A tale of three Five's - by Steve Dawe
This is the story of my three best eels to date all very different but also all very special. The first of these eels was caught many years ago and although I fished for eels occasionally my main quarry back in 1998 was carp, at this time I was a bait tester for SBS Baits and fishing several Southwest waters containing large Carp. My eel fishing was confined to the third rod when things were quiet as this always produced a few runs which seemed a welcome distraction to the hours of silence emanating from my carp rods.
This particular trip was in July and was the second day of a two night session. The weather was not playing ball with conditions similar to the surface of Mercury, the Carp basking just out of range.
In those days you had to cast your rod out! I think if I remember right I always used the excuse they were just out of range but this time they were and even if they weren’t they were to interested in spawning to eat.
The water was the forty acre Lower Tamar Lake. Basically a round man made reservoir from 3 to 8 feet deep and very silty. I had fished the lake since the age of 14 and had an extraordinary trip there in 1982. A friend and I had been dropped off by our parents and we set up on the dam wall with our ledger gear. Shortly after casting, the Bailiff, a wrinkly old sourpuss turned up to check our tickets. We had received a few bollockings from him in the past as we always sneaked up to the river connecting Lower Tamar to the then trout-fished Upper Tamar.
This river was always full of big rainbows and we would quickly catch enough to cover the cost of our tickets.
The downside was running the gauntlet of the bailiff who had a sixth sense with regards to young whipper snappers poaching the trout. His trusty Black Labradors, Laurel and Hardy would quickly alert him to the fresh rainbows wedged down our waders.
This resulted in an immediate ban from the water.
Luckily his memory was dreadful and within a fortnight he wouldn’t know us from Adam.
As he approached we prayed his memory was still not his greatest asset. Laurel and Hardy bounded over and checked us for trout - nothing wrong with their memories.
“Morning Lads” croaked sourpuss, “tickets!”
We showed our tickets and made small talk. Sourpuss then asked us if we would consider doing him a favour.
A big carp had gone down the spillway into the small overflow pool. He wanted us to try and catch it and return it to the main lake. Our prize would be a free days fishing.
We accepted the offer knowing full well that sourpuss’ memory would work against us this time as he would never remember offering us free fishing. We were intrigued to fish the small pool anyway, so off we went, that day we landed over 100 eels from the pool.
The eels ranged from 8oz to about 1lb 8oz and most fell to worms or cheese. As soon as I cast out, the fairy liquid bottle top would fly up.
It must have been paved with them. We released all of the eels into the main lake. We never came across that carp, but I have a horrible feeling that the snake pit of eels might have had a mud pig buffet.
Anyway I have digressed back to the trip in question. The Carp weren’t feeding so it was out with the trusty eel rig. The bait was worms soaked in minamino.
I banged this out towards the middle of the lake. Midday approached and the Sun was unbearable, under the brolly it was shaded but sauna like, conditions like this sap the energy right out of you.
Suddenly the Optonic wailed for attention, the line was steadily leaving the spool, I managed to muster the strength to get to the rod, struck to nothing but realised I wasn’t carping with this rod and the bale arm was open. Try again and this time the rod hooped over.
Line was still leaving the reel but via the clutch. This must be a carp I thought. No way could an eel take line like this then out in the lake. Then the unmistakable elongated shape of an eel tail walked across the flat surface.
5lb 1oz of Personal best Eel
The eel was bigger than anything I had ever hooked or seen; a monster!
All my conceptions of eels went out of the window in a split second. This eel had taken line, fed in the middle of the day in bright sunshine and impersonated a tarpon. This must have been a rare eel indeed.
After netting this magnificent creature, a few of my fellow carpers wandered over for a look. They were all suitably impressed, but none more than me. I was mesmerised by this beautiful yet powerful creature.
We quickly weighed her and at 5lb 1oz it was 3lb bigger than any previous eels I had caught. As the eel swam off, I decided eel angling would be my destiny. I wanted to catch more eels like this; after all how hard could it be?
I now jump forward in time. Yes, how hard can it be? Well it’s the winter of 2006 and I have been eeling for several years now. I have landed some great eels and learnt an awful lot about the elusive Anguilla but not beaten that fish of 1998.
