Phil Spinks- Eel Fishing

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Phil Spinks- Eel Fishing

Eel fishing can be very much like Marmite, you either love it or hate it! I hate Marmite, but I love eel fishing.

Eel fishing offers the unknown which is becoming more and more uncommon in modern day specimen fishing. We often arrive at our chosen venue having an accurate idea of what is swimming around in front of us, this is more often not the case with eel fishing.

Big eels can be hidden in plain sight, huge eels have been caught from waters with no previous history of producing big eels. This is another aspect of fishing for eels that appeals to me. A giant eel can be swimming in a small commercial lake or in a giant reservoir.

The bigger eels fascinate me too, it is believed that an eel can take 10 years to grow to 1lb in weight this would possibly mean a 5-6lb eel could be 50-60 years old. If I’m lucky enough to catch one that size I could be the first angler to have ever caught it.

I can appreciate smaller eels can be a pain in the butt, and quite often anglers will do their best to avoid them. But the bigger eels are a different beast altogether.

So that’s my little introduction trying to convince anglers that eels aren’t too bad and that catching a big eel is the ultimate prize in specimen fishing.

A good starting point when looking for a possible eel venue is to choose a lake near to a river system. In my Opinion, they find their way into the nearby lakes from the rivers then settle in for many years growing on to specimen sizes.

I’ve caught big eels from a variety of different areas in lakes. Normally my first choice would be some deeper margin spots that offer some cover from nearby over hanging trees. Although I have caught eels from open water spots too. The honest truth seems to be that the eels are excellent hunters and when they are on the feed they will find you. One aspect of eel fishing is that they feed much better during the cover of darkness.


A big eel is a strong fighting fish so tackle needs to be fit for purpose. My choice of rods are a pair of through action 2lb 4oz test curve carp rods. An eel can swim backwards and will try its best to reverse into any nearby snags when hooked. I have a fondness towards the shimano OC range of baitrunners and I use a pair of these in the 6000 size. If fishery rules allow it, I prefer braided mainline of around 40lb. This offers strength and great bite detection both of which are very important when it comes to big eels. If braid is not allowed a tough mono of around 12-15lb would suffice.

Similarly, to pike fishing I fish with drop off style indicators with an open bail arm. If an eel feels any resistance it will quite often drop the bait resulting in an aborted take. A resistance free running rig is important too. Use high quality swivels too, an eel will roll during the fight and if the swivel doesn’t turn under pressure the line with often twist up until it breaks.

Lastly and what I personally feel is very important is the use of a wire trace. I’ve learnt this the hard way by loosing a large eel at the net due to it biting through a tough 50lb braided hooklink.  Many modern 49 strand wire trace materials are as soft as the braided hooklinks but offer much better abrasive resistance from the eels teeth.

In recent years I have played around with an eel trace featuring a small T bar in help avoid deep hooking eels. The rig works a treat, after all I would hate to think I had harmed an eel that was potentially 50-60 years old.

The rig is either fished using a soft supple hair whipped onto the back of the hook to allow me to attach sections of lob worms onto a quickstop, or I simply hook a small section of dead fish such as a roach or rudd.

These can be fished over a bed of dead maggots, but as previously mentioned I’m confident a feeding eel will search out your bait when they are looking for food without the need of any loose feed.

A carpers style unhooking mat with sides is the best option for keeping lively eels under control on the bank. It seems the bigger the eel the better behaved they are, the secret is to stay calm and keep the eel nice and wet and handle the eel softly. When you grasp the eel tightly and start wrestling you risk harming the eel and cause the eel to wriggle more.

A big eel is the ultimate challenge so get out there before the weather gets too cold and target a species that has more mystery involved!
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