Conger eels often wait inside their lairs for prey to swim nearby, but they may also prowl the ocean depths.
Residents of holes and fissures on rocky reefs, conger eels are the legendary snakes of the sea. Immense, muscular fish of littered wrecks, they are at home hundreds of fathoms down. Wreck conger can reach incredible weights – rod-caught fish in Britain up to 110lb (50kg) with 70lb (32kg) conger common. Specimens caught by commercial trawlers are reported to have exceeded 240lb (109kg).
Small conger, such as this one, are often taken off reefs and rough ground. Weak tides in summer are your best bet to connect with the snakes of the sea.
The skipper marks the wreck with buoys. Get your mackerel flapper or livebait as close to the wreck as possible – even though you may lose a few traces.
1. 50lb (23kg) class rod (two-piece)
2. Adjustable butt pad
3. Heavy duty multiplier (needs to have a deep, metal spool)
4. Spool of 50lb (23kg) monofilament line
5. Various leads up to (1,4kg) in weight
6. Packaged conger tr with 250lb (113kg) crir monofilament with hoc sizes from 6/0 to 10/0
7. Barrel swivels (200lb/90kg)
A fine conger eel, pulled up from a wartime wreck, comes to the surface, displaying its brilliant white underside. The skipper prepares to unhook the conger at the side of the boat with the trace wrapped around his protected hand.
With its oily flesh, mackerel is perhaps the most readily available and popular bait for conger fishing. The size of these baits indicates that large conger are the quarry.
A simple running leger for conger fishing. Heavy mono is more supple than wire.
An angler watches as the captain reaches for a small, reef-caught conger. At this point the angler should reduce his clutch, in case the fish decides to make a last-minute bid for freedom.
Set the drag of your reel at 75% of the main line’s breaking strain. This may seem a lot, but if you hook a large specimen, you need to use constant, firm pressure to tire and subdue it.
The amount of line surrendered to a wreck conger must be kept to an absolute minimum in order to keep the fish away from its dark, sharp-edged, rusting lair.
This is the extraordinary British boat- caught record conger; it weighed in at 110lb 11’hoz (50.22kg).
Despite what many anglers think, conger are not scavengers, eating whatever drifts their way. They are adept killers, well practised in the art of ambushing prey as it passes by their lairs.
The best conger nshing is over war-time wrecks in the English Channel. It’s here that the 100lb (45kg) fish live, taking up residence inside holes and cracks in the wrecks’ hulls. Occasionally you find conger under the debris that often lies alongside these metal monuments. Away from the wrecks, rough ground, common along the west coast of Britain, also holds conger eels. Commercially caught reef eels off Falmouth have reached 145lb (66kg). When targeting conger you never quite know just how big the next eel may be.
The wrecks hidden in deep water produce eels right through the year. But fishing trips need to be organized around the smaller neap tides – to allow the boat to stay at anchor over the wreck and the bait to remain near the wreck when the tide is running. In deep water conger feed best in small tides and in warm conditions, and in shallow water when light levels are low.
Lines and equipment
Many anglers now resort to wire line because its diameter is finer compared with mono of the same b.s. and, to a lesser extent, it is heavier in weight which allows you to use a much lighter lead. Wire has another advantage – bite detection is better.
Mono suffers from tremendous stretch, so much so that it is often impossible to feel bites in very deep water. The unforgiving nature of wire, though, makes the angler 47, constantly aware of what’s happening to his bait. You need a 4.5m (15ft) length of heavy mono at the end of the wire line just to help absorb any sudden stress on the hookhold when striking and playing fish. Class tackle To begin conger fishing on the wrecks, whether you choose wire line or monofilament, you would be well advised to select a 50lb (23kg) class outfit. If you use wire, you must use a rod equipped with roller rings.
Your tackle comes under heavy stress and needs to be strong to cope with the power of even an average-sized conger. A quality multiplier with a strong spool is essential. Also buy a butt pad to protect yourself from the end of the rod digging into you.
Rigs All conger fishing from a boat is best done with a simple running-leger rig. This means that the lead is static on the sea bed.
The feeding eel can pull line from the reel through the eye of the sinker without feeling undue tension.
Keep the rig set-up as simple as possible. Some anglers recommend wire traces, but commercial monofilament of 250lb (113kg) b.s. is better because it is more supple and less detectable to the feeding eel. The hook trace should be short – no more than 60cm (2ft) to minimize snagging on the wreck. Heavy mono such as this won’t knot well; it needs to be crimped to the swivel and the hook.
Hooks shouldn’t be too big. Sizes 6/0-8/0 are standard choices, but you may need 10/0s for the very big wreck fish. Carry a sharpening stone and keep the hookpoint ultra sharp at all times. Bait It’s important to realize how conger locate their food – by smell, vibration (through the lateral line) and partially by sight (in the final stages when the eel closes in on its prey). One of the best ways to attract conger is to use a livebait – ideally a pouting or small mackerel. Hook the fish once through its upper lip and lower it gently to the bottom. The conger will sense the livebait’s erratic movements and home in for the kill.
Alternatively, you can use deadbaits. Cut a whole mackerel or pouting through the backbone and tail to leave the flanks of the fish still attached to the head. This is called a flapper bait. It provides movement when the bait is on the sea bed, and smell too.
Hook it through the upper lip, or pass the hook through the mouth, out through the gill and then into the flank with the point left clear to penetrate the conger easily.
Conger feed gently – even the colossal ones. You’ll feel a series of light taps on the rod tip. Set your reel with the ratchet on and the spool disengaged.
When an eel demands those initial few metres of line, wind the reel back into gear and strike hard to set the hook. Lift the rod, pulling the fish, and as you bring the rod down, wind in line. Repeat the process, pumping the fish up.
It’s important to get the conger into open water quickly, for it often makes a dramatic dive straight back to its lair. If the eel’s long tail does find the wreck, your chance of successfully freeing it is very slim. Only constant pressure over several minutes may force it to release its grip. Relieving all pressure often results in the conger finding even safer sanctuary inside the wreck.
Allow the skipper to gaff the fish and haul it aboard. As the eel is brought to the side of the boat and the gaff is readied, reduce the reel’s clutch so that, if things go wrong, the eel can take line freely and won’t be lost if it dives.
Once aboard, the skipper secures the eel in a purpose-built fish holder or in some other escape-proof container. Small eels under 35lb (16kg) are usually unhooked and released straight away so they can prowl the ocean depths once more.
Multiplier reels are very popular among sea anglers. Indeed, they are the only realistic choice for most heavy boat fishing. On the beach too, many anglers see them as indispensable, but there are still plenty who regard them with suspicion.
This comes mostly from the dreaded backlash or overrun, which is all too possible with a multiplier but which cannot happen with a fixed-spool reel. However, it is easy to avoid once you know what causes it and what steps to take to set up your reel properly.