The eels play hard to get (eel article and video, entry 267)

Although I have been described on a number of occasions as an ‘angling journalist’, I am not accountable to any editor and my writing does not have to be tailored to a target audience. Therefore I am able to write what I like without any ‘jazzing up’ of the article – I’ve had that happen before and I was uncomfortable with it. Being quoted as saying stuff when you weren’t even aware of what was going on doesn’t sit right with me. But apart from that sort of thing which isn’t an issue for me any longer, the most important positive about being in control of my own destiny is not that I can write what I like but that I can fish where I want.

Pleasing myself where I fish

I’m never going to be sent out on location to fish for this species on that venue. Not that any fishing is a hardship, but I want to be able to go somewhere because of my own choice rather than because an editor requires a feature for a magazine. And by the same token it’s not a problem if I blank or struggle. With no pressure on me to produce a big fish photograph every week I can focus first and foremost on enjoying my angling.

I do take my fishing seriously, but the context of the adverb is that I want to get the best out of my hobby for personal pleasure reasons as opposed to simply fishing for results. If I struggle for a week or two on the big fish front, as long as I am enjoying myself, that’s no problem. And not having to produce the goods meant that this week I decided to do some eel fishing on a number of venues that I have been wanting to try for a while. I had no idea whether eels would be found but that was part of the excitement. I could blank – or I could catch a 5lb’er.


No eels but I caught a small pike

A unique species

The eel is a unique species. It doesn’t breed in our waters so you don’t get a stock of established fish in the way that you do with other species. Any eel that is found has made its way from the Sargasso Sea, carried hundreds of miles by the Gulf Stream, which is a powerful river of sea water that makes its way from the Caribbean to Europe. And it’s this current that brings the masses of tiny eels to our estuaries and then into the rivers. By the time they arrive they have grown considerably and are what we call elvers. Fish the lower Severn in summer using maggot and you catch one every cast.

It’s easy to get annoyed by them – I know I do when I am zander fishing and they strip my deadbaits in seconds. But spare a thought for the amazing journey that they have made, and hopefully that will help to temper the frustration. From the rivers they start to make their way into local pools and tributary streams and from there they will end up in all manner of venues. And whilst many will return back to the place of their birth to breed, some will stay. And it’s these fish that grow and attract the attentions of a small but dedicated band of anglers – the eel specialists.

Fishing the local canals

And whilst I am not in the camp that says eels are a nuisance, I’m not as focused as those who live and breathe eel fishing. But as an all-rounder I do appreciate them very much and wanted to have a week pursuing them on local venues. Apart from a Black Country pool that I visited, the other places were canals. The high cost of petrol has seen me fishing the extensive network of man-made waterways a lot more than I have done in the past. With mile after mile of water available on my doorstep it would be foolish to ignore such a wealth of opportunity.


Tip of the week

Respect the eel. Next time you catch one and it tangles everything, don’t get angry.

Instead consider what a journey it has been on.

And if eels bother you that much then avoid baits that will get picked up by them, it’s as simple as that!

Whilst boat traffic can be a bit of an issue during the summer months, as I was arriving just before dark it didn’t create any problems for me. As I set up on the towpath, all the holiday people had long since moored up for the night and the boats I passed all had their lights on and curtains drawn. The canals can be quite busy during the day, with boaters, walkers, cyclists and anglers competing for space on and alongside them. But once darkness kicks in it is a different picture altogether and peace and tranquility is the name of the game. Well, on the rural canals anyway. The urban ones can still have a few undesirables about, but that’s another story!

Offering minimum resistance

I opted for 10lb line and although I have used wire traces in the past, I recently bought some Quicksilver in 25lb breaking strain for the purpose of eel fishing. None of the venues had pike in them – or so I thought – otherwise I would have gone for wire. The rig was a very simple 1/2 ounce free running bomb and with the bale arm open and Nash featherlight carp hangers pulling the line into the runner on the bite alarm, there was absolutely minimum resistance to any eel that should take the bait.

I used a roach head on one rod and a tail on the other. Hook choice was a size 4 Drennan Super specialist. Casting out, all that remained was to sit back and wait. My sessions were quite short, no more than three hours, but with plenty of free evenings I did manage four canal visits and one to a pool. I caught a pike from the canal and apart from that, and a run I had that I suspect was from an eel, the week was pretty quiet. But as I said at the start of the article, I’m not under pressure to produce so there is no problem.


The bite alarms mostly remained silent

Maybe next year

Unless I had suddenly hit on an absolute eel goldmine my intention was to fish the one week only anyway, so the fact it was a one-off is nothing to do with me struggling. Next year I may have a prolonged period after the species but for now I was happy just to do the week. But without any deadlines to fish to, no editors to please and just my own personal pleasure levels to think about, that’s not even an issue. And long may that continue!



Click on the icon for this week’s video clip


The week ahead

With lots of local rain over the last week or so it’s time to get the barbel gear out. I haven’t been on the River Dove for a year so that’s where I intend to fish on my next session. My last trip to the river saw me catch a barbel that weighed in at 16lb 1oz, so join me next week to see how I get on and whether will be able to repeat that catch!

(Originally published August 2008)


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