Big Eel Fishing - Anguilla Anguilla

by Andy Atkins

What are your thoughts when you think of eels? Probably not positive ones, most people's images and experiences of eels are of small 'bootlaces' that tie your rigs in knots and are as about as easy to control as a bar of wet soap! Well if those are your experiences then this article is here to help try and offer you a new perspective on a much-maligned species.
All eels start their lives in the Sargasso Sea before taking the long journey to our shores. They start life as small leaf like fry being carried on the currents before reaching the shores of our country as elvers or glass eels, barely more than an inch long. At this stage eels start to form the shape and image we know so well to be eels, they develop a green/brown hue and a snake like appearance. At this stage their feeding habits alter also and these small bootlace eels start to feed on maggots, bloodworm and other fish fry as thy start to put on weight and prepare themselves for their migration to different water systems.
Eels have the unique ability to be able to both travel through water and over land, this means that eels can reach lakes and ponds that appear to have no natural waterway. It would be easier to select water that has eels than to select one that does not with around 95% of waters holding eels of one size or another. There are very few barriers to eels once they begin their search for a new home, eels have been found in garden ponds miles from any form of flowing water!
Now that location has been examined it is important to see how it is possible to improve your chances of landing the bigger 'snakes.' The largest and most interesting eels for specialist eel anglers are those sometimes known as baron eels, these are the same species of eel as the small bootlaces you find from time to time in rivers and canals but are eels that for some reason or another do not have the same instinct to breed. Most eels will up and leave their UK homes when they reach sexual maturity, which is usually between the weights of 1 1/2 lb's and 2 1/2lbs on a long return journey back to the Sargasso Sea. Any eel over this weight is commonly accepted as being both a baron eel and a fish of specimen proportions. Any eel of three pounds or more can be conceived of as a specimen of note and any fish over 5lb stands an exceptional chance of being published in all the national angling papers!
Now that we have examined the size of the eels we are looking for it seems a good idea to look at the tackle used for handling big snakes.

Most strong carp tackle is perfect for eel fishing with rods ideally having a through action and test curve of 2 ½lb or higher as big eels have an awesome power unparalleled by any other species with even a 2lb'er putting a good bend in even the strongest of rods. It may seem strange to use such powerful rods when you consider your largest conceivable quarry will only just be into double figures and these are as common Rocking horse manure!!
Again most carp baitrunner style reels are perfectly suited to eel fishing, however in the name of minimum resistance reels are usually fished with the bail-arm open and extremely light bobbins used. Another useful feature is an anti line twist bail-arm as bootlace eels can act like spinning tops as they are pulled through the water creating springy twisted line that spills off the reel in an awkward fashion and makes casting a nightmare.
Line is always a personal choice but ideally it should be a tough reliable line between 10-15lb. Lines such as GR60 and Berkeley Big Game line are strong recommendations with Fox and ESP making good alternatives. It is also possible to fish with braid as a mainline with Spiderwire being the easiest to recommend for its high abrasion resistance and good knot strength with the obvious advantage of having no stretch.
Hooks like line are a personal preference but strong patterns from well known manufacturers such as ESP Raptors or ESP Stiff riggers and Drennan Super Specialist hooks are personal favourites of mine due to their reliability time after time in sizes between 8 and 1 to cover every eeling situation! Before we continue to examine the relevant trace materials for eels it is necessary to note that eels in Stillwater's and canals appear to have the ability to adapt to their staple food supply, whether its small silver fish or crustaceans and insect larvae. It is possible to understand which adaptation eels live in the water you fish by examining the first few fish you catch. If you are unsure what to look for it is useful to consider the bait you captured the fish on and then consider whether you believe the eels fit into the category of narrow heads or broad heads. Once you establish which type of eels swim in your water you will find that around 95% of them will be either broad headed or narrow headed. It is important to note that I have not highlighted rivers in this analysis as no research to date has proven any clear majority of either broad or narrow eels with both variants being present in equal numbers.
Narrow head - Worm eating eels
These fish have a very narrow pointed head and small sandpaper like teeth; they show a marked preference for small baits such as worms and maggots and would struggle to accept anything other than the very smallest deadbaits. Their heads can be described as long and thin.
Broad head - Fish eating eels
These have a far larger head than narrow headed eels, usually around 30% larger than their worm eating brethren; they also have a far more serious set of dentures with hacksaw like teeth and a wide broad head which can accept much larger fish baits as well as large live baits. It is important to add that these broad headed eels will still accept other baits such as worms and maggots but have the ability to devour larger baits as well.
Now that we can see the difference in the eels we are fishing for we can become involved in the debate amongst eel anglers at present as to the virtues of braid as opposed to wire. Traditionally wire has always been used for big toothy broad-headed fish eating eels and monofilament or braid for the less toothy narrow headed worm eating eels, braid has the obvious advantage of being more supple than wire and therefore offers a more natural present to the bait with wire having the higher abrasion resistance and a definite necessity on any water that contains pike. However I would always recommend the use of a good reliable wire such as 20lb Drennan 7 strand for all situations as you never know what will pick up your trace or the dentistry of the eels you may be fishing for! I have caught dozens of eels on worms whilst using wire traces as well as 20lb+ carp, 2lb+ roach, 3lb+perch, bream, barbel, catfish and tench not to mention some very big eels so never say wire means you wont catch anything else!
When it comes to bait for eels, it becomes necessary to examine the type of eel you are fishing for. Let me explain, eels within any water will show a marked preference for worms or fish, this does n't mean that they will only take one or the other but they appear to physically develop to accept one bait or the other.

