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JohnR 04-12-2003 01:19 PM

Eeelin 101 (Work In Progress)

Eels - those slimy, biting, electrified, creepy, squirmy, snake-like, evil, suck the blood from you worse than a leech would ever do, just plain nasty creatures of the deep. I love ‘em. And as long as a lot of other people won’t touch them, well that’s OK by me too.

What we call Eels, the American Eel, Anguilla rostrata, are a fantastic tool in the quest of our prized Striped Bass. There are all kinds of theories from people saying that the Eel & the Striper are enemies of sorts and attack each other as opportunity presents and up to the fact that they might simply taste to good for a bass to resist. In short, stripers love them and will often suck down an eel when nothing else would get more than a short glimpse.

I was fortunate to learn eeling from my brother-in-law Bill. He’s so into eeling that the first class former editor of The Fisherman – New England Edition, Tim Coleman, labeled him “The #^&#^&#^&#^&#^&#^&” and wrote numerous articles for that weekly that the nickname soon stuck. One of the best & most hilarious was Stevie Van Stall and the #^&#^&#^&#^&#^&#^& – but that’s another story.

Sure, so I had heard how great they were and even chunked some a couple times with no success but Bill imparted a lot of his lessons on me and enough of them stuck to where I’ve had some decent success using eels from the surf line.

He basically said this about eels; fish them slow & deep. And always check to make sure you are fishing slow and deep, then check again and again.

Hooking & setting up: eels by nature squirm around a lot. If left to squirm they WILL ball up on your line and wrap themselves to the point that they are useless and your terminal tackle is too. So some basic steps of prevention will go a long way on hooking and keeping the eels.

First hooking the eel. Hooks to be used range from the simple Mustad 6/0 short shank O’Shaugnessy # 91xxxx, to Gamagatsu 6/0 Live Baits 4x, and in some case 5/0-7/0 Non-Offset Circle hooks (the jury is still deliberating which circle is best with eels). As with all hooks, sharpness is the key and easily overlooked – even if you sharpened your hooks, they will dull after hooking several fish or fishing along the bottom – so re-sharpen your hooks!

I like to place the hook into the throat as far back as reasonable (don’t want to hit internal organs), to the back of the jaw and with the point coming through the bottom. This will make the shank of the hook parallel with the bottom jaw and depending on hook model, the eye will just be out of the mouth. Many people are advocated of running the hook inside the mouth and out one of the eyes. It is a good method with some advantages like being less likely to snag on the bottom and a firmer hold to the eel as the hook is held in by some cartilage (or whatever fish have) around the eye socket. It also has some disadvantages that I’ve seen, primarily that you run a good chance of killing the eel much quicker or doing an impromptu lobotomy on the eel. Running your hook thru his brain - that just can’t be good.

Preparing eels: Eels have a couple nasty habits. First, they are like the MacGyver of the aquatic world. Give them the smallest hole and they will get out – and when getting out means getting lost in the back of your car in the heat of summer :yak: - it gets nasty! Next, the eels that don’t escape are going to ball up in your line into a tangled mess that has not hope of being undone. Your eel, your leader, your hook are pretty useless now if you have not prepared them. What I like to do is run a multi-bucket setup. I take one of those smaller shiner buckets and drill holes, ¼ inch diameter, on the bottom from the INSIDE out and then I smooth the whole edges. Going from the inside and then smoothing the wholes prevents the slime from being scraped off the eels quickly, which clogs the holes and drowns the eels. Eels will stay alive and robust for days and even weeks if handled properly. Keep them moist at all costs and keep them cool. If they dry out they are dead. If you add too much water – they die drowned in their own slime. For storage – anything beyond just fishing – I put ice cubes in the shiner bucket (and bring more for replenishing melted ice), wet down the ice or put a piece of wet burlap over the ice. Seaweed works great but why bother chasing it down when a smelly piece of old burlap will do just fine. Place the eels on top of the ice layer / burlap and be certain not to let them out. Being on the ice will significantly slow down their metabolism and keep them alive. This has one FANATASTIC benefit. If they are iced properly you may not need to stun them before putting them on a hook. Deciding whether or not to stun them first takes some time to get used to but they will last even longer while casting if iced well than if they are thwacked hard on a rock to stun.

Now this bucket with all the holes will drip eel slime all over the place (and probably solicit a call from a divorce attorney if dripped in the “significant other’s” car). What I do is take a 5 gallon bucket, place a brick (good weight for traveling) in the bottom and the closed eel bucket on top of the brick. This will allow the ice to melt and run off without drowning the eels. Using a brick ensures that you have a while before needing to drain. This 2 bucket arrangement also allows you to put ice on top of the eel bucket so as it melts, it drips on top of the eels – keeping them moist. With proper rotation of eels and ice, you can keep them alive for well beyond a week but it does require constant maintenance.

