Baits - by Nick Rose
The main requirements for an angler regarding bait, is being able to keep a good supply ready for use at the drop of a hat. For this a good fridge and freezer are invaluable and most of the angler’s baits will keep in their various stages in one or the other. With worms building your own wormery to encourage them to stay and multiply is a good idea if you have the room. Live fish used to be kept in tanks or a pond, but due to EA rules on the transferring of live fish to other waters this cannot be done. Even if you catch them earlier in the day from the water you are going to fish and transfer them back, I doubt you will be believed by any bailiff so best not to take the chance or break the law and take enough bait of other varieties just in case you cannot catch any on arrival at you chosen venue.
Your choice of bait when starting on water needs to be varied as the eels present may or may not be fish eaters. As you may well know eels adapt to their food source and on rich water where there is abundant small natural food items then the eel will have a pointed head adept in picking up items like blood worm, small crustaceans, snails and other small organisms. Alternatively on water with abundant small fish in the eels may have evolved with larger jaws capable of catching and eating larger fish items dead or alive.
So set your stall out with both options and see what the eels in your water prefer. I doubt an eel will refuse any offering but may well pick up one bait in preference to another. One thing I would say is don’t give up on one or the other as a single larger and older eel may well have evolved differently to the main stock in your lake which may have arrived later into the water. A lot of eel anglers when catching lots of small eels will disregard a water because it has just small eels in (booted up is a common saying) when that monster may well be lurking in its depths eating something totally different, maybe even its own smaller brethren.
The National Anguilla Club during the late 60s early 70s did a survey on stomach contents of many eels. I haven’t got the results because over the years these have been lost. But Moriarty conducted a survey in Ireland on the Shannon system and found up to nearly 80 different food items in the eels tested. Now bear in mind he stated that in mainland Britain we have considerably more species of small food items than in Ireland and there are even more in Europe, so the list of possible bait is almost endless. The full results can be found in his book “Eels a Natural and Unnatural History” It is an interesting read although being scientific it can be hard going and it’s not easy to find in your book shops as it is now out of print. In the thousands of eels he caught and checked stomach contents, he found over up to 80 different species of small food items plus other fish. Most of these food items where small or microscopic and were made up from the families of :
Most of these would be to small and impossible to us as a hook bait but Leeches, some of the bigger larvae (Caddis and Beetle) and the Molluscs such as snails, mussels and even slugs can and have, all caught eels in the past. An interesting fact was that a lot of the eels caught had empty stomachs leading him to confirm the belief that the eel gorged on food until full and then went hunting again, much like snakes do. Just imagine if you went fishing one night a week, the odds of hitting the feeding period is greatly reduced as un like most fish the eel may well only feed once every 4 days. You could conceivably miss that period for many years of fishing. This brings into focus the eel catches of the so called super specimen hunter who stays on the bank for a week or more at a time. It must surely drastically increase your chances of not just a big eel but of any eel if you can put in those long sessions.
Eels can become preoccupied with a specific foods item and can be encouraged to feed by pre baiting. You will have problems with other species cleaning up your free offerings but it can be a killing method. On water I fished regularly over a period of 6 years I only caught 3or 4 eels on traditional methods but after a concerted pre baiting exercise using a pint of cockles 3 times a week, I managed 4 times as many eels in a space of two weeks including a PB at the time.
I would bait up just on dark hoping that some of my bait would still remain despite the attentions of the Bream and Roach to attract the eels. All the eels and missed runs came within 2 hours of darkness leading me to believe the eels had become used to the bait going in at that time and most of it was eaten within that period. I would point out I caught lots of Bream and Roach as well but this was cured to a certain extent by baiting up closer to the bank in shallower water (an eel only needs a couple of inches). Some nights it was most amusing to see a 3 or 4 lb bream on its side like a flat fish trying to get to the cockles.
Now to baits most eel anglers use nowadays....
You can collect a few hundred at a time using this method. They come out to mate and often you find two attached together by the light coloured band that goes round the body about a third of the way down the worm. Just hold on to the worm and wait for its muscles to relax, they will hold on tight with their tails for a bit but constant pressure usually sees them give up. You have to be careful and not break or crush them because if it’s damaged and dies in your box or wormery it will soon kill all the others present. All the damaged worms can be kept separate and used as ground bait, just cut them up or liquidize them. Use them the next day or pop them in the freezer. They will look an awful mess when un frozen but all that worm scent is irresistible to fish.
Other varieties of worm used by anglers are Brandlings which can be found in damp and warm places such as manure heaps. Easily dug and a good bait but not as popular as the lobworm because of their small size. But put a lot of them on a hook and they look hugely appetising to me but then I am not an eel.
Red worms are a little bigger than the Brandlings and can also be found in warm damp places. They are found most frequently in leaf mould but any compost heap that has not dried out should hold a few. Other worms you are liable to come across are dendrebinas these are much the same as Brandlings but can grow bigger.
You can purchase boxes of worms from your local tackle shop or buy direct from a worm dealer but most eel anglers are a tight bunch and tend to collect them themselves. Be careful when choosing your boxed worms from a dealer, making sure they are a live and healthy as I repeat ONE dead worm can wipe out your whole supply in a few hours.
With all these worm baits the main problem has to be the capture or nuisance of other species. Every thing that swims will pick up a worm and this can be seriously frustrating when on an all night session. Most eel anglers I know tend to keep away from worms due to these problems but don’t be put off. The worm is still probably the best eel bait to start off your campaign on new water.
