A tale of two sixes - by Mark Salt
My first seasons’ eel fishing ranked as one of the most enjoyable of my fishing career. Having grown increasingly bored with most aspects of the modern big fish scene, particularly the naming of individual fish, it was refreshing to fish for a species that had an air of mystery about it, and was unlikely to have been caught before, at least, not by design. It felt a bit like my early carp fishing expeditions back in 1970, when it seemed we learnt something new on every session. I joined the NAC at the start of 2006, and have found the three fish-ins that I have been to great fun, and very informative. I’ve met some great anglers and characters, and look forward to the next one. I have also finally discovered, after 45 years as an angler, how to get information from carp and tench anglers – tell them you only fish for eels, and they reveal all!
I ended this first eel season with a 5:04 and two other fish of over 4lbs, and a real desire to catch a monster. Although the waters that I had fished were obviously capable of supporting specimen eels of the size I was looking for, I didn’t feel confident that they were of a sufficient age to produce a real whacker, and so, at the beginning of this year, I began to explore the wealth of gravel pits in the Lea Valley in a way that I had not considered in the past. Using a useful website titled “Old Ordnance Survey Maps” (www.ponies.me.uk) I built a picture of the watercourses through the valley in the 1930s and 40s and identified some of the oldest gravel pits. I tried to establish which were dug first, and also enquired of clubs and individual anglers as to the presence of eels. If they were a nuisance in a particular water, I would cross that off my list, not necessarily as a waste of time, but because I wanted a water where eels were not numerous, and hopefully grew bigger. I ended up with a shortlist of 7 pits, one of which has a closed waiting list of 10 years plus, and as sod’s law would have it, is rumoured to have produced an eel of 10lb+ to a carp angler in the past! It’s also the oldest pit in the valley. The 6 remaining waters were accessible, either at waiting list stage or immediate membership. 3 of these are Lea Valley Park waters that are easy to join and are not secure. I like to fish without worrying about having my gear or car nicked, and so I chose the pit that I have spent most of this year on. A club limited to 150 members controls it, and the bailiff mows the swims and paths every week, leaving the surrounding banks overgrown and attractive. It is carp fished, but usually I share the 16 acres with only one or two other anglers as I always fish during the week. All my enquiries produced the reply “no eels in ‘ere mate” with the exception of the bailiff, who thought that a seven had been caught many years before. As the pit next door had produced 2 genuine 8s (carp anglers again!) in the previous 10 years, I was confident that this water could be the one. Why not fish the pit next door, I hear you say? Well, it’s on my list, but full of crayfish, easy to get a ticket for and not secure, so rather than fish with a motley crew and the chance of trouble at night, I decided to keep it for the future.
Dug in the mid 40s, the chosen pit has an average depth of 12 feet, and unusually, has few bars or features. There is a fair bit of weed and a lot of rushes in the margins, which average 6 feet in depth, and some large weed beds at range (70 yards +). As I prefer to fish tight to the margins whenever practical, this suited me, as I reasoned that there would be plenty of eel type fodder available close in, and good cover in the rushes for them to hole up in during daylight hours. The weed is full of invertebrates, and not too thick to fish over. After an interview with the fishery officer my ticket arrived, and my first night on the water began. With water temperature at 68, good cloud cover and a strong breeze my confidence was only slightly decreased by the fact that it was a full moon. However, I have found that providing it is overcast I can catch eels in these conditions. Worms on two rods, and a roach deadbait on the third were positioned between 6 inches and 6 feet from the rush fringed margins as I started fishing that afternoon. A run on deadbait at 6pm produced a very skinny pike of a few pounds, closely followed by another larger specimen an hour later. At 10.05 I had a fast run on the roach and struck into thin air. Fortunately, the bait was still intact, and I dropped it back in in the same position, tight to the rushes. Within a few minutes I was away again, and this time I struck successfully, landing an eel of 4:03. I was, of course, absolutely delighted. My first eel from the water, on the first session, and a 4 at that! No more runs that night, except for another skinny pike of around 8lbs. The strange incident of a missed run, followed by an almost immediate pick up, if a cast to the same spot is made quickly, has now occurred 3 times, on 3 different waters, and on each occasion the eels landed have been sizeable. I used to think that missed runs equated to small eels. Now I’m not so sure!
The following 6 nights produced one more eel of 4:04 and 5 missed runs, all on deadbaits. Worms have not produced on this water. Being a bit thick, it took me a while to realise that a smaller bait might result in less missed runs, as these eels do not appear to have particularly large mouths compared to some. This coincided with me reading an article recommending peeler crab as a good eel bait, so that day found me on my way to Southend to buy some peelers! I peeled and froze 30, and took the remaining 10 live to the water that night, reasoning that if I peeled them as I used them they would be as fresh as possible, and bound to catch. All through the night I could hear the little blighters scuttling around in their seaweed filled bait box.
With the water temperature at 71, a new moon and a strong ripple on the water, conditions looked good. So on went peeler on 2 rods and a small deadbait section on the third. Peeler crab are ideal from a hooking point of view, as they are soft and round, making it difficult for a fish to pick up without having the hook in it’s jaws as well as the bait, and easy to strike through. The smell of them is reminiscent of the freshwater mussels that we used to use for tench many years ago, and may explain their effectiveness. The deadbait section was cut so that it just covered the hook for the same reason. At 10:50 pm I had a slow, twitchy run on a crab, and connected with what was obviously a good fish. As it thrashed on the surface I could see that it was certainly my biggest eel to date, and immediately began to worry about what could go wrong. But it came to the net quickly, and I weighed it immediately and accurately so that even if it escaped in the night I would know how big it was.
At 6:14, my biggest eel to date, and a creature of rare and wondrous beauty! I sacked the fish and secured it in the margins and as I began to rebait the successful rod, the centre rod with the small roach section roared away. Again, on connecting, I knew that this was a good fish, but took no chances due to the vicinity of the rushes and various snags, and steered it to the net quickly. Once again, I weighed the fish immediately, and could not believe it - 6:03! I estimate that there was a gap of approximately 30 minutes between runs, and for the rest of the night I imagined this pair of magnificent creatures making their way around the margin of the lake until they came across my baits. After sacking the second eel, I finished off the bottle of red wine left over from dinner by way of celebration. I don’t think I slept much after that, and checked that the sack was still there every hour or so. A friend dropped by in the morning to photograph the fish for me, and we watched the pair swim away - a fantastic sight!
The burning question now is, are there bigger eels in the lake? I like to think so, and once the water warms to over 50 this coming Spring, I shall go back and attempt to find out, and perhaps catch the monster !
The 14lb eel
A few nights after the 2 sixes, I met a carp angler on the lake, who, on discovering that I was eel fishing, recounted the tale of a 14lb eel that his mate had caught when they were fishing a local pit. Says I “you realise that’s a record ?”. “Really” he says. “Well, we didn’t weigh it, but it was huge, at least 4 feet long”. That night I landed and sacked a 4:09, and was returning it when said carp angler walked past. “That’s about the size of the one my mate had, how big’s that”. I told him, and sheepishly he wandered off!
An awesome sight two Sixes 6lb 14oz and 6lb 3oz