Fishing the right water... - by Mark Salt
2010 was a memorable year for me, when the efforts of the previous 3 seasons seemed to come together. My eel fishing “season” started mid March, and ended in early November, with a total of 10 eels over 4lbs, 10 over 5lbs and 3 over 6lbs. I had 4s and 5s from 3 different waters, but concentrated on one pit that produced the bulk of the 5s and 6s. If I had to identify what made this year so successful (in my terms, anyway) it would be choice of water and fishing every week irrespective of conditions, concentrating mostly on one water. I fished some 51 nights in all, mostly single night sessions. Choice of water probably merits some explanation, although I have written about this before.
My first “rule” is not to look for waters where big eels have been caught previously, although I will home in on pits where the odd eel turns up to a carp angler. There are several reasons for this approach: if a water has produced a genuine massive eel, then I am not convinced that it will produce another. Really big eels are very rare, and most pits and lakes will only produce one, which is unlikely to be caught twice. I am also allergic to other anglers, especially eel anglers, and do not like to share waters. Finally, I find little satisfaction in following in others footsteps. Eel fishing for me is catching eels where they have not been targeted before. Moving on to awater with a big eel pedigree does not inspire me.
Rule 2 involves food. I look for rich waters, with weed beds and plenty of invertebrate life. I do not worry if there are no silver fish present, as I am convinced that eels grow bigger if they are not fish feeders. Tesch supports this in his book “the Eel”, stating that eels grow fatter on an invertebrate diet, and longer, but not so heavy, on a fish diet. Crayfish are also an excellent food source for eels, and crayfish infestation seems to lead to short, fat young eels. Obvious really, as what could be easier than feeding on crayfish in their burrows if you are designed to fit in them!
Finally, look at the photos of really big eels-they usually have small heads and mouths.
As usual, all of the above will be proven wrong at some point: this is, after all, eel fishing.
A 4, 5 and 6 all from the same one night session - April 2010
I tend not to worry about prospective waters’ proximity to rivers. I am happy if there is a ditch or stream within a few hundred yards of the water that ultimately leads to a river. Even that may not be critical to the eel’s presence in a water, as flooding in the past must have seeded many waters. Neither do I worry if said ditches are dry for most of the year. An area only has to flood once every 80 years or so for eels to spread around. A few have pointed out that I am lucky to live in an area with so many good waters available. There is some truth in that, but I believe that all areas have similar potential for big eels if you research your waters well. Don’t follow the crowds-do your own legwork. I spend as much time walking around waters as I do fishing them, and never fish a swim without knowing exactly what is in front of me. A “Smartcast” depthfinder is one of my most important pieces of equipment, and I use it every time I fish, even in swims I believe I know well. Many times I have found new features that have helped put fish on the bank that the usual plumbing methods would miss. How anyone can turn up at a new water and not find out exactly what the nature of the lake bed is before they fish is beyond me! Steve Pitts is a new convert to the Smartcast, and has said that he can now achieve in 10 minutes what used to take many hours of plumbing, and do it more accurately. He is probably the most meticulous angler I have met when it comes to research, and so his endorsement means a lot. I should mention that I still search the bottom out with a lead to identify silt, gravel and weed, as the smartcast is not very accurate for this.
At the start of this I mentioned fishing every week,and if you can do this it will pay dividends. If you fish for eels sporadically you need to be very lucky to catch them on the feed. In an ideal world I would fish for 2 or 3 nights in a row every week, but in my world that would quickly lead to divorce and bankruptcy-I’d catch more eels, but at a high price!
A 6.08 caught on dyson'd worm over thick blanket of weed - May 2010
Keep on the Move
I make sure that I fish every area on a water, choosing a different swim for each session until I have covered the lake or pit as best I can. Every water is different, and I have found that where one water will produce a “sixes” swim, another will throw up big eels from several different areas. In 2010 my 3 fish over 6lbs came from areas many hundreds of yards apart, with different characteristics in terms of depth and feature. Obviously, on a smaller water you will soon have fished all available swims, and start to “double up”, but on my current favourite water, with some 60 odd acres to cover, I am still fishing new swims and areas, only now, after some 60 odd nights, fishing the same swims for a second time.
