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Why Eel's...? - by David O'Sullivan

Picture the scene…

        I race home from work; the house is empty! I run up to my room, open the wardrobe door and pull out the secret compartment at the bottom. I look at my stash like Fagin in Oliver Twist. Feeling slightly dirty, I then select two well thumbed editions of the British Eel Anglers Magazine to take into the bathroom with me.

         I lock out the world and run the bath taps; my train of thought rises with the steam. My solitude is complete as I get into the bath, but then I hear an angry hand banging on the door.


“Are you reading those BEAC mags in the bath again?”


“No!” I say guiltily, hiding them under the towels. It would be far less embarrassing to be caught reading adult art literature, so I shout back, “I’m reading Gigantic Jugs of Joy!”


But she’s not buying what I’m trying to sell.


“Is it ‘The Disaster of a Season’ article by Mick Bowles?”


“No! No!” is my reply.


“Then it must be ‘The Obsession and Golden Season’ article by Kevin Richmond”


Damn, I am undone and the game is up! She hands me my dressing gown and I trudge despondently back to my room. But how did it come to this? Well, let me begin……


          A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….when I was knee-high to an elver, I saw my first LIVE eel, on a family holiday in Ireland.
        My father is from County Cork and we took a trip out Blarney way. We were standing on a bridge over a small river; the water was shallow and clear and it was a bright summer’s day. (Wot? No rain in Ireland?) I saw these eels circling underneath the bridge and asked my Dad, “What they? What they?” He said, “Eels, son. Eels,” and I knew from that moment, my way was never going to be quite the same again. We even tried to catch one on one of those orange crab lines, with a big piece of cheese. I remember feeling incredibly frustrated even then, as I watched them carry on swimming arrogantly around the bait, ignoring it completely. I have had many more Hamlet Cigar moments like that since.

I became fascinated by the freshwater eel and its complex lifecycle. I went to the library to get more information on these magical and mysterious fish. I bought Brian Crawford’s “Catch More Eels” back in 1975.
           The more I read, the more extraordinary the eel’s life seemed. So the next stage was to see one up close and personal; to touch one and to be captivated by this strange and beautiful creature. It meant only one thing - I would have to take up FISHING!

Only a baby- but how beautiful is the colouring on this eel?

          My first eel came at the tender age of 14 and what an eel it was! A fish of exactly 4lb from a lake in south Devon caught on a single lob at 10:45 pm on a flaming June night.


Layers of yellowy red
Recede behind the trees.
The sun now goes to bed
With the once warm breeze.


I hear the rushes sweeping
To and fro on the salty air.
And whilst others lay sleeping,
I’m no stranger there.

        After one almighty struggle, I remember running to our caravan with the eel safely in my net.  I was shouting, “I’ve got one! I’ve got one!” as I ran. My parents (bless them) knew it was my dream to catch an eel and fully expected to see a bootlace in the net. They were truly amazed at the size of the fish, my Nan was in shock and the dog got scared and ran outside when the eel made a groaning noise, like a low growl. The caravan was right beside the lake, so we weighed it again then sent it on its way.

          The rest of the holiday just passed me by in a bit of a blur, but it’s funny that at the end of the week, the local publican mentioned the lake had been drained the year before and all the eels removed. How little they knew?!

Back where it all began- 26 years later.

          I was spoiled by that magical first eel, because for several years after that it was close encounters of the bootlace kind. At 18 years of age, the bright lights of town on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night beckoned so I was face down in a curry at two in the morning, rather than on the bank side. I remember weaving my unsteady way home looking up at the night sky, and slurring drunkenly, “It would have been a good eel night tonight.” Wasted years? Well, not really- they got me where I am today.


So, to sum it up, Why Eels?

  1. They are so mysterious and beautiful.

  2. They do your head in when you are fishing for them

  3. They throw the rule book out of the window.

  4. They make the expert look like a fumbling, bungling amateur.

  5. No-one has ever seen a wild eel lay eggs, or seen an eel egg hatch.

  6. They find their way into the most remote and inaccessible water courses. Yes, they do cross land on a damp night- read Thomas Hardy’s poem “Nighttime in Mid Fall”.

  7. It’s an incredible journey. Why aren’t there more nature programmes about them? Because they don’t know enough about eels, their lifecycle or how they migrate such huge distances.

  8. There is no feeling like a screaming run on a canal at midnight, and the fight is truly awesome.


          When anyone asks me Why Eels, I have a strange, far away look in my eye. I don’t have an inner light, or instinctive feel for where the big eels are, or a unique and amazing ability to hook, play and land specimen Anguilla. But I do have a passion- it’s not a curse, but a gift from God, and that’s eely good.

Slippery Sully.


The Eel

Autumn leaves lay on the lake,
Shadows lengthen and daylight take.
Darkness descends without the moon,
For the last great journey is very soon.

 The nocturnal world goes about its way,
As the silt bottom stirs, and without delay
The deep and weedy water is ready to reveal
It’s mysterious occupant, the eel.

Twisting and turning without a sound,
Across the rain soaked ground,
Finding the river so instinctively,
And once more returning to the sea.

It was a brief encounter years ago,
When I caught you and let you go.
And as midnight now falls, I go to rest,
Unaware of your incredible quest.

David O-Sullivan
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