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More Odds and Ends - by Rod Hillyer

         Since writing my last article for AnguillA, I have come up with a few other things concerning eel fishing that might ( or might not!! ) interest you all…


          The summer eel fishing of 08 has been and gone, and unless your name is Mark Salt or Steve Pitts, you may be thankful for this!! I know I really struggled this year to catch anything half – decent but it certainly gave me a lot of time to sit behind motionless rods and have a think about all things eely.

          One evening I decided to have a flick through my photo albums in order to remind myself what a big eel actually looks like. Whilst browsing I stumbled upon a couple of “mug” shots of 4lb+ eels I had caught from a local gravel pit a couple of summers back. The eels weighed 4:05 and 4:06 and had totally conflicting appearances; in fact, looking at further pictures of eels weighing between 3 and 4lb demonstrated what a huge variety of “mug” characteristics there are present in this particular water.

          There seems to be a 50:50 split between huge eyes/huge pupils, over slung top jaws and small nostril lobes Vs tiny eyes/tiny pupils, under slung bottom jaw and very long nostril lobes. I have attached pictures of the 4.05 and 4.06 to show this on the next page. Hopefully, they will be clear enough for you to see the differences.

The 4:05 shows an over slung top jaw, massive eye/pupil and very small nostril.
The 4:06 shows an under slung bottom jaw, smaller eye/tiny pupil and elongated nostril lobe.


        The obvious question I am going to ask is “why does one water hold such a large number of eels of similar weight categories with such conflicting appearances?”

My initial theory was based on the type of water the eels live in; this lake is very coloured and deep. However, if the eels had evolved according to their surrounding environment then surely they would all portray characteristics as shown by the 4:06; very large nostrils to hunt in the coloured water by scent and small eyes because they are not really needed that much. This was quickly rejected on the basis that the other 50 percent have completely the opposite features!! In an ideal world we could simply catch an eel and ask it a few questions but unless you’re a user of Class B drugs you’re not going to get much of a response!! So unfortunately all of what I am going to say next is based on pure assumption and not a lot of fact…you have to form a conclusion, somehow!!

          I believe that certain waters contain lots of eels that are totally different in appearance yet have almost identical weights because of varying growth rates and/or genetics. I am not talking about mouth – shapes here, remember; we know that these are dependent upon the food types the eels feed on. I am talking specifically about the jaw structure, eye sizes and nostril lobes found on an eel.

          For example, could the 4:06 eel be a younger, faster growing fish? The reason I ask this is because when I compared another picture of the fish laying down next to my rod, showing its whole body – length, against a similar photo of the 4:05, it was in absolutely mint condition; no battle scars, no tears or rips in the fins etc. The 4:05, however, was covered in old scars and had lots of nicks in its fins…it looked an ancient fish in comparison.

Specimen A – 4.06

          Was the 4:05 on its last legs (or fins!!)? Could this eel have previously portrayed  a different appearance, similar to that of the 4:06? Do eels’ eyes become larger with age? Do their nostril lobes shrink with age?

          Or was the 4:06 of an equivalent weight but with a younger, fresher look because it was a faster growing individual with “good” genetics?


          Questions, questions but no answers. We will never know but it’s food for thought and if it’s prompted another article from a NAC member, then it’s been of some use, after all!!


          The next bit of this article looks at the social behaviour of eels. When I first started eeling back in the 80s, I was led to believe that big eels were very solitary in behaviour and do not like to feed in areas near to other big eels. Now we’re in 2008 and I realise this is a load of cobblers!!
The very fact that a handful of anglers have been lucky enough to catch braces of big eels in the same session, and within a short space of time of each other, suggests that really big eels do in fact feed in the same vicinity and overlap the same patrol routes.


         Earlier this year on the NAC stand at the PAC conference in Warwick, myself, Mark Salt, Dave Smith and Barry McConnell got onto this very subject .


          It was useful to have Salty present during the conversation because he has experienced first hand what it’s like to catch a brace of 6s very close together in time...30 minutes, in fact!! Not satisfied with this feat alone, he then goes and catches a 6lb’er during a frost!!

         Anyway, it made me remember a barbel session I had on the Hampshire Avon earlier this year. I had caught a couple of chub from a gravel seam beside a huge bed of streamer weed and decided to top the swim up with some more trout pellets and hempseed. I carefully sprinkled the mix over this gravel strip and then sat back and waited to see if any barbel put in an appearance.

After half an hour or so I crept up to the front of the swim and peered into the clear water to look at the gravel patch where I’d put the freebies. I nearly fell in when I saw 2 large eels gobbling up the hemp and pellets. They were obviously pretending to be barbel!! These eels were definitely over 3lb apiece and were feeding together, even turning little stones over with their noses for each other and sharing the feast. I watched them with fascination for over 45 minutes. At no point did these eels leave each others’ sides; they swam together, touching flanks and fed in exactly the same spots. It was only when they had hoovered every last bit of food up that they swam off back into the weed bed. This was all on a baking, hot summers’ day in early afternoon, in crystal clear water. Wasn’t there another theory back in the 80s that said big eels don’t feed in the daytime…


          I repeated the baiting process twice more in the same spot and each time the same eels ventured out and fed confidently on the bait. This proves without a shadow of a doubt that large eels feed together and it makes sense; there is safety in numbers against predators by feeding in this manner and judging by these 2 eels’ behaviour, they were definitely warding off the little chub and dace from invading their feeding space.
          It also proves eels adore trout pellets, too!! How many big eels are caught on pellets by the carp lads every year. Food for thought.

          Interestingly, these eels only “spooked” when I lowered in my hook bait onto the gravel patch in order to catch a barbel that was looming ever closer to the baited zone. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t catch the barbel!!


          We, as anglers, should apply this behaviour to our fishing. I, for one, make sure once I have caught a good eel I sack it up quickly and get the bait back out ASAP in case another biggy is feeding close by or overlaps the others’ feeding patrol route. A similar thing happens with big pike sometimes, too.

         Hopefully, I might have stirred some thoughts and ideas somewhere with the content of this article. Get writing !!

          I will leave you with a photo of our very own Wayne Staddon returning his 3:10 eel caught at the Hampshire NAC Fish – In,  back in September. Prior to taking this picture, Wayne had very bravely demonstrated how to hold a large eel that was fresh out the sack in front of 8 people!!

Rod Hillyer
Specimen B - 4.07
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