What are good conditions?
Damned if I know! I seem to have caught big eels in all moon phases and conditions. There is no real pattern, and I now just go fishing whenever I can. I prefer darker nights, but I have caught big eels on bright nights, and the really big one that I am after could come at any time. I do catch very few eels in daylight (two in 2010) despite the fact that I start fishing in the afternoon and try to stay on until mid morning on most sessions. Once again, though, that monster could come at any time. There are a few events that I think help-very dark nights, algae and daphnia blooms and other fish spawning, and if these are coupled with falling barometric pressure I get quite excited-I need to get out more! The 3 eels shown in the first picture were part of a 4 eel catch during the first algae bloom of the year. Roger Castle, a commercial eel fisherman, told me that yellow eel fishing should be banned in April because the eel activity is so intense during the first algae blooms each year. I will see if that applies this year.
Water temperature is only critical at the beginning and end of the year. I have seldom caught eels when the water is below 53f at the start of the year, and below 50f at the end. Eels undoubtedly feed in colder water than this, especially in deeper lakes, and in rivers, but I am happy to leave cold water eeling to those who do not want to fish for other species in the winter. Conversely, it doesn’t seem to matter how warm the water gets-the hotter the better!
Rigs and bits
Much fuss is made about the Dyson rig from time to time, usually after a few big eels are caught using one. They are an excellent way of presenting a bait “off bottom”, either to stay above snags or weed, or if you feel that the eels are feeding up in the water, say on daphnia or a hatch of invertebrate of some sort. They are not without disadvantage, however. They can be prone to tangling, and this is usually due to either casting style (or lack of it) and/or poor design. Also, they undoubtedly present more resistance to a taking fish in some circumstances due to the more complicated principal involved, and present more components liable to spook the fish. Finally, eels tend to rise up off the bottom, take the bait, sink back down to the bottom and swallow the lot without moving off. This means that all indications must be investigated to avoid deep hooking. My own preference is shown below, but it is not definitive. If you inspect another anglers rig you will undoubtedly find different components in different places, although the overall principal will be the same. The photo and text below is taken from a previous article.
"The Dyson Rig"
An Autumn 6.11
A cracking start to 2011!
As I finish writing this article it’s mid may of 2011, and I’m still in shock over Sully’s magnificent 8.09 caught a few weeks ago-a well deserved capture after many years of dedicated eel fishing. Well done David! The night before Sully caught this magnificent beast, I had a 7.11 from the same water as the three 6s already mentioned. I was fortunate to be able to fish for 3 nights in a row due to M’lady’s trip to Florence to look at some old church or other. I nearly pointed out that there was an old church in our village, and it might be a bit easier just to have a walk round that, but then realized that she should be encouraged to spend as much time abroad as possible, leaving me to go fishing!
The first night was a blank in the same swim from which the 6.11 had appeared, and on the second night, again in the same swim, I had a 3 and a 4, and a visit from a carp angler (frightened the life out of me by appearing in my swim at 11pm!) who told me that he had seen an eel "5 feet long" in another part of the pit whilst he was up a tree carp spotting. So, on the 3rd night, after investigating the tree and the area, I moved and fished as near to it as possible, not expecting much. The eel that turned up was only 45" long, not the 60" that was promised, but did have a girth of 10.25" and weighed 7.11. I owe the carp angler a crate of Stella, methinks! I also had a 4.6 that night, and pulled out of another. I will pay more attention to carp anglers in future. This session again highlighted the effectiveness of the “Smartcast” in finding features. I had fished this swim the year before when I had a small 5, but much later in the year when the weed had grown on. Now, in May, there was little weed growth evident, so I decided to fish all 3 rods “on bottom”. However, in the course of chucking the smartcast around, I found a small hump in the margins just under a tree in about 6 feet of water. Dragging a lead through showed it to be a thick but small weedbed, so I changed tactics on one rod, fishing dyson’d lob section just over the top of it, and this rod produced the 7. Maybe I’d still have caught it if I’d not used the Dyson, but who knows. It just reminded me how important it is to use varied tactics at all times.
