Odds and Ends - by Rod Hillyer
Well, I begin this piece with an apology. I have been a member of the NAC now for two years and this is my first article for their magazine!! Shocking huh??
What with getting married, moving into a new home, starting a new job and obviously trying to fit some fishing in somewhere, there has been little time for sitting down and penning some words for AnguillA. I guess there are a few of you out there in a similar situation but at last things have quietened down slightly and I can take the chance to put a few thoughts on to paper.
This article covers a few topics, rather than focussing on one. It contains ideas and views gathered from nearly 20 years of fishing on and off for big eels. I say “on and off” simply because there have been regular diversions tracking down other species of fish but I seem to always come back to my roots and end up spending hot, clammy summer evenings after the snakes every season.
First off, I want to focus on the NAC itself . The last magazine that Nick Rose kindly put together was one of the better ones since I have been a member. The reason for this was simple. There were a few articles and piccys!! Without material a magazine cannot function. I have been guilty as anyone for not contributing to the NAC but I am making an effort. When I was a British Eel Anglers Club member back in the 80s/90s, I always made an effort to write something for the legendary Micky Bowles and his Eel News magazines. Yes, I was a lot younger, single and living at home, so there was more time but it can still be done.
I must take this chance and thank Mark Salt and Nick Rose for taking the time to take the reigns of the NAC and extend its life; it would be a crying shame to see all the eel clubs vanish and end up the same way.
I met Nick recently at the NEC Go Fishing event and what a top bloke he is, along with the Zandavan boys, Barry McConnell and Pete Drabble. It was superb to meet you both. Your zander and eel DVD’s were amazing, too. Some of the footage of those New Zealand long fin and short fin eels will go down in history, I am sure. Absolutely addictive watching. The wife couldn’t get a word out of me all evening !!!
I digress… The Members Profile pages in the last mag were really good and I always love to read about other anglers and their own views on all aspects of angling. We could all write one of these for AnguillA over the course of 2008, I am sure ??
It was interesting to note that many of our fellow NAC members do not purely fish for eels. I think this is quite refreshing in a way, simply because fishing for a few different species keeps the motivation going and definitely avoids “burn out”, which has happened to a lot of anglers along the way. However, I do respect those who choose to specialise in eels all year and have a lot of admiration for them. I personally alternate my eel sessions with stalking massive carp on the Hampshire pits or sight fishing for big barbel and chub in the crystal clear waters of the Hampshire Avon/Dorset Stour. This keeps my enthusiasm brimming the whole summer long. Come the winter I put the eel gear away and focus on chasing big pike, with the odd session after barbel and chub.
My next bit of this article looks at the rig I am now using for eels. I have tried all manner of eel rigs over the years, off bottom rigs, sub surface rigs etc but always come back to the one I am 100% happy with and that’s the old faithful John Sidley rig. However, I have modified it very slightly with the addition of bits and pieces here and there. It is fairly tangle free ( still get the odd tangle on a hefty cast..), easy to set up if you have made all the bits up in advance at home and has caught hundreds of massive eels over the last 30 odd years for a lot of famous names.
I keep the Amnesia mid-links in a Gardner stiff rig wallet, so they remain dead straight and my wire traces in a Gardner rig bin. My lead links are also made up in advance and kept in plastic, see-through pouches that you find in Fox rig wallets. This keeps them separated and prevents them from rolling about and getting kinked.
Have a look at the diagram. It’s all very self explanatory…
Another topic I want to chat about is how much of an influence the spawning times of other fish species have on our own eel fishing results. This is very relevant to us all because over the next 2-3 months (bearing in mind I am writing this in March), if we get some very hot weather, those bream and roach will start moving into the edges of our pits and lakes ready for spawning. Those big, old eels will be there to greet them and stuff themselves stupid on spawn. This can lead to some crazy and mind blowing eel fishing, if you can locate these spawning grounds.