The more you learn about the eel the more you realise that catching big eels requires so many variables - to be in right place and even when everything else falls into place you still require a large portion of lady luck. The longer my eeling goes on, the more time I feel I want to put to it. I therefore decided to fish through the winter as carp were once thought to be uncatchable during this period. The waters I chose were quarries close to my home; my thought process was that at 60 feet deep the water temperature should stay fairly consistent. I also planned to fish daytrips not nights and to fish through the warmer parts of the 24hr period. Up to Christmas 2006 I managed a few small eels to worms or maggots but nothing to the fish baits. I was still confident and as eels were the only species inspiring me, I would stick it out. January 2007 and snow came. Not much, but enough to coat the moors and surrounding fields. Wow, an opportunity to catch an eel in the snow. So it was off to the quarry. Strange how an idea conceived at home by the fire quickly loses its appeal while you’re sat by a freezing cold quarry. I must be mad. This particular day it was dam cold, my fingers and toes had divorced me so there was no way I was risking having a pee.
One of my favourite sayings invented by Derek Trotter and stolen by the SAS is He Who Dares Wins, and I dared but alas didn’t win.
The following weekend came and despite the moors still having snow on them, the lower lying land had thawed, the easterly wind had disappeared and the January sun was quite pleasant. My confidence was back. It usually was come the weekend as following a blank a quick read of John Sidley’s book puts me back on track.
I turned up at the quarry and surprise surprise, I was the only person there.
It’s not a very productive water for anglers and the myriad of snags quickly send people packing. This was another water I fished as a youngster and I do know it very well.
In summary, very deep, full of snags and the most difficult water to catch bait on I know.
I set up the rods and put them out on lobs while I set about trying to catch one of the twelve roach in the lake. At 11am something amazing happened. The super fine float rig armed with a single maggot dipped below the surface. I struck into silver treasure in the shape of a roach.
As this was such a rarity I quickly returned the roach to the deep cold waters. However, it was now attached to an eel rig! I placed this rig under a marginal tree on a ledge in 12 foot of water; the other rod I kept on lobs in about 35 foot of water.
At midday the roach decided to go for a bit of a workout and for a full ten minutes pulled the indicator up and down even with the Delkims on low sensitivity. They constantly beeped.
This is normally the sign of an approaching predator. The roach fell silent. Was this a sign that it was resigned to its fate ending in the belly of an eel or was it just knackered?
A further ten minutes past before the mystery was solved.
The Delkim gurgled into life, but this time the roach was not the culprit, as line disappeared into the depths. I calmly picked up the rod and let the line run through my fingers.
The strike was met with solid resistance and line was begrudgingly taken from the reel.
I couldn’t afford to let the fish get down to the many snags that litter the lake bed. It seemed like stalemate, the rod pulsed in a full ark but I couldn’t gain line and I held the spool in the hope of thwarting any further descent of the eel.
After what seemed like an age, the eel tried a different tactic and swam toward me; an error on the part of this wise old fish. I was quickly able to retrieve line and keep her moving. The head of the eel broke the surface. The head of a monster I thought.
It was indeed a special eel and after it was netted I could see the body did not match up to the head, but this fish would surely smash my long time PB. I unhooked the eel and placed her in the landing net in the water so I could calm down and carryout the all important weighing procedure. After a period of meditation - also known as a fag - I weighed the eel and she weighed 5lb exactly, incredibly close. Although a bit disappointed that this magnificent eel didn’t break my P.B, I remembered that this was a winter eel, caught by design and was reward for my perseverance.
5lb January Eel
This eel proved that winter eeling can produce good eels and also that eel angling pays you back in the end. It only takes one fish like this to make all the blanks worthwhile. The eel gods require their pound of flesh before bestowing their highest rewards upon us.
Now to the final eel in my trio of 5s and we have to jump forward to this year. Following a very poor winter campaign, which produced a grand total of no eels, I thought this year may be tough.
I planned to fish exclusively for eels this year, except a couple of shark trips that I do annually or should I call them 10 hours of chucking chopped up mackerel into the sea, while I haemorrhage money from my wallet.
Anyway, despite a poor start, a return to my old stomping ground of Upper Tamar in April produced my first eel of the year at 4lb 2oz, the only run of the night, but who cares when there fish of this calibre. Then I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with Mark Salt attending the eel conference at Bridgewater and fishing the night at a local water.
I managed four eels to 3lb10oz and Mark had an eel of 3lb 8oz. The strange thing was that we both hooked the 3lb eels at the same time and after them we never had anymore runs, despite having runs constantly up to that point. I can only surmise that upon seeing Mark, the eel reported back to its eel brethren the terrifying site that awaited them on the bank.
The next big fishing adventure had been planned with Barry McConnell. We were to spend two nights on a two-acre lake in Cornwall that was reputed to contain monster eels. Upon arrival we found out just how far the lake was as the girl on reception advised us that the lake could be found at the bottom of the 7th Tee. Yes, we were to fish in the middle of a golf course. We eventually found the lake and probably broke several golfing rules by walking across the fairways. The lake really was lovely and very eely.