7.11 and a new PB
I can only hope that my luck continues this year. I have a new water in mind for the future, but will continue to fish the current pit until I feel that I cannot catch a bigger eel from it. On the other hand, so many waters throw up an absolute monster after many years of being eel fished. It doesn’t make sense really-but then, after all, this is eel fishing!
A few comments on the rig. Wire is 20lb Drennan Titanium E Sox, crimped. I test it to almost destruction each time I fish, and find that I change the wire after around 6 nights, when one strand might break on test. Does not kink, even after pike, and is quite supple and thin. The length of silicon tube over the main line that the run ring slides along serves two purposes. Firstly, it helps prevent tangles. Secondly, if the rigs are swung out from the side, as opposed to an overhead cast, then the lead goes one way, and the bait another. I let the lead sink on a slack line, and then raise the rod and tighten up, pulling the bait up to the Dyson link. When the run ring encounters the start of the silicone you will feel it “snick” (if you’re using braid) over the tube, and you are then 100% sure that it is not tangled. The cork ball above the rubber stop bead is designed to support weight of swivels when rollover releases, thus reducing resistance. I have now also incorporated another cork ball below the ceramic run ring on the amnesia link, just to support the run ring when the rollover releases.The 22lb powergum shock absorber between wire trace and mainline eliminates hook pulls, and absorbs any sudden shocks. I use a fairly short wire trace to help prevent tangling. I also use short traces on leger rigs to aid indication by reducing the distance an eel can move the bait toward me before giving an indication. I use at least a 3oz lead, as anything smaller will move when the fish moves off. You want the lead to stay planted firmly on the bottom, not bouncing around causing the eel to eject the bait. If you don’t believe that a smaller lead will move around, try it in a tank of water. If you fish off the baitrunner, then even a 3oz lead moves when a fish takes the bait!
The only difference with these and my “on bottom” rig is to replace the Dyson link with a 3oz lead attached with a 1” link to the run ring with 9lb line, with a piece of silicon tube covering the line and a cork ball tight up to the run ring-a JS style rig, in fact. For the on bottom rig I overcast and let the lead sink on a tight line. For the off bottom rig I cast from the side, and let the lead sink on an open bail arm, then tighten up as described in the article. If you do not feel the “snick” of the run ring pulling over the silicone on the mainline then you are tangled. To finally set up the Dyson I tighten up then release line until I judge that the float has risen as far as it can – only a few feet at most of line is released, and it must be tensioned against the float for good bite indication.
One night at the end of October
The last few weeks of the “season”, when water temperature is falling, always seem to produce big eels, obviously due to the last chance feeding spell that occurs. On the night in question I decided to fish a swim right in the corner of a large rush fringed bay. I’d ignored this swim in the past, as it is the first one that I walk past coming from the car park, which, incidentally, is around half a mile away from the lake, and is popular with picnickers, drug users and drunks in the middle of the night!
On this occasion something encouraged me to drop in here. Lots of fallen trees and deepish margins, with a large weed bed indentified on the smartcastsome 3 rod lengths out, made for a really “eely” swim. With “on bottom” worm to the left under a tree, about 2 feet from the bank, and two rods on the Dyson around the weed bed, one with raw king prawn and the other lobworm sections, I was set up for the night. I must admit to enjoying these chilly autumn nights as much as the warm summer ones. They are longer, and I always feel that presents more opportunity for the eels to be active. They also seem to be a lot quieter and peaceful to me-the wildlife is less vocal, and that includes the drug users and drunks. Too cold for them, I guess.
The pit in question is also alive with Nightingales, in fact, there seems to be one to every swim. The first few times that they sing all night is fascinating, but the novelty wears off after a while! The cold weather seems to shut them up. Anyway, nothing happened until around 1pm, when the margin rod (with lob worm sections on bottom) gave a single bleep. I was out and by the rod as the rollover moved more than a few inches and then turned over. A quick strike, a mad minute of pumping the fish the few feet to the net, and it was all over.