A tale of two sixes, Part 2 - by Mark Salt
After writing this article, I read it and realised that it made it seem that I only caught eels over 4 lbs so I added this paragraph. That it the case from this one water, but other waters that I fish in the valley do constantly produce eels of well under 4 lbs. The water in this article has (I believe) a relatively small eel population, and no real history of eel captures, apart form a 7 from over ten years ago, and that is of doubtful provenance. The carp anglers that fish the lake now have never caught an eel, and in my first season delighted in telling me “there’s no eels in ‘ere, mate!” I have been very fortunate in the size of the eels that I have caught here, and believe that my success is due to the care that I put in to researching the waters locally. I also believe that it is no coincidence that the first water I fished in 2006, when I started eel fishing, also produced only three eels (4.02, 4.03 and 5.02). No boots or eels under 4lbs. Once again, the carp anglers on this water had never heard of eels, but I did manage to find a tench angler who had foul hooked a 4 whilst fishing maggots. I am a relative novice to eel fishing, and am sure that anyone could have caught these eels from either water using the simplest techniques. Many years ago, a friend said to me “you can only get so good at casting, choosing baits, refining tackle and so on – the rest is down to where you fish”. I do not advocate chasing around all over the country looking for eel waters, but I do believe that spending time only on the waters that research has shown to be capable of supporting big eels is critical. If there’s a rumour of a big one having been caught, and no small one’s, then the odds of a big eel must be good. By all means have the odd session on “easy waters” – it will stop you going mad! Also, waters that hold lots of small eels do produce monsters. Perhaps you need a lot of eels in the water to raise the odds for there being one “sport” amongst them that is genetically capable of growing into a double. I also realise that I live in a part of the country with tremendous big eel potential, and am spoilt for choice. That said, most parts of the UK have produced monster eels at some time. I think that, for all of us, more time spent choosing a water would improve our chance of a whacker tremendously.
When I wrote the first article about this water, I had just gained a syndicate place for a pit little further down the valley, and had planned to move on this season. After the two 6s in one night in August last year, I had one more eel of 4.09 a week later and then a series of six blanks in what seemed like favourable conditions, with water temperatures of 58f and above. We then had a really cold spell in late October, and plummeting water temperatures led me to put my eel rods away for the winter. I still felt that this water had not given up its biggest eel, so despite other equally promising venues locally, I decided to start the 2008 season here.
Come the end of March of this year I was really chomping at the bit, my only eel fishing through the winter having been at the Port Talbot fish in. I’d caught perch, pike, trout and zander through the winter months, but all of these were poor substitutes for the eel. My first eel session this year was on 17th April, when water temperature reached 52f. In the previous season I had caught 5 eels from this water over eighteen nights at an average weight of 5.8. I fished as many nights again on other waters during the spring and summer, and managed many more eels than this, but none over 4.02, with a lot of smaller fish, so I was determined to really give the pit a good going over early on before moving on to the new water. I had read so much about waters with small eel populations producing a few good fish and then nothing that I had began to believe that this was what was happening here, but I did not want to give up prematurely.
All my fish previously had been on either peeler crab or fish section, with worms being completely ignored. This had led to me using worm rather half heartedly on one rod, and fish or peeler crab on the other two. The start of this season saw me using fish on two rods and peeler crab on the third, all margin fished – after all, that was what had worked before, despite the fact that these eels are small mouthed. After four nights in what seemed like good conditions with 7 pike to my name and not an eel in sight I was a little despondent, but still did not want to give up. I decided to change my methods completely, and my next session saw me fishing lob sections over dead maggots on two rods at what for me is long range, about 4 rod lengths out, over the marginal shelf. I used fish section on the third rod, also over dead maggots. I hooked and lost a powerful fish at 10pm on worm, and then had a series of twitches reminiscent of small perch bites, but as there are very few perch in here, and they were not very persistent, I had a hunch that eels were responsible. I then had 3 runs over the next hour, all of which I struck into fresh air, finally connecting with a fish at 11.25 pm which went 4.3. Three more missed runs ensued until I hooked another fish at 5.35 am which went 4.10. Even this take was odd, as I tightened up to the fish, failed to connect as it dropped the bait, and then hooked it as it snatched it up again.