This happens every season on one of my local waters. It is a large 20 acre gravel pit with very coloured water. It is very open and exposed, apart from one large island in the centre and one bank which is lined with dense, snaggy bushes and sunken trees. Under these bushes and trees are huge canopies of tree roots that extend out from the near bank drop off. Come the first hot spell, usually around the end of April/early May, huge shoals of bream and roach move into this bank to spawn. The water is black with them, no joke. This activity triggers the eels to go on a feeding binge which lasts until early June. They seem to drop their guard and eat whatever you throw at them, at any time of the day or night. Once the spawning activity ceases the eels vanish and you are lucky to get any runs on this bank for the remainder of the summer. I suspect they head back out to the open expanses of water, where they resume feeding in an unpressured environment.
For the last two years I have been focussing on a small section of this snaggy area and caught some very good eels topped by a new PB of 5lb 13oz.
Incidentally, the larger eels seemed to feed better in the daytime, sometimes in bright sunshine. The feeding spells occurred between 4.30pm-8.30pm and again at 11.30pm-1.30am. However, once the bream and roach finish spawning the daytime feeding spells end and
the eels revert back to night feeding, again. I reckon the eels must realise that this golden opportunity of easy pickings is a one-off and so feed like mad outside their usual comfort zone until it’s all over.
Actually, talking about feeding times brings me on to my next topic of conversation…
In the last mag, Nick Rose and Jason Morgan both touch on the idea of fishing short, partial nights, in contrast to the traditional “sitting it out all night” approach for big eels.I think this is a very sensible way of eeling and I have been doing a lot of partial nights over the last 5 years, i.e. fishing from say a couple of hours before dusk to 2.30am,and then packing up and dashing home to get some kip. I appreciate not all of us have waters on our doorsteps that we can drive home from at 2.30am but if you do, think about it. I also realise I will be missing out on the odd big eel at dawn but if you’ve got a job to go to the next day or a family to contend with, you are going to be more popular if you get some kip and are able to stay awake at some point !!! I can honestly say my eeling results have not suffered since doing more of these style sessions; on most of the pits and ponds in Dorset/Hants the eels have a definite feeding spree from 11.30pm-1.30am. I have been taking advantage of this and catching just as many big eels as I did when I fished all through the night. The only difference is I do not look like a character from the “Night of The Living Dead” films the next morning…..
Also, fishing shorter sessions means you can travel lighter. I only take a small Fox quiver for a brolly, rods, net and bank sticks with a small Wychwood rover rucksack for reels, tackle box, Delkims etc including some sandwiches/small flask of drink and a small Nashy Lo-chair with shoulder strap.
I accept that by fishing this way I am never going to be in the league of the late, great John Sidley for shear numbers of huge eels but you’ll still be in with the chance of a big eel at some point, if you persevere.
My PB eel of 5lb 13oz, caught at 8.30pm, June 07 on double lob
Talking about night fishing brings me on to my penultimate bit of this article.
Whilst out and about on the bank it’s very interesting to observe the different attitudes anglers have when they go night fishing; some set up under a brolly and sit by their rods on a lo-chair and fish up to midnight, some get into a sleeping bag on a bedchair under a profile brolly/oval brolly and others set up a bivvy with all the home comforts and a ton of beer. Each to their own, of course.
I then turn to eel anglers and wonder how we all approach a typical night out on the bank.
I personally, as I’ve said before, set out as light as possible; if it rains I put up a light weight 50” brolly. Otherwise I sit on a Nashy Lo-chair, right by the rods under the stars. My sarnies and flask are next to me at the ready.
I hear every rustle of the hedgehogs and mice in the bushes behind me, every shrill note of the tawny owl and listen to the foxes calling to one another. I smell the glorious summer night air and gaze at the stars overhead.
For me, this all adds to the incredible atmosphere I experience by sitting up, staying alert and actually fishing; far better than being asleep and stuck inside a dark bivvy. Then, as soon as an eel belts off with my bait I will be straight on the rod to strike INSTANTLY and hook the eel CLEANLY.
Last summer, fishing in this manner, I only deep hooked one eel out of a dozen or so fish.
