Fishing with Eels
by Rich Russo
f you're a striper fisherman and you
don't fish with eels, you're missing out on one of the most productive
methods of taking big bass. When I first started fishing with the
Connecticut Surfcasters Association, the other guys I fished with were
using plugs while I was using eels. Pretty soon, a lot of them turned to
eel fishing due the results of those outings. Here is an overall look at
striper fishing with eels from caring for your bait to fishing
The first thing that you will have to do is get the
"snakes" from the tackle shop to your fishing spot. The best method I have
found for transporting them is to place them in a small "six-pack" sized
cooler with a reusable plastic ice block. The cooler is compact and will
easily accommodate a dozen medium sized eels. The plastic ice block keeps
the eels cool without melting. This is important because if the eels
become immersed in water, they will deplete the oxygen in the water and
suffocate. It is also a good idea to place a damp cloth in the cooler as
the eels prefer a moist environment.
If you are not wading, you can
carry your eels with you in the cooler, but if you're doing any wading or
a lot of walking from spot to spot, you'll want something more convenient
to carry them in. I use a mesh bag with a drawstring at the opening. Many
tackle shops, as well as scuba diving supply shops, carry them. You can
also fashion an eel container out of a plastic institutional sized
mayonnaise jar. First, you make small drain holes in the bottom of the
container to allow water and slime to drain out. Next, you make two larger
holes near the opening of the jar to attach a carrying rope. You cut the
rope to a length to suit you, you don't want the jar to interfere with
your casting, then stick each end of the rope through the holes from the
outside and knot them on the inside. You might want to attach the lid to
the container with the knotted rope method.
These pieces of
"striper candy" can be difficult to handle at times. If you've kept them
in the cooler, they will be easier to handle because the ice pack slows
them down. The best way to handle eels that I have found is to cut up an
old burlap bag into rags. This course material lets you get a good grip on
the "snake". If you can't find burlap, old cotton socks will do. You grab
the eel by the back of the "neck" and grip tightly. Remember, eels can't
hurt you but sometimes they will try to wrap themselves around your wrist
and get you a little slimed up.
Your terminal tackle should consist of a hook, a monofilament leader and a swivel. The hook should have a short shank and have a black or nickel silver black finish. Stay away from the bronze, bright nickel or gold finish hooks as they are more apt to be seen by a wary striper. Depending on the size of the eel, I always snell the hook to my leader. I use a 5/0 to 7/0 Mustad 9174 (you'll need to sharpen it!) or Gamakatsu Octopus #024xx (no need to sharpen). Some guys swear by the circle hooks but I have to admit, I haven't tried them yet. Now that Gamakatsu makes them in a black finish, I'll have to give them a try (Gamakatsu Circle #2084xx). For leader material, 18 inches up to 3 feet of 40 to 60 pound test monofilament or Seaguar Fluorocarbon is preferred. I like to use heavier leaders when fishing rocky areas due to the striper's penchant for diving into rocks. Attach a 90 to 150 pound test black barrel swivel or 180 pound Power Swivel to the terminal end of the leader and that completes your terminal tackle.
Now it's time to start fishing. There are several methods
of hooking an eel. One method is to run the point of the hook through one
eye and out the other. This way you have the support of the skull when you
cast your eel. Another method is to place the point of the hook into the
eel's mouth and bring it out through one of the eyes. My personal favorite
method of hooking an eel is to place the point of the hook as deeply into
the eel's mouth as possible and bring it out through the bottom of the
throat. The disadvantage of this is that the soft tissue tears more easily
and you might loose a few more eels when casting, but not a significant
number. The advantage is that the eel will stay lively longer and you can
hide more of the hook shank in the eel's mouth so as to be less noticeable
to your prey.
After you cast your eel seaward, hold your rod tip in
the 12:00 o'clock position and reel in slowly. When a bass strikes your
eel, there are two schools of thought as to what to do next.
- One way to
proceed is to drop your rod tip so it's parallel with the water and set
the hook when the line tightens.
- The other school of thought is to drop
your rod tip like before but as you drop your rod, open your bail, or
throw the clutch if you're using conventional gear, and count to 10 while
you let the fish run. You'll want to close your bail or engage your gears,
but not without slack in your line because the fish might feel the tension
and drop your offering. To get that needed slack, you slowly raise your
rod tip while the fish is running, then drop it again. Engage your line
pick up and keep you rod tip low until the line tightens, then set the
hook. This gives the fish a chance to take the bait and gives you a better
chance for a hook up. Unfortunately, this often means you'll hook the fish
deeper and could do damage to a fish you intend to release.
If you wish to
release a deeply hooked fish, cut the leader as close to the hook as you
can as quickly as you can.
You can keep using your eel until it
hangs lifeless from your hook. If there's still a curl to its tail, keep
using it. There seems to be an attraction by stripers to eels that have
already been taken by other stripers. I'm not sure why this is but I do
know that you can catch multiple fish on the same eel, so don't throw out
that snake after it has worked for you once. You might have to reposition
your hook as the strike of the bass may have torn a hole where the hook
penetrates the eel.
If you find yourself with leftover eels at the
end of your trip, they are not difficult to keep alive for your next trip.
The easiest way to keep your eels alive is to get a 5 or 10 gallon
aquarium with an aerator. Try to keep the aquarium in a cool part of the
house because if the water gets too warm, the eels won't survive. I keep
the eels in the mesh bag and dunk the whole thing in the aquarium. This
saves me the trouble of having to scoop net them. If you don't keep them
in a mesh bag, put some sort of covering over the aquarium as the eels can
Another way to keep your eels alive is to use what I call
the "three bucket system". This consists of three 5 gallon buckets, two of
which have drain holes in the bottom, damp seaweed or rags, and ice. You
place the eels with the damp seaweed or rags in a bucket with drain holes
and place that bucket inside the bucket without drain holes. Then, you
place the second bucket with drain holes over the bucket with the eels and
place ice cubes in it. This set up allows the ice to melt and drip onto
the eels to keep them moist and it lets any excess water and slime to
drain off of the eels and into the bottom bucket. They will stay alive and
healthy as long as you keep them moist. This method is a little more labor
intensive because you'll have to add ice and drain the bottom bucket a
couple of times a day.
I hope this has shed some light on some of
the ins and outs of fishing with live eels. It has proven to be a
successful technique for me and I hope it will be as successful for you.
Keep a tight line and happy fishing.
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 R. Russo, All Rights Reserved