The National Anguilla Club
Before I suggest venues, I have one strong recommendation if you are seriously interested in catching big eels, and that is to join the National Anguilla Club, although not the largest of specialist groups you would be hard pushed to find a group of anglers with more passion and dedication to their chosen quarry. As a member for the last six or seven years I can honestly say I have learnt more and had my enthusiasm fuelled by some of these truly great anglers than I could ever have done on my own. On top of magazines produced and contributed to by NAC members themselves, club fish-in's are organised two to three times a year and I can highly recommend these to any prospective member. So what are you waiting for? Get in contact with the NAC and start a love affair with a species that holds so much mystery and awesome power that once you have landed one big snig you really will want to catch more!
When it comes to looking for waters that hold giant snakes you will find very few waters are advertising the fact that they hold large populations of eels or preferably few but very large eels, this is due to the poor reputation eels have amongst many uninformed anglers, or those not yet lucky enough to catch a big eel. Also unlike many other species eels will not make their presence known until someone lands one! If you live in Kent then you are very fortunate as there are a multitude of exceptional big eel waters on your doorstep.
Nickols Quarry
A proven eel venue, which is, well worth a look if you are lucky enough to live near to Dungeness and has produced eels in recent weeks to over 10lb to carp anglers using boilies. The water is packed full of eels in the 1-3lb bracket falling to all the recognised eel baits with deadbait sections, livebaits and worms all scoring well as well as the less conventional geranium boilie approach!!! Contact Derrick Weller on 01303 261 573 for information.
Lydd Angling Club
Another venue that has the potential to produce some huge eels is controlled by Lydd Angling Club, with a £40 a year membership cost, this has to one of the best hidden treasures left in angling with the chairman Lionel Smith always on hand to offer helpful and knowledgeable advice and he knows the club better than anyone. Lydd is large old gravel pit, which can be quite forbidding on first inspection! Almost totally neglected by eel anglers and most fish are caught by mistake by carp anglers and matchmen with vast numbers of fish in the 2-3lb bracket and always the chance of a monster having thrown up fish to 6lb+ in the past and the venue which threw up a 5lb 4oz eel for me on only my second trip. Deadbaits and livebaits produce the most fish here although it's always wise to fish one rod with worms, as you never know what lies in the depths!
Mid-Kent Fisheries
A more famous tench and carp venue than being known for its eels but have the potential to throw up a monster but definitely not for the faint hearted!
Beaver Farm Fisheries
A movement across the border to Surrey and a complex that holds a variety of big fish including catfish to 50lb, carp over 30 and all the waters holding eels of varying sizes with a number of the waters having thrown up fish to 6lb+ and holding a number of fish in the 2-3lb bracket as well. More expensive at £23 for three rods for a 24-hour ticket but well worth a go as the waters are all no more than 4 acres and a vast array of Facilities are on site to help out with everything from food to bait.

For any other information on eel fishing in Surrey and Kent, the NAC or any questions regarding eels please feel free to contact me at
Andy Atkins