This night seemed to set a pattern for the rest of the season, as fish and crab baits produced nothing, and worm over maggots continued to produce dropped or missed runs. Strangely, maggots fished over the carpet of dead maggots produced nothing. I did manage a 5.10 and a 6.0 one night in the following week, and then a week later another 5.10, which may well have been a repeat capture. Then followed a series of sessions where I experienced many dropped runs. During this period I used dyson rigs with worm or fish sections, and shock and bolt rigs using worms and maggots both on and off the bottom. The results of all this were at least consistent: more dropped runs, sometimes 4 or 5 in a night, until, after 5 blank sessions, I had a 4.02, on a bait fished on the bottom.
I had at this point started fishing other waters, because I had convinced myself that the dropped runs were from fish I’d caught before, and I have no interest in catching the same fish twice. A conversation with Steve Pitts, a far more experienced eel angler than I, convinced me that I was a fool not to persevere on the water, as it could still possibly produce a bigger fish than the 6.14 of 2007. I had left it too late to start fishing the syndicate water that I mentioned earlier, and I decided to save this for the next year, and I fiddled about on a couple of easier waters for a few weeks, finally returning to do a three night session on the “two sixes” water on 26th October. Water temperature then was still 52, so, according to the scientists, anyway, still warm enough for eels to feed. After my experimentation with off bottom, bolt and shock rigs I had gone back to conventional low resistance bottom rigs on all 3 rods, more out of frustration than anything else, with peeler crab on one and worm on the other two, all fished over one pint of dead maggots. I had changed the size and shape of the worm baits, from the bunch of 1” lob sections to three 2” sections on the hook. It seemed unlikely that this would make a difference, but it was worth a try. I also resolved to spend the 3 nights in the swim that had produced two sixes in a night in 2007. I had experienced more dropped runs here than any other swim, and just had to give it a good go. Night one resulted in one 6” take, and then nothing. Once again, not a line bite, as 3” of line was taken, then stopped, and another 3” taken. Not perch either, as it was the only indication of the night. The air temperature was falling all the time now, with very cold weather forecast for the next few days, so I new that the next few days would be my last chance of an eel from this water until next spring. I arrived in the same swim on the next night, using identical tactics, and introduced half a pint of dead maggots as a “top up”. I had reduced the quantity of maggots as the water temperature was falling. I had a dropped run at 9 pm, which took about 3” of line, followed by another 6”. Strangely enough, this encouraged me, as I was convinced that an eel was the culprit. At 12.25 am with the bivvy frozen solid, I had a run on worm, and after a short spirited fight landed an eel of 6.10. The barbless hook fell out in the net, and after weighing, the fish was sacked for the night. Delighted at having caught my first eel in the frost, I spent the rest of the night looking forward to measuring and photographing the fish in the morning.
At 431/2 ” x 95/8”, these dimensions were similar to those of the 6.14 of the previous year, but the presence of a very old injury to the tail of this fish indicated that it was not a repeat capture. Comparison of the photographs later that day confirmed this. The fish was returned, and swam away full of beans, and I packed up the still frozen bivvy (note the frost on the ground in the photograph) and went home, intending to fish the following night. I did, it was even colder, and I blanked. The next day saw us two inches deep in snow! I have fished the water once since then with no success, and have now turned my attention to pike for the winter.
As usual, I am struggling to come to any real conclusions as to why the quality of runs has deteriorated here. Other, more experienced eel anglers tell me that it’s not unusual, and that I should be fishing off bottom or shock rigs. Even though I have tried these methods this year, it was half hearted, and I have decided to fish one rod consistently through the next year with an adapted Dyson rig, and experiment more with other rigs. I am convinced that the eels are approaching my baits cautiously, picking them up tentatively and reversing away, dropping the bait immediately resistance is felt. With hindsight, I realised that I should have used a completely different bait as well as worms, and the big black slugs that have made the last two summers so unpleasant (I woke up one night, whilst using an oval brolly, with one crawling through what’s left of my hair!) are the obvious answer. Perhaps something completely different might make a difference. It would seem that fish baits and peeler crab are no longer productive, which is odd considering my success with these on the pit in 2007.
I have decided to continue to fish this water for part of the next season: the appearance of a “new” 6, that has managed to avoid me for almost two seasons has convinced me that a bigger fish could be on the cards. I’m looking forward to the spring!