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Eel Imitators in the Surf
by Frank Daignault
It goes against eel fishing tradition but rubber works.

t is a stroke of technological development that industry is able to mold a rubber eel so cheaply today that it costs less to make one than to trap the real animal. It has happened in the nick of time too because officials are talking about placing protection on eels due to all the pressure on the species caused by a robust Japanese table use of elvers and widespread use of live eels for both live-lining and rigging in sport fishing.

There is nothing new in the use of rubber eels in artificials. Old guard will remember the wildly famous Al-Lou Eel of 40 years ago that utilized a metal swimmer plate to sashay a rubber eel through the striper surf. In its time, it was a great choice as a striper lure. Its only failing was that it cost around the same price as any other lure and was only available in a few sizes. There have been other knock offs of the Al-Lou genre of striper lure. Only recently imports have been coming into the country so cheaply that we can buy a package of rubber eels which we have to rig ourselves for the price of one live eel from the B&T. Traditionalists who rig true eels will rant about this, saying that no formulation of rubber could ever compare to God’s eel. That might be so, but I think it only a matter of time before we do not have a choice.

What I like most about the new rubber eels on the market today is the detail, variety of sizes available and price. At the shows last winter, molded rubber eels were everywhere and some were 16 inches long. Anybody who knows how to rig a real one could do the same with one from the mold.

Tsunami has a line of holiographic eels (image above) that is offered in four sizes, 4," 6," 8," and 10." I have tried them all using whatever equipment matched the size. Two small sizes – four and six inches – my wife and I have delivered fly-fishing. The six inch size we also coupled to light spinning and their biggest offer, the one that was 9 ½ inches, we cast with heavy spinning gear. The 16 inch that I use on conventional gear, which bears the markings “Felmlee,” not made by Tsunami, works too. The holiographic eyes will get your attention but I have not been able to determine if they add enough realism to the lure to make a difference in bass taking. Maybe they just look nice for selling.

The mission you face in using a rubber eel from a package is setting a hook in place without adversely effecting the lure’s action. Generally, you want a suitable J-hook placed down the eel’s throat and emerging out the bottom where the hook bend begins. As the riggers like say, “to keel the eel.” But the hook will not stay in place long enough for suitable use and it has to be cemented in place on the rubber eel body. No glue will hold well on the smoothness of the hook. Rather, it is necessary to wind a couple of rough rows of course xxxx fly tying thread. Start the hook part way until you reach the thread, then Super-Glue or epoxy the thread, and slide the hook into position so that the rubber of the eel makes contact with the glue and allow it to set. For added insurance you can put a few hitches of thread around the eel’s head but don’t do it too tight or the thread will cut the rubber. Stainless hooks are necessary to avoid staining the rubber eel when carbon steel is used. In the smaller size applications, 2/0 and 3/0, Mustad 34007 is a good style. For rigging big rubber for use in conventional tackle, I like 9/0 stainless Siwash. Unlike the rigging of a real eel, I use only one hook when rigging rubber. Bass are going to take it down headfirst anyway and you will miss few caused by only one hook in the setup.

Never attach your rubber eel by use of a snap or hardware. It makes a nicer, more effective, presentation if the leader is tied direct to the hook. The eel works better with neutral buoyancy – a natural float that sinks slowly. There might be situations where an egg sinker for added water column penetration is necessary but the places where we fish the rubber eels don’t require that and adding lead could hurt your efforts in fishing.

As an old rigged eel fisher, I can tell you that some of my frequent flyers, while they still catch, stink enough to gag a mule at its breakfast. Thus, while we always poked fun at live eels having to be kept alive, rigged ones decay. Rubber, on the other hand, goes right back into the kit with no adverse effect unless it was smacked by one of the yellow eyed devils of the deep.

Bait shops usually offer a sort of size-culled eel that they have learned is popular as live bait. Those way bigger go to New York for table use at Christmas and the elvers, thin as a pencil and about three or four inches long, go to Japan for gourmet use. Consequently, nobody has ever used, let alone seen, the little elver sized ones. But I have. Years ago, walking the shore of Mount Hope Bay one night, I kicked a little mound of kelp and out scooted an elver the size of a night-crawler. After that every bit of kelp we found had one or more of the juvenile eels of the same size and apparent age hiding inside.

As with all rubber, and I’m thinking about all the shads, Finesse and slugs that have stormed the market, when a bass misses an offer or you miss the bass, texture is apparently pleasant enough to the gamefish that it will come back for another swipe at it – sometimes during the same retrieve. They won’t do that for a plug.

Most of the big bass that I have caught in my 50 years in the striper surf were taken on either live or rigged eels. My history with God’s eel is too good to knock that choice as a viable alternative. But in the face of impending doom in eel populations and the rivers that host them, and I know that it has not happened yet, rubber is a great alternative that we should all welcome without reservation. With better size options, there are even cases where rubber is better because it is all there is. End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved

Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf. Autographed books can be purchased directly from Frank; Order Form »

Articles by Frank Daignault
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Striper Surf The Trophy Striper /
Striper Hot Spots Striper Hot Spots - New England Edition
Eastern Tides Twenty Years On The Cape
Fly Fishing the Striper Surf