Now, I know some of the NAC members may fish in a very different manner to me but I beg you all to look at how you fish and how many eels you are currently deep hooking. If you are bivvying up, sleeping in a sleeping bag and dropping off into deep sleeps and still deep hooking eels far too regularly, then please change your approach. If you are fishing in this manner and neat hooking all your fish then tell me your secret because I cannot comprehend how you can wake up, find your way out of a sleeping bag ( zipped/unzipped ), stumble out of the bivvy and then strike in time to hook an eel cleanly…..
I have fished alongside fellow eel anglers in the past and been quite astonished to see them set up at the top of steep banks, put up a bivvy, bedchair and sleeping bag with the intention of getting some kip during the night, with the rods still out.
As eel anglers and eel conservationists, we should be doing everything in our powers to avoid deep hooking eels. I know the odd eel can get rid of deeply set hooks but, generally, I think most of them die. I am convinced that by sitting on your rods, staying awake and avoiding drinking copious amounts of alcohol will mean more eels hooked ok.
I know the only way to avoid hurting eels is not to fish for them at all but if, like me, you are addicted to catching big eels then we have to make sure we are fishing as sensibly as possible.
If you do not like staying awake all night, then you should not be eel fishing OR change your style and start doing the partial nights, as I mentioned earlier in the article.
Obviously if you can put up with endless sleepless nights and you’re using the bivvy purely as a retreat for some kip the following day ( rods wound in…), you’re a proper old-school eel angler as far as I’m concerned and I have lots of respect for you. I just wish I could cope doing this all the time !!!
Finally, I would like to address the topic of why some eel waters seem to “blow” and others don’t. I have noticed a correlation between tiny ponds/smaller lakes blowing after a whole season, while the big pits and lakes continue to throw up eels for a far longer period. Indeed, one big gravel pit near to my home has been producing big eels every summer for the last 30 odd years. Yet another smaller pit ( approx 2 acres ) down the road produced a handful of 4s, couple of 5s, a 6 and a real monster that shred the trace at the net, for two local spessy hunters in their first few sessions, a few years ago. Since these fish it has not produced another eel, inspite of a lot of effort from the same guys. Not even giving the water a 2 year rest has made a difference.
In contrast, the larger water I mentioned ( 20 acres+ ) has been producing 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s every year since I have lived in the area. These have been caught by myself and two other anglers. I didn’t catch any of the 6s, I hasten to add….typical !!! So, why the different rates of water blow outs ??
Although the larger water is being eel fished regularly, you can hardly call 3 anglers on 20 acres of water a massive amount of pressure. So, does the larger mass of water give the eels a means of “escape” from getting caught so often, hence the continual capture of new fish ??
Meanwhile, the small 2 acre pit having a much reduced water mass gives the eels hardly anywhere to “hide” and so they get caught very quickly and blows instantly. Is it as simple as this ??
I think back to the 80s/early 90s when the British Eel Anglers Club organised regular fish-ins on Ardingly and Weirwood reservoirs in Sussex. Ardingly fished its nuts off in the first couple of summers but declined rapidly afterwards. Ardingly is a huge water but still declined fairly quickly. Whether it has returned to its former glory nowadays, I don’t know.
Weirwood, however, being a much harder water with a very small population of huge eels kept throwing up big fish over a period of 5-6 years. I say “kept throwing up”…..apart from one monster of 8lb to Micky Bowles and a small 2lb’er to another member, the other fish all slipped the hook at the net; both huge eels and one of these to Bowlesy, again. He was so gutted at losing this monster he packed up eel fishing !!!
I think the main factor here is that Ardingly had a very big eel population for its water mass and so they were caught far more easily, whereas Weirwood had a ridiculously tiny eel population for its water mass and the eels were caught /hooked every once in a lifetime.
The other question, of course, is what happens to the eels when a water blows ??
Do they avoid the food items they were originally hooked on and so never get caught again, do they leave the water altogether, do they produce a hormone/chemical that tells other eels not to venture into a particular area where they have been caught ?? Some eels may die after capture but I know for a fact that top spessy hunter, Duncan Charman and friends of mine have recaptured specific eels on their waters.
It is all very interesting and I would love to hear off fellow NAC members about similar examples on their waters.
Anyway, I will end there and wish you all the best of luck in your fishing. Take lots of care and tight lines,