So what’s all this talk about needing to “stun” the eel? Remember how we said the eel WILL ball up on the line? Well if iced down properly the eel’s metabolism will be slowed and you can get a few casts in as the eel wakes up, at which point having been hurled out a few times, it’s docile enough to not ball up on your line yet lively enough to “swim” better. If not iced, the eel needs to be stunned. By gripping the eel somewhat lightly behind the head, whack the last third of the eel against a rock or something fairly hard. If fishing the sandy beaches with nothing hard around, you can whack the eel against the bait bucket.

Terminal Tackle: Above I mentioned which hooks were suggested. I do want to touch on one important item for fishing with spinning reels – Swivels. The eel will twirl around your line when retrieved on a spinner. You want to use a strong and free spinning swivel to help prevent that twirling. With a conventional this is less of a problem as the line is wound directly onto the reel and does not impart spin on the line. That’s also one of the advantages of using a conventional. A few years ago, Joe “Flip” and I were fishing the drop at the Charlestown Breachway. When we got there, it was packed and everyone was complaining about the weeds. Cast after cast everyone brought in massive globs of weeds on their lines – almost always at the swivel – and complained of no fish. Most of the people started to leave at this point. Joe and I, both having tired directly from running lines to leaders with smoothed knots and no swivels were able to drift almost weed free and hook up on fish! And we got more than a few fish that night. No monsters but when most of the fish are keepers when everyone else manages just weeds – that’s a pretty good night. Eels can often have an advantage in weedy areas over regular plugs. They are by no means weed proof but with some effort you can keep the weeds off when others cannot – this does not apply to Mung. One version of the new Spro swivels allows an 80# strength swivel with as small a profile as tying directly to your leader on conventional. I would recommend these swivels even though they are relatively pricey.

OK – eeling 101: As Bill said – slow and deep. You are going to work the eel much as you would a slow plug – cast & retrieve style. And that’s what eeling often is; working a live bait like you would a favorite plug – the best of both worlds. When you first start, you will want to cast the eel out a little easily until you find the sweet spot for casting the eel without ripping out the hook. Too hard of a cast will cause the eels to be lost. Depending on depth and current, give the eel a few seconds to settle towards the bottom. Why the bottom? That’s where the bigger fish tend to be. Slowly reel the eel in. When you think you are going slow, slow down some more. I’ve found that the best speed ranges from 3 to 5 seconds per revolution of the reel’s handle with 5 seconds being optimum. This depends on the fish’s activity, current, structure, and other factors too numerous to count. Varying your speed, as with most lures, often applies here.

Work the bottom! you want to work the bottom so that you are almost hanging up. Almost. When you are fishing, you want the eel to do most of the work. You want the eel to make a beeline behind that big rock or over that edge of trough, as that is where the basses play.

Nine times out of ten, you will get a good Bump, Bump, IMMEDIATELY bow your rod to the fish. An eel swimming along naturally is not supposed to have tension on it so neither should the one you fish. Often, a tight line as a bass sucks down an eel might be enough to spook the fish. Again, bow the rod down and point the rod tip at the fish.

Wait time? With regular spinning reels I’ve been told to bow to the fish wait a second until you fell it running and the line tightening, then setup on the fish (or start reeling in if circle hook). With Conventionals and “Baitrunner” spinning reels, you can let them take some line 2-5 seconds is more than enough, reel in, get taught, and set the hook. I prefer to keep the run time a little short. I may miss a couple more fish but then again, I won’t gut hook them either. A L O N G run will often result in a gut hooked fish. So use circles or short runs.

So now the fish is on, eh? And she’s (hopefully a she) a little tweaked, fight the fish and get it in safely. Like all other fishing, be certain to have several safe ways mapped out to retrieve the fish and to remove the hook and release the fish if that’s what you are going to do.

Last thing? Eels are VERY resilient creatures. I’ve caught Three high 20#ers and a 30 #er all on the same eel – and it lived. I was so in debt to this eel that I released it knowing that it’s tracheotomy would grow over J …

Good luck & Enjoy Eelin!

"uffah!!" 04-12-2003 06:45 PM

"Eelig 101"
Great Post!
Learned a lot just from this post about eels. The only eels I have
had anything to do with was for eating only!
Thanks again for the info!!

