish back to its home. As I watched it wriggle off into the pool, I re-cast and lay back once more to await some action. And as I did so, I became aware of a family group of three tawny owls getting closer and closer until eventually they were in the high poplar trees overhead.

I could just about make out the silhouettes as they flew from tree-top to tree-top, but it was a wonderful experience and one that continued for a few minutes before they eventually moved on to another part of the wood. I’ve said it many times before, and no doubt will say it again – angling is more than just catching fish, it’s the total package of the natural world that makes it what it is. And with quiet once more after the fish and the eel, I myself fell asleep. With it being a warm night, I simply stretched out on top of the bedchair, ready for action should the buzzer alert me to fish activity.

And it did, about an hour before sunrise, perhaps an eel having its last foray before the sun started to poke its head above the horizon – reminiscent of the old black-and-white movies I watched as a kid where Dracula (usually played by Vincent Price), had to get back into his coffin before the sun came up. In the same way I imagine the eel doing his rounds during the hours of darkness, always aware that when dawn approaches, it’s time to ‘disappear’.

The fish itself was within half an ounce of the previous one, with both being in the 1-2lb category. Only small eels by specimen standards, but nevertheless very much appreciated by yours truly – and that really is what it’s all about. Who gets the most pleasure from his catches – the angler who is totally satisfied with a steady catch of 4lb barbel, or the one who is devastated because his fish was 9.15 and therefore short of the magical double mark?

(Originally published August 2005)

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