If you don’t have the room for a wormery then using those strong black plastic rubble bags builders use filled with damp manure or compost will suffice. Keep them cool and damp away from frost and top them up with kitchen compost like veg peelings or wet news paper cuttings and the worms will keep for ages.
The age old method of toughening up the worms buy putting them in a large tub of damp Sphagnum moss and turning it every day works well giving the worm a clean shining skin.
Most people put the worms directly on to the hook or thread them down the trace on to the hook but you can hair rig them as well.
Check the bait on a regular basis as due to the attention of small fish you could end up with no bait on your hook after an hour or so. This can be so frustrating when in the morning you have been fishing for most the night with a bare hook.
Dead fish are second in line in the popularity stakes for eel baits and what species is completely down to your own preference. In all the old angling books, traditionally minnows are quoted and in my opinion they are as good or better than most other species. I don ’t know why but maybe they give of a distinctive scent but they can be untouchable some times. I also think gudgeon are brilliant bait and are probably my favourite. Roach Rudd and Perch are also well used by eel anglers, being of a favourable size, widely spread and are easy to catch. Any fish can catch eels so pick the most abundant in your water and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
By far the most prolific eel bait of all time has been the humble worm, accounting for over 50% of eels caught that get reported in the press. This is no real surprise because it is wonderful bait for any species and most big eels reported are accidental catches, with the angler fishing for something else. All that said it is still the main stay of most dedicated eel fisherman’s bait box. Of the various types of worm the favourite has to be the lobworm. This worm is one of the largest of our native worms and can be dug in your back garden but a far easier way of collection is to go out on a wet night with a dull torch, your bait box and lift them from lawns or grassed areas.
Lob Worms - An Eel Anglers Favourite.
I know a lot of anglers use large baits 5 to 6 inches plus in the thought that it sorts out the bigger eels and if it works for them then great, it is all about your own confidence in the bait at the end of the day. I think with larger baits you may have problems hooking the eel and waiting for the eel to get it down (or in the old days the second run) is a big no no for me as deep hooking is a major problem. I prefer 2 to 4 inch baits and a lot of the time use half baits, thus letting out all the blood and juices to attract the eels.
Live baiting for eels, although used sporadically by most anglers in the past, has become very popular recently. Using all the species most popular for dead baiting the biggest head ache is always how to mount live bait on your hook. I know that a hook up rate of 1 in 3 runs is muted about but on some waters it can be 1 in 10, thus putting off a lot of anglers from using them. The trouble is even with the hard hooking ratio it can be the most productive and the even only method of catching eels from some waters.
Lip hooking and hooking in the area from the dorsal to the tail seems the most popular and some are using double hook rigs with a hook in the mouth and tail. I found two hooks did not increase my hook up rate much or not at all so I have reverted back to one, but again it is all about personal choice and experimentation on your part.
Another problem with live baiting is that the bait may not stay alive very long. My own personal theory is that if you use adult fish they get less stressed and cope better than juvenile fish, of course an adult fish is going to be at least a pound or over unless you use my favourites again and they are minnows and gudgeon, the gudgeon being the best in my opinion. Some of the other small species may well be worth a try such as one of the stickleback family of stone loach, Stickleback as you know have spines to put of predators so may deter any eels but the stone loach all though rare is a wonderful bait dead or alive, again it may give of a scent but when I have used them on the rare occasion I have found some they have been deadly.
Bleak and Dace are another good bait dead but the Bleak does not stay alive to long when hooked up, Dace are fine though.
The fry of all fish species are on the eels menu and during early to middle part of the season when they are most abundant you have to take advantage of them, the eels certainly do. Shoals of fry of all sorts are herded into corners and bays of lakes and ponds by all species and get picked off day and night. The sight of shoals fry scattering on the surface nearly always get blamed on Pike and Perch but don’t be surprised if there aren’t eels doing the damage.
At the end of the summer when the nights are drawing in and we start getting frosts the early pike anglers seem to pick a good few eels on sea fish baits. They don’t seem to work that well during the summer maybe because of the profusion of natural food but when the winter sets in sea baits do seem to work. They have got to be worth a go if you embark on a winter eeling program. It may well be yet another case of the eel making use of an unnaturally large amount of food being introduced much like a pre-baiting program, as most pike anglers throw the unused bait in after a day session. This could well work during the summer if you pre-bait. Sprats, Sardines, White Bait and Sand eels are a good place to start.
Other so called natural baits you can use are Maggots, Crayfish, Slugs, Snails, Frogs, Toads, small birds, any of the small water based animals that you can hook up, most have caught eels at some stage especially maggots as they are universally used by just about every angler at some stage and make a great attractor when used alive or dead as a ground bait. Again if there is a lot of any food item in your water then try it as a bait.
A lot of eels get caught on cheese, luncheon meat, Offal like liver or steak mostly used by anglers fishing for other species but sometimes intentionally for eels.
Because of the huge amounts of Boilies and various pellets put in nowadays in the search for other species it comes as no surprise that eels have started to eat and are caught on them regularly. Also because they are of a high food value the eels are packing on weight. Fishmeal boilies where first prone to eel captures and then milk based boilies. Then came the pellet boom and Halibut pellets take their fair share of eels. The problem is as with a lot of the other baits you are not really pinpointing eels with them so captures of just about every other species of fish can be a real pain.
Good luck with your search for the magic bait, I suspect it doesn’t exist. Different baits work on different waters at different times of the year and most importantly the angler himself has to chop and change his choices or he may suffer a lot of blanks, as the eels in his water change over to another preoccupation in the course of a season or even two or three times in a few months.