top of page

Unhooking and Handling - by Nick Rose

Anchor 1

          We advise that all potential eel bites/takes should be struck as early as possible so as to reduce the potential of deep hooking. Once an eel has been hooked and landed we advise the eel to be moved away from the water’s edge and laid on a soft material such as an unhooking mat.

          If the eel is found to be uncontrollable we recommend covering the eel’s eyes with a wet dark material such as a retention sack. Gently sooth your wet hands down the sides of the eel and you will find it calms down. Alternatively turn the eel on its back and straighten it out. This puts the eel into a sort of coma or induced calm. Be very careful using this method as prolonged time left in this position could damage the eel and eventually lead to death. Please as with other species keep your hands and the eel wet as failure to do this will result in the removal of too much of its protective layer of slime which the eel needs to protect it from infections.

          It has been suggested in angling publications and on the few TV programs the eel has been highlighted, that the use of dry newspaper, towels or your landing net to grip the eel is recommended. This is NOT the case and irretrievable damage can be done to the eel, removing its protective slime with these dry items.

          Once the eel has been calmed down by gentle handling the capture should assess the location of the hook. If it is visible in the lip or at the front of the mouth, strong forceps can be used to remove the hook. If the hook is out of sight we strongly advise against the use of a disgorger, as these have the potential to puncture vital organs that are situated just behind the eels head. We advise if the hook is not visible or easily removed then the line or trace should be cut as close to the hook or eels mouth as possible, leaving the hook in place. The eel’s digestive acids are capable of disintrigating hooks in time, or as has happened many times the eel regurgitates the hook and trace overnight in the retention sack.

On saying all this please help the situation by not letting deep hooking happen, remember strike early.

          When you come round to photographing your prize then remember the golden rule. If you grip hard and fight with the eel it will fight back. Lift the eel gently and pose, sounds easy doesn’t it. If it struggles lay it back down and cover its eyes and sooth it as explained in the previous paragraph.


          Remember all of the eels vital organs are just behind the head so a tight grip here will certainly cause irrevocably damage the eel. The best way is to gently hold the eel some few inches from the head and under the main body around the anal area. Many methods of holding eels have been seen in the press including inserting a finger in the eels gill and lifting it up, stringing them up on cord or hanging them on barbed wire. All these are barbaric and show a total disregard for the species. If you get chance to see the Geoffrey Palmer Angling TV show ( The Complete Angler) which had a 15min bit on eels and eel fishing you will see two experienced anglers totally flabbergasted at the control that NAC member Steve Rickets has over the eels caught. The respect he showed the eel and instilled into the two others was brilliant.

Please remember these few tips.

  • Strike ASAP to cut the chances of deep hooking, remember if it has not got the bait in a hookable position in its mouth its probablely small and not the big eel your after.

  • Keep the eel calm and moist. Fight with it and it will fight back.

  • Treat the eel with the utmost respect as this fish is probably the oldest and most well travelled beast you will get your hands on.

Tight Lines - Nick Rose, with a little help from the press release from the ECS.

bottom of page