Notaro 04-13-2003 11:32 AM

good post, john. it's very helpful. cast and retrieve. this is what a eeling about.

pedropower 05-08-2003 11:22 PM

solid info in that post. one night last october, my dad and i were fishing weekapaug with eels and i was reeling slow and low then next thing i know my line is heading to portugal! it surprised the hell out of me and i neglected to bow to the fish and although i had a 6/O circle hook on and started to reel i made no progress...he was on for about 5 or so seconds but i totally screwed myself by not bowing, so she's still out there somewhere. now i'll never, ever forget to do it. i've been surf fishin for years with my dad but unfortunately not enough and i've never had a hit with an eel so i was not prepared. :( the night was saved two hours later when my dad hooked up to and landed a 30lb cow!:laughs: i've done major reading and research into techniques, seen a few seminars on striper fishing over the winter so i'm fired up and ready to go...i've got a score to settle in the surf.

JohnR 05-12-2003 03:18 PM

Glad you liked it :) - I had a good teacher... There is more but I haven't gotten to it yet :doh:

BigFish 06-08-2003 09:23 AM

Hi JohnR, would you or your brother in law be interested in doing a presentation at an MSBA meeting on fishing with live eels? If so please let me know. I really enjoyed your thread. I am a big eel fisherman myself. Thanks again.:wave:

JohnR 06-08-2003 08:39 PM

BigFish - he is on his 3rd year of vacation from the game - and a bug suprise to all that know him - he's a drummer now in a pretty good southern fried blues cover band called Last Exit , hehehe ...

BigFish - maybe but I would rather setup a table on a how-to night first. I don't consider myself expert and I generally don't take pictures at night when I'm fishing so I'd have about 4 slides total - might get kinda boring... A lot of these guys that do the presentations collect pics for a couple years on rigs and things before doing it. Those that know me understand how hard it would be for me to prepare one of those, hehehehe... But we DO need to do some fishing this year... I'll trade you some of your favorite spots for some of your favorite spots :)

BigFish 06-08-2003 08:54 PM

Sounds good JohnR, anytime. Just thought I would ask as I really enjoyed your thread. We will get together and throw some slimeys.:uhuh:

Bill 06-10-2003 06:41 AM

There isnt a much more to add to johns thread! He did a good job on it.I guess he was paying attention!!

I was asked more than once to do a "presentation" on eel fishing from various groups but, It was something I was never into.You can stretch it out and talk about eel fishing for a couple of hours and show some slides and stuff but, it all comes down to an attitude.If you trust in what your fishing with it will work.Faith and sticking with it are very important.Eels have a great way of helping big fish hook up on your line.There are only two rules to remember.

1)When your fishing eels,Go Slow! And then slow it down somemore!

2)Dont be afraid to let the fish run with the bait for at least a 10 count!

My hiatus from fishing stems from a few reasons,The first is that I just dont have the time anymore.Before I was married I was fishing 7 nights a week for many years all season! Then A year after the marriage I was blessed with a child!She takes up alot of time and energy and well, priorities just have to change.I also realized that if I wanted to be responsible I needed to work and not waste my life on a beach 7 nights a week never seeing the sunshine. When I was single I only had myself to answer to and, No one cared that I slept all the day away,there are now two other people in my life that say differently.

As for the drums and band? I have always loved music and played the drums as a kid.While I have changed in many ways,I still need an outlet,and music fits my life just fine.Its alot of fun and only take up 2 nights a week of my time.I will never be a rock star but Im kinda living a Childhood dream playing in a rockband.We are acually not that bad and play lots of local clubs in the warwick,cranston area.Its just fun to do!

Fishing was an obsession and I just cant do it half a$$.I never wanted to end up a weekend warrior.Someday I will pick the rod back up but, for now,It can hang in the shed.The fish will (hopefully) always be there.I am happy I reached my goal of a 50lb fish along with many,many others in the 30-40lb range.I have great memories and have fished many great places from the cape to block island.Experianced just about every senario I could have in the suds from all out blitzes to raging seas and every extreme in between.

PS,If and when I pick up the rod again,The eel will be the first bait I reach for!!!

JohnR 06-12-2003 08:55 AM

Hey Bill :wavey:

mar t 06-30-2003 02:33 AM

when you say slow
hey john
when you say to reel it in slow. how slow is slow? are you saying it should take 1 or 2 or more minutes to reel it back ?
mar t

JohnR 07-08-2003 09:41 PM

Re: when you say slow

Originally posted by mar t
hey john
when you say to reel it in slow. how slow is slow? are you saying it should take 1 or 2 or more minutes to reel it back ?
mar t

Just saw this - yes. you want 3-5 seconds per handle TURN. What a lot of people forget that is when you make on crank of a line you are moving 15-24 inches at the bait end even at 4 seconds, something moving nearly two feet is moving along...

