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So, Why do you go Eel fishing - by John Davis

          How often is that question asked, especially by other anglers? I’ve lost count how many times it’s been said to me; even nowadays this very same question is generally followed by “do you eat them?” or “do you kill them?” Let’s be honest, if they have never caught an eel, or don’t know anything about them it can be a pretty pointless task giving any sort of answer unless they show some kind of interest in what they’ve asked.


          So why do we spend hundreds of hours every season, fishing mainly at night for a fish which at best could weigh around four pounds and usually somewhat smaller, with five pounders and above being exceptional beasts that we can only dream of catching each year. Plus, blanking can be, and is, a way of life. One missed run can be all you have in a nights fishing, so why on earth do we do it?

          For me, it started out like this..... One of the first fishing books ever brought for me was the Ladybird Book of Coarse Fishing. It was a birthday present from my grandma. I was 13-years-old and had only just started fishing. It’s obviously very dated by today’s standards but it’s a lovely little book. On page 36 the eel makes an appearance and it immediately made a long lasting impression on me and I hoped I would soon catch one. It didn’t take too long because less than two years later, in 1978, I competed in a fishing match on the River Welland and had one! In fact I weighed in over 5lbs of them, not one of them was bigger than 4oz.


         On the subject of books, there are three books which first inspired me more than most to fish for eels; the first is Catch a Big Fish by David Carl Forbes, a book I read and re-read from my school library. The chapter in that book on fishing for eels really sums it all up nicely.

          The second is called Top Ten, edited by Bruce Vaughan. It’s a compilation by leading anglers of the day and the chapter on eels by Dave Holman really gave me the bug. And lastly, Canal Fishing by Ken Seaman. This little book has a great piece on eels. Each of these fabulous books mentions the National Anguilla Club and some of the famous anglers who were members at the time. Once again though they are all a little dated, but I would still recommend them to be read by anyone who would like to take up the exciting challenge of eel fishing. 

          The first sizable eel which graced my net wasn’t caught by design, but while on a family holiday in 1979 to the East coast at Ingoldmills near Skegness. The fish weighed all of 1lb 8oz and fought harder than all of the three and four pound tench I’d caught that day.  It would be several years later before I deliberately set out to catch one, after witnessing a three pound eel caught on sweetcorn by an angler fishing for tench on a local water.

          My first target when I started eel fishing was just to catch one. Even though I had taken plenty by accident while fishing for other species, I needed to be specifically eel fishing to make it count. For my first ‘proper’ eel fishing session I went on to the local canal where I knew I could catch one or two.

          In fact, catching eels of up to two pounds or so out of the local canals was fairly easy and after a few months of eel fishing I had my first over three pound.                                                                                        
         After starting to seriously target eels, especially on new waters, the benchmark I set for myself was three pounds.

         I personally think that’s an achievable size on any water containing eels. This might be considered a low weight for some of the more seasoned eel anglers, but for me when I’m out eel fishing a three pound fish is a good result for any effort I put in. As we will mostly fish for eels in the dark, which for me is lucky as I like to fish during the night time, we share that special time by the water after the sun has set, in which another world so seldom seen by non-fisher folk exists. For me the whole eel fishing experience is to be out in the dark. I know plenty of eels and big eels for that matter which are caught during the daytime, but it’s only really when that fat old sun starts to sink that I begin to feel more confident

          Like most of us (I believe), who fish for specimen fish, I set myself targets and try for a personal best each year. Hopefully one or two will be achieved, however, there is a golden rule to this and that is to enjoy my fishing, and not take it too seriously, well not too seriously anyway.                          
        Most of the time you will probably be the only one specifically targeting eels on your chosen water, probably others may have done it before you, but hopefully not.
         It is however a good feeling sitting back, waiting for that first bit of action, knowing that you’re doing something a little different from the rest of the crowd.
My own enthusiasm in fishing for eels is even more increased as the eel is now the only fish available to freshwater anglers with any kind of mystery.
        Not only are they so unlike any other fish, you can never truly know the size of the eel that may grace your net. The chances are that the eel you could catch has most likely never been caught before, or will do so ever again, all add up to the fascination of fishing for this amazing fish.

           I personally don’t really have a favourite type of water, but if I was limited to just one or two places, canals are at the top and the next would be any old estate lake.

          Both of these places have a timeless quality about them and exude a certain atmosphere - ageless and eerie. It’s these historic venues which hold a special place in my heart, even before I became an addicted eel fisher. Generally speaking though, I will fish for eels anywhere, I will even make an exception to my own self imposed rule and fish those awful overcrowded, barren, bland, carp type waters which unfortunately dominate angling today.

The actual catching of the eel can be fairly simple.
          Most waters will generally have a population of eels and just like all other species of fish they can sometimes be ridiculously easy to catch; on the other hand they can be the most frustratingly difficult of all fishes to target. The amount of eels in any chosen water is all part of the eel angler’s dilemma on how to approach their chosen venue. Personally I try to keep away from the over productive small eel venues and fish the places with hardly any eel history to them.

          All the eel fishing techniques that I use are pretty standard and most of the time everything is kept simple. The John Sidley rig and Colin Dyson’s adaptation of Vic Bellars perch rig suits me fine.

As for baits, worms must surely be the best eel bait of all time, with small dead bait a close second.

Of course, like all things in life it’s each to their own, we all have our own style of fishing for eels and the tactics which we prefer.


Well, now I’ve tried to explain what drives me to fish for eels, so from one eel fisher to another: “Why do you go eel fishing?”


John Davis

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