THE BACKGROUND TO THIS ADVENTURE
No less an individual than (the late/great) John Sidley stated that eels were "warm water fish; rarely encountered after the first frosts". This remains the popular conception, entrenched in the angling community, some thirty-five years after I first read his "Eel Mania" chapter in The Big Fish Scene (1979). Up until the middle of 2015, eels were, in my opinion, just tackle tangling, slimy, useless, pests. It was only when I learnt of the "Critically Endangered" status placed upon the species that I started to view them in a different light. My barbel fishing, on The Kentish Stour, has been a constant battle as I sought ways to avoid the attentions of these fish - even during the winter, my pike fishing was blighted by the ability of this species to home in on any soft-bodied dead baits; it didn't matter what month of the year! Critically endangered? Not in East Kent they ain't - so I decided to have a month of concerted effort following the reaction, of Darren Roberts - via my comments facility, to my moaning about the capture of a 3 lbs 6 oz specimen (6th July 2015) whilst carp fishing on a local drain. My plan was to spend the whole of October (2015) deliberately setting my stall to catch an eel by design, something I had never previously attempted - despite an accidentally captured PB of 7 lbs 1 oz (exactly the same as John Sidley!)
|That eel of 3 lbs 6 oz - I claimed it ruined my day, Darren Roberts commented that it would "make his season!"|
The reality slap of how "endangered" this species is spurred me on to deliberately seek to catch one.
I was able to get four sessions in, during the month, catching eels on every outing - they're that bloody easy? My approach to this angling challenge had been assisted, and shaped, by the superb facility provided by the www.nationalanguillaclub.co.uk
(The Eel Anglers Club of GB) website. Although I have no desire to join this band of eccentrics - I take my hat off to their total commitment to the promotion of angling for, and conservation of, this crazy species.
|3 lbs 1 oz - the fish that planted the seeds of a challenge in my head|
On the 24th I caught an eel of 3 lbs 1 oz and the seeds, for a continued challenge, were sown. Could I deliberately capture an eel in every month of the traditional pike season (October - March)? The local pike fishing is pants and I have no desire to travel excessively in pursuit of "big pike". This challenge would, therefore, provide focus for my efforts and be a journey into the unknown - just how I like my fishing at this stage in my angling career! I couldn't find any advice on how to go about winter eel fishing, thus I would have to learn from my mistakes as the project progressed.
I only required one session to achieve my target. On the 19th, a short session, into dark, resulted in three eels landed, from five bites, 1 lb 4 oz, 1 lb 6 oz & 1 lb 10 oz. Job done, roll on December. Missed bites seemed to be a common theme; lighting quick runs which resulted in a strike into thin air. I will offer my thoughts on this, and other subjects, at the end of the monthly round up.
I was out on the evening of the 1st and, what'd you know, I get an eel of 2 lbs 2 oz but loose a much better fish at the net, with the resultant dummy spitting tantrum. I also had a small scraper double pike, which was sort of ironic (well I thought so!) Back out again, on the 30th, I manage another small eel of around a pound.
On Sunday 10th I set up my gear for the first time in the new year, the last day of a run of very mild weather. I had visited the swim the previous day and introduced a few freebies in preparation for my visit. At 16.10 hrs a beautiful slow take resulted in the smallest pike I've ever caught, on rod and line, so the pre-baiting obviously worked! Exactly an hour later and I'm away again, this time an eel of 3 lbs 2oz finds its' way to the net and a session in front of the camera. The 24th saw me experience my first total blank session - not even a single bleep from the indicators. Was this a sign of things to come? Not a bit of it; back again on the 29th and a small eel of less than a pound was the outcome from four bites in a hectic 35 minute spell. Much head scratching before the "eureka" moment - again; I will expand upon this at the end of the round up.
|My second three pounder of the campaign|
Once again, I managed to winkle out a small eel on my very first session of the month, thus the pressure was off which was just as well. I had a further four visits, two of which were completely uneventful and another which saw me "plagued" by pike! It was the session on the 22nd which was to see my only real success, a fish of around two pounds taken on a new bait - prawns, and new presentation, a direct result of my "eureka" moment from the previous month!
Wednesday 2nd and I'm back out there - it's bloody freezing, but forecast to get much colder. Am I going to falter at the final hurdle? A total blank session, not even enlivened by a Barn Owl or something similar. I cut a very forlorn figure as I trudged off the marsh that night. The long range forecast was not particularly inspiring and it seemed that I was doomed to failure. Obviously, just because The Environment Agency imposed the close season on my selected drains didn't mean that I couldn't pursue my challenge on The Royal Military Canal, but I knew that my heart was set on an eel from the marshland drains which had provided me with such a fantastic challenge over the previous five months. And so to the events of Saturday 12th - it was down to this session to make or break my ambition. Those two fish, right at the death, are the realisation of a plan which was hastily drawn up in response to "You can't catch eels in the Winter"
CONCLUSIONS & SOME TECHNICAL STUFF
|The realisation of a crazy project - never has any fish been more welcome.|
Let's get this started by acknowledging the fact that living in East Kent, with its' associated "micro-climate", is a major factor in my success. I am not a particularly good angler, although I am bloody persistent when I set myself targets. What I've achieved is something which very few other UK anglers have ever done - that's what makes it so special to me. It was a project which allowed me scope to discover stuff for myself, as there is very little information to assist in this particular situation. My enjoyment was derived as much from the challenging of established beliefs about eel behaviour, during the colder months, as using my experiences from previous pike seasons to demonstrate that eels do still feed in very cold water and can, therefore, be caught deliberately.
|My standard set-up. A Duncan Kay, an ABU 66X, angled needle with light weight monkey and|
a front-runner bite alarm.
This project was not about seeking specimen eels, it was, instead, focused on deliberately targeting them during a period of the year which is generally regarded as a waste of time. My thoughts are, therefore, just a general overview of my personal experiences and not a "how to do it" guide. Because of my venue choices, the tackle I used was not that which would be considered normal by today's eel anglers. My rods are 11' 6", 1 lbs 10 oz T/C Duncan Kay carp rods which were either fitted with my ABU Cardinal 66X's or Mitchell 300's always loaded with 12 lbs b.s. mono. Bite indication was via monkeys on angled needles in conjunction with audible "roller-type" alarms. My hook links were a combi-rig made from 12 lbs b.s. Korda Sub Line and 40 lbs b.s.high abrasion resistant braid with a size 10 or 8 Kamasan Barbel Maxx hook with the barb crushed in. I courted with the Albright Knot for joining the two materials, but just couldn't get on with it. I finally settled on the four-turn water knot (as used in the 1980's for our Tring tench rigs) and have never experienced any issues with it.
That "eureka" moment? Well it was to ditch the braided hair and fish my baits directly on the hook - I know, you couldn't make it up! I still believe that the hair would have a role to play if I was fishing for big eels, but feel sure that it was responsible for many of the missed bites I experienced due to the basic fact that these small eels didn't actually have the hooks inside their mouths as they moved off with my baits.
My baits have been a very simple selection of fishy type origins, plus the trusty lob worm. I have had success using Spratt, Bluey and Sardine sections, squid, prawns and worms - in fact everything I have offered has resulted in at least one fish to the net.
It has been five and a half months of absolute pleasure as I've challenged myself and the accepted thinking of Winter Eel fishing. I have become fascinated by these fish and might, at some time in the future, revisit the challenge in an attempt to target a "big fish". In the meantime I'm going to have a couple of weeks away from fishing before embarking on the next project - a split cane carp campaign, with a twist! It has all the ingredients to be just as rewarding a challenge - I'll reveal more after the Easter break.