Over the winter months I have been on a voyage of discovery on a mission to fully learn the ways of the Mighty Conger Eel.
I have always been a bit nervous about targeting Conger probably because I never had the right gear for the job, all that changed however when my Sponsor Tronixpro stepped up and sent me there latest proper 6-8oz 2 piece rod the NAGA MX which handled a decent Conger with ease so I had no hesitation in buying a second Naga MX from Tronixpro
A BIT ABOUT MR CONGER…
This fearsome predator lurks in the shadows and hides in Rocks waiting to ambush more or less anything it can strike out at as well as free swimming up and down reefs and gulley’s menacing anything it comes across solid muscle with a powerful bite and bad attitude to match, A true heavyweight capable of literally pulling you off your feet!
After dark is the best time to chase these beasts but I have had quite a few in daylight even up Estuaries in fairly shallow water!
Now let’s talk about the power of these fish
I have never experienced anything like the pull of a decent Eel, they can even swim backwards in reverse just as strong as their forward movement which is just crazy!
Be warned and be prepared for all hell to brake loose when you hook up, these fish are next level and go ballistic in their attempt to brake free
The first run for freedom can literally pull you off your feet if your not totally committed in your approach to battling a big Eel
There are arguments for and against playing big Eels(giving them line), my schooling by my good friend and fishing companion Martin Larkin, the current UK shore Conger record holder
Martin has taught me never to give line, in fact my biggest Conger Eel of just over 30 pounds took line off a fully locked up Diawa Saltist reel, NUTS!!
What about the take, what can I expect ??🤔
The take!, well you might imagine it to be a thunderous brutal event, not true, big Eels are usually very tentative bites, gently mouthing the bait and turning it ready to swallow as they gracefully glide away, the opposite can be said for small strap Eels, because of their composition and small mouths they slam into big baits giving a hard repeated plucky bite, probably due to their lack of body mass hence ramming a big bait several times in an effort to ingest as much of the free food as possible in the attack!
It’s not uncommon for small Eels in the 3-7 pound bracket to be winched from depths of 80-100ft of water holding on to the bait or part of it determined to hang on to their meal only to realise at the surface that it’s time to let go and they do I’ve seen it a few times
If you think about all of those good bites you’ve had, then halfway in the lines gone light and you start swearing to your buddy you lost a good fish grrrr, well it could explain a lot of things and we are at times plagued with pesky straps in Devon rivers/estuaries
When do I strike then?🤔
This is not straight forward!, generally you will either get slack lined or the fish moving away and the drag singing that sweet song in your ear
If your getting constantly slowly slack-lined do not be tempted to strike!, the fish isn’t necessarily hooked yet, maybe picking up the bait and heading towards you slowly before turning the bait to swallow, keep up with the slackening line so your in touch with the fish very gently wind and watch your rod tip, they generally bite down hard at some point giving you a firm powerful pull down, this is the time to strike hard and hold on..
If the drag clicks a few times and stops gently pick up the rod and get into striking position, you may get a series of gentle pull downs and slack lines, just wait for that firm pull down and strike💥
If the drag steadily sings away it’s not guaranteed that the fish is hooked but you must strike, otherwise you increase your chance of being done or getting snagged especially where I regularly fish in the river Tamar where the underwater terrain is horrendous!, there’s basically 2 hotspots in the River Tamar both are virtually artificial reefs with god knows how much lost fishing lines and leads in certain areas.
Ok so do I really need to buy another rod and reel 🤔
If you are serious about trying for a 20 plus Eel from the shore then you will need a rod capable of casting a 6-8oz lead plus a whole mackerel or large cuttlefish bait 20-50 yards dependant on location,
A high retrieve powerful multi reel is a definite advantage when connected to a 20 plus Eel but when they get to 30 pound plus they can pull line from a locked up multi reel so you have to pump and wind where possible!
