Fact file

  • The Latin name for eel is anguilla anguilla.
  • Eels are one of the longest living of all coarse fish and have been known to exceed 80 years of age.
  • They have a slow growth rate. It is said a 1lb eel is 10 years age.
  • The British eel record stands at 11lb 2oz. It was caught from Kingfisher Lake by Steve Terry in 1978.
Where are they?

Eels can be found all across the UK but their numbers are decreasing year by year. Most river and drain systems contain eels, as do many stillwaters, too.

How to recognise eels

Eels look like no other freshwater fish species in Great Britain. Long and thin, they are more akin to snakes than fish.

They are dark grey in colouration, with a white underbelly, and have such small, imbedded scales, that they are extremely smooth to the touch. This, coupled with their ability contort their entire bodies, makes them extremely difficult to handle.

Look out for a very long dorsal fin that runs almost the entire length of the eel’s body and two small pectoral fins situated behind the head.

The biggest eel caught in UK waters weighed in at 11lb 2oz and was taken in 1978.

Where to look for eels

There is still much to understand about the eel and its life. They are known to begin their remarkable lives in the Sargasso Sea, a place they leave as tiny elvers for European destinations. They then swim up river systems, entering any connected – or even non-connected – stillwater. They are quite capable of moving over land to reach water so they can literally turn up anywhere!

Eels become ‘landlocked’ in lakes and ponds

Their remarkable life-cycle is concluded when they return – or attempt to return – to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. However, many find themselves ‘stranded’ in lakes, ponds and gravel pits. Fish like this can remain in residence for decades, with eels being noted for their longevity.

So what do eels eat?

Eels are scavengers and love to forage on the bottom for dead or dying fish. They mainly feed at night.

How can I catch eels?

As scavengers, they are not fussy and the eel’s diet is varied. As you would expect, a dead fish is an excellent bait but don’t ignore worms either. A bunch of lobworms presented on a size two hook can be very effective.

Dead maggots are perfect for attracting eels into your swim

But whatever bait you use on the hook, try taking plenty maggots with you. Kill them first to ensure they stay in the swim, and they’ll keep eels in the area for ages. You don’t necessarily have to buy fresh maggots for this, just get in the habit of storing any left-overs in the freezer and removing them as and when they’re needed.

As night feeders, legering is by far and away the best approach. Keep things as simple as possible and a running rig is perfectly acceptable.

Go target eels now!

With eels being such a rare and hard to find species, there aren’t many anglers that fish for them. However, they can be a worthy adversary, with anyone capable of outwitting a specimen having achieved something to be extremely proud of.

The CK Fusion2 Carbon Specialist 12ft 1.75lb tc rod will tame hard-fighting eels

Big eels – those in excess of 3lb – fight hard and they are a species that possess the unique ability of being able to swim backwards, making them even tougher to extract from the water. As such, a strong rod is required. Go for the CK Fusion 2 Carbon Specialist 12ft 1.75lb tc, which is subtle enough for you to be sporting but it also retains enough power to give control in the tight, snaggy swims that eels frequent.

The Matsuku Rotorblade 5000 range couple quality and value

Couple this with a moderate-sized fixed spool reel. The Matsuku Rotorblade 5000 Platinum is ideal, having the added bonus of a freespool facility that will ensure any fierce and out-of-the-blue runs don’t result in breakages.

Legering is the only way you can realistically catch eels. They are often caught at night and will inhabit the most overgrown and snaggy of swims and these factors render floatfishing pointless. Buy a variety of leads, like the CamoFish Commercial Lead Kit and Box set, and this way you’ll have something for every scenario.

KKarp Mimetic High Abrasion Line is ideal for eels

Choose a robust and abrasion-resistant line. As already mentioned, eels love inhospitable swims so your line must be strong enough to withstand being rubbed against submerged obstacles like dead tree branches. KKarp Mimetic High Abrasion Line in 12lb breaking strain is a good option.

Eels love dead fish and bunches of worms as bait. Mount these on a suitable sized hook (say a size 6 for a small roach deadbait or a size 4 for three or four large lobworms) and choose a pattern that is strong but super sharp. The CK Chomper Hooks are superb, offering bulk – you get 80 hooks of various sizes – and value, with each pack costing just £10.

A big landing net is essential when targeting eels

One thing to bear in mind when eel fishing; you will need a large landing net. They are brilliant escapologists and will defy logic by evading standard-size nets. Get the Complete Specimen Net and Handle package from Dragon Carp Direct – the net is 36ins wide and more than capable of holding even very large eels.

Now see the tackle in action

*The Matsuku Rotorblade 5000 reel range – great big-fish all-rounders