Night fishing was only by special arrangement and as the lake’s carp were low doubles we surmised that it was not fished very often. Another reason it’s not fished very much was the price. Barry did try explaining he was from the North but it still cost us £36 each.
Bait was easy to catch even though Barry did consider them a particularly ugly strain of roach.
Barry quickly landed a boot, which we hoped was a one off, but it was not to be, as the lake seemed full of small eels that would feed all night and leave your rig baitless and tangled in a slimy mess.
The Golf Club water too good to be true!
On the plus side, during this trip Barry convinced me to use the Dyson rig and to consider the use of a wire trace. I have always been set it my ways with the methods that have worked for me, but perhaps its time for a change? So, upon my return home I was eager to try the Dyson rig out. I had been away for three days and would be pushing my luck to do another overnighter.
So I needed a water that I could fish for a short evening that contained a few eels.
I settled on a water that is only a five minute drive from my place. You can only fish till sunset as there is strict night fishing ban. This complex contains two small ponds that were once trout lakes. The biggest lake is just over an acre and full of carp and tench. The smaller lake has produced eels to 3lb to me in the past, but my best from the top lake was 2lb 4oz taken in July 2000. So, the venue looked good for a four hour trip. The weather was sunny and warm and upon arrival I found the carp were grouping up in the shallows preparing to spawn.
I decided that I would fish this area in the hope the eels would gather there too for an easy feast of spawn. This area was about three to four feet deep and the far margin was a non-fishing area and heavily overgrown.
I put one rod on this far margin with Dyson-fished roach deadbait and the other in the middle of the lake again on Dyson-fished deadbait. The first run came in about 10 minutes and turned out to be a perch of 1lb 8oz. There never used to be perch in this lake, but there’s not a lot I could do about it. They had been stocked illegally. Over the next few hours I had four more perch up to 2lb. It was now 20.30pm, I only had an hour left at the water and perch were getting to the baits befo re the eels. I don’t dislike perch, in fact I think they are stunning looking fish and a worthy species within their own right, but I was there for the eels. The perch suddenly stopped taking the baits, unless of course I had caught them all? At 21.00 hours will still no more activity I started to pack up, when at 21.15 the far margin rod was belting off. This was no perch this time.
I struck into what was obviously a good eel. A huge area of bubbles and debris frothed on the surface. The eel then ran towards the back of an island. I felt confident in the tackle and was able to play the eel rather than bully it. There were no immediate dangers at this lake, so I would take it steady. The eel fought well and I knew it was a special fish. After the netting, I lay the eel on the mat and was stunned that it was extremely thick from its head through most of its body.
I didn’t want to tempt fate, but inside I really felt that this was the fish I had waited over ten years for. I put the eel straight on the scales and at 5lb 8oz it was a new P.B. I was stunned. I rang my wife who was also genuinely pleased for me. As the light was fading fast I had to be off the water.
I didn’t have time to set up the tripod for the pictures so I would have to find another angler. I placed the fish in the landing net and back into the water. I walked towards the car park and came across the last two anglers loading their car. I asked if they would mind photographing an eel for me. They obliged, but were somewhat mystified why anyone would want to photograph an eel. Upon returning to the swim, I laid the eel on the mat. Both of these anglers were amazed and the one now holding my camera asked what type of eel it was,
“It’s a freshwater eel," I answered. “Oh, I thought it might have been a conger,” came the reply.
Oh my god, I have just asked a guy to take a picture of my biggest eel in ten years who believes that a conger eel has somehow managed to leave the bowels of a Second World War shipwreck in the middle of the English Channel and set up home in a carp pond. Please god, let all the money I spent on the camera eradicate the cockup that this guy is about to do to my picture.
In fairness I really appreciate that these guys came over and done the shot. It didn’t come out too bad, they just need to go home and study their Ladybird Book of freshwater fishes.
5lb 8oz P.B Eel ( not a conger )
Well, that’s the story of three very special eels, all very different in many ways. The first one coming from a 40-acre reservoir in tropical conditions; the second eel coming from a deep quarry in the middle of winter and the third eel coming from a tiny carp pond on my doorstep.
As an angler I have tried to analyse these captures, to try and find some common factor and my findings indicate a big eel can show up when you least expect it, from waters with no history of large eels.
To give yourself the best chance of a big eel, you need to stick with it through the rough and smooth and discover the eel potential of a water yourself; not via hearsay.
I have discounted far too many waters in the past that have no history of big eels; I won’t be making that mistake again.