What end tackle do I need 🤔
This is equally as important as the rod n reel, for rougher snaggy ground you will need
40 yes 40 pound mainline, 250 pound trace, weight is on a short link of 20 pound line to a swivel running ledger style rotten bottom rig,
Circle hooks are the way forward in my experience, I was warned off trying 2 hooks but I didn’t listen and paid the price of a rejected bait on big fish several times before kicking myself hard and vowing never to use two hooks again, circle hooks don’t tend to snag as much as standard big 8/0 hooks plus they are never deep hooked on a circle hook, furthermore i have been experimenting with hook positioning, if you have the hook coming out of the side of a whole mackerel which is the most common way you have a 50/50 chance of the hook either facing up or facing down when it lands, my mind set is if it’s snag alley full of discarded lines you’ve even less chance of getting that back whereas
if you go up through the gills with the circle hook and out through the middle of the back of the head you immediately minimise the risk of snagging when the bait reaches its destination landing safely with the added circle hook benefits
What baits do I need
The Congor’s diet will be a cycle of whatever’s about at that particular time of year, I discvered that line caught day boat fresh Mackerel was top bait until the Mackerel finally moved off late and the Cuttlefish invasion hit the ecosystem, The tonnage of cuttle caught day after day over the winter was unbelievable and For me it’s the top bait for Conger because it’s the bait that keeps on giving with its black ink and stinky insides, even when all that runs out it’s still a tough bait and a washed out bait will still work!
You can’t go wrong with Mackerel, fresh is killer either whole flappered or fillets work well but frozen and stinky are top conger baits, even mackerel head and guts is a good shout!
Pouting dead or alive and fresh dead fillets again killer in certain situations, a pier for instance where so called nuisance fish are caught and discarded dead only to be hoovered up by a resident or patrolling Eel
Big bait or small bait
I’m in the big bait camp all the way, GO BIG OR GO HOME!,
Again there’s arguments for and against bait size, a small bait will insure better hook up rates but maybe ignored by a proper snake looking for discarded or dead/live offerings
Do I need a landing net
In certain situations a large drop net is vital but generally a Gaff is ALWAYS at hand
imagine hooking into a fish of a lifetime, battling it all the way in only for things to go horribly wrong close quarters and the fish spins off at the last minute, parting the 250 trace or throwing the hook leaving you devestated, it happens a lot, last resort if the fish is to big or strong to hand line or net try and gaff the Eel under the chin where theres a fairly thin membrane
Ok I had to put this in the mix….
I would always recommend you go as a team, you definitely need a wingman on the snakes, these fish are so powerful and unpredictable that a second pair of hands are an advantage when it comes to landing a big Eel, I have had to fish alone on occasion and I always feel vulnerable and nervous knowing what I know now.
I recall a 20 pound Eel at Devils point being safely lifted over the railings and placed on the flat concrete only to go ballistic and launching an 8oz weight 20yards out to sea with one powerful head shake just missing me as it went!
have strong scissors or a knife ready to cut the lead link as soon as possible when landing your snake!
The hardest toughest fishing experience of my life was landing a 30 pound Eel on my own on a deserted Mutton Cove late at night
I was literally screaming out loud for help, any help!
You feel very alone when it’s just you and the fish, nobody came, the adrenaline was fierce, I was exhausted, my arms where burning from lactic acid, half the battle was getting it to the surface then having to negotiate a 20 yard harbour wall and drag the beast into a harbour and 2 attempts to get it on the steps another 20 yards away!
Always take a wingman✅
preparation is key in all aspects of fishing, Conger fishing being no different!, I am a bit OCD when it comes to Eeling
I make up my rotten bottom weight links in advance, it’s so much easier and quicker when fishing 👍
The same goes for Cuttle baits, I use disposable gloves and do it all in the kitchen beforehand and individually store each baited trace in freezer bags
Here’s a kitchen demo of how to bait up Cuttlefish
I would not do this with Mackerel because of to much blood loss especially as I like to cut the tail off for extra scent and sometimes if a whole Mackerel comes back intact I will literally cut its face off with a very sharp knife for maximum scent trail before lobbing it out again, a few stabs around the stomach area also let’s flavour flood out…
Summing up then
That’s my take on shore Conger fishing, admittedly it’s been a fairly short journey but I have learnt from a veteran Conger record holder and I have put in a lot of hours often with nothing to show for it, I’ve learnt and gained valuable experience landing snakes on my own and now confident enough in my own abilities to go for that 40 pound club!
Be inspired to go for a snake✅
Watch out for the lead weight hazard landing your eel, neutralise it immediately!
Don’t try it on your own unless totally confident in your approach❌
Do play it safe as mentioned above✅
Make sure you bring the right tools for the job✅
Handle Eels with extreme caution and release them to grow bigger✅
I hope you enjoyed my shore Conger guide, I have spent countless hours often solo just to put myself in that situation and gain the confidence needed to attempt targeting these leviathans of the deep, i have now set up a facebook page called Plymouth Conger Club to push and promote the growing sport of catch n release Conger Eel shore fishing
Here’s the release video from my PB Eel 🙌
VERY TIGHT LINES FROM..
PAUL BASSMAN GORDON 😎