Clammer 07-08-2003 09:46 PM

You got toooooooooooooooooooooooo much time on your hands:smash:

Nova Striper 08-05-2003 05:13 PM

How do ya catch the eels?

JohnR 08-05-2003 05:57 PM

Hey Nova - 9 times out of 10 we buy them but you could buy them or trap them. Most of ours come from Maine... They make eel pots, you can use chunk fish or theiur favorite, horseshoe crabs. Throw them into a brackish stream and check daily. Ideal size eels are about 12-14 inches long diameter less than a quarter more than a nickle... But they can get quite large...

marcuswelby 10-13-2003 04:55 PM

Hey John R

Very informative post about eels...couldn't get enough of it!
Where can I get some info from the "#^&#^&#^&#^&#^&#^&"?

Maine-beacher 03-19-2004 02:59 PM

fantastic info thanks feel much better about my next fishing with eel adventure

28inches 03-28-2004 09:14 PM

JohnR, you ever slide some split-shot into an eel's mouth to keep them running deep?

JohnR 03-28-2004 11:14 PM


Originally posted by 28inches
JohnR, you ever slide some split-shot into an eel's mouth to keep them running deep?
No, but I've bent some around the hook shank :D

bassmaster 05-12-2004 02:52 PM

I would like to add If Your fishing sand on a full moon.
That a 3/8ths rubber core above the barrel and throw the eel out and let it work it self back into the wash while keeping contact with the line.
You can alternate that with slowly dragging it along bottom.
If the eel is lively let it do its on thing till it starts to slow down.

Catch0 06-11-2004 06:06 AM

Awsome post guys. Cant wait till i get some eels:D :D

reelecstasy 09-17-2004 08:59 AM

John, that was a great thread..Lots of good tips...I have had some luck keepin them alive for a few weeks with verylittle maint. I have a "shinner bucket" I throw a layer of seaweed in it along with those slimmy suckers,no water, it just gets toooooo slimmy and they drown in no time. I keep it in my fridge-my bait/beer fridge..They get nice and sllooooowwww. (the beer fridge is chilly)
and then when I head out fishin I put them in a small cooler, like the little igloo sixpack ones..I put a bottle of water that I keep in my freezer and it seems to last the night/morning for me. Again I don't put water, just a likkle weed-moist. The bottle sweats as it melts and keeps everything a little damp. From stayin in the fridge and then sorta on ice the eels are all doped up, and don't seem to wake till they have hit the water a few times and by then they are just squirmin, but unable to swing their tails over their heads to tie a lovely eel know. Just have to always remember after hookin them, line and rod tip have to stay above the eel, never any slack. If they get slack, they be tiein themselves up. Then you might as well cut your line and start again, and who wants to grap thoose suckas more than they have too....:yak4:

Jonny5-22796 04-19-2005 10:29 AM

Eel Lure
Any luck at all with an artificial eel lure? There's little to no chance I'm going to be playing around with the live ones... :yak6:

piemma 04-22-2005 11:39 AM

Worse than spot burnin'. Givin' away all our well kept secrets!!! Great post. :rotf3:

RIROCKHOUND 04-22-2005 11:52 AM

No offense man, but sack-up.. eels dont bite and can't hurt you... no worse than putting a worm on a hook, just bigger....

ThrowingTimber 04-22-2005 01:51 PM

The do bite and they have fangs! :vamp: :hidin:

Jonny5-22796 04-26-2005 10:58 AM

No offense taken - it just seems so much easier to use a fake one then getting the eel, transporting it (no explo-der here, Mazda 3s), prepping it, sticking a wire ups it ass, and more than likely having it wrapped up on my line. :confused: I'll try my fake one this year - let everyone know how it worked.

reelecstasy 04-26-2005 11:15 AM

You only have to sodomize the dead ones :hihi:
Live eels- just hook em thru the chin and out an eye socket, nbd...and they work, period.................. :smokin:

eelman 05-24-2005 09:43 PM

Fake eel? no way, why use real ones? well, they dont taste like rubber ( which will let a bass hold it longer) they have a scent which isnt like goodyear all terain tire, which also helps in obtaining strikes, and they have an action that no rubber or plastic can ever match. eels are no problem at all to fish if you use them right..One more thing, they account for more big bas than any other single method from the surf!

Redsoxticket 05-25-2005 02:11 PM

I presently have some eels that are alive for some fishing once the weather lets up. However of the ten that I have three have croaked and any others that croaked are going to get rigged.

How would the line from the rear hook and front hook join together to complete the rig ( no eelbob) before tieing to the main line ?

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