Conger fishing can be one of the most exciting forms of saltwater angling, whether practised from a boat or from shore. From the beginning of a trip when the bait first enters the water until the first tentative ‘knock’ on the line, the tension grows—for there is no way of knowing at this stage just how big a fish is mouthing the bait. Next comes the excitement of the strike and playing the fish, for this is no tame, easytocatch species. Even when the conger is on the surface of the water there is still the task of finally landing or boating it.
When the angler goes fishing for a species that has a rodandline record of 109 lb 6oz from a boat, and a shore record of 67 lb loz, it is obvious that the tackle must be suitable for a large fish.
The choice of reel is most important. A strong multiplier or large centrepin is essential. A rod that will stand the shocks from the lunges of a big fish, yet is flexible enough to play the fish out, is also necessary.
The type of line used will depend on where the conger fishing is done. In shallow water the braided lines are extremely sensitive and give a feel of the movements of the fish.
Wire traces are needed, and the stronger the better, to prevent the conger’s jaws from biting through the line, and also to grasp firmly when landing the fish. A conger can twist a trace around a gaff and break 60 lb wire as if it were cotton thread. The wire trace should therefore be of at least 100 lb strength, and about a foot long.
The conger is more readily hooked in the jaw with a large hook. With the swivelled hooks, sometimes sold as suitable for conger fishing, the angler may find that the fish ejects the hook with the bait or swallows the bait, together with the hook, deep inside itself.
A running boom placed on the main line above the trace should have the lead weight attached to it by some lighter line, as this enables the angler to retrieve the remainder of the tackle if the lead gets jammed on the bottom. This is one of the hazards that conger fishermen have to endure. Wherever this sort of fishing is done—from the shore, over the reefs, or when wrecking —congers and snagging ground go together, and the angler must be prepared for many tackle losses.
Boat fishing for conger
Boat fishing for conger employs similar techniques, but the fish are usually larger. Wreck fishing almost inevitably produces the biggest specimens. It is advisable to leave the locations of these marks to the professional charter skippers who have the equipment to locate the wrecks, and the knowledge to anchor their boats in the right place for anglers to fish into them.
First, so the hook should always be at the head end.
When the conger takes
When a bite is felt, it is best to start winding your line in slowly until you feel the weight of the fish. There are two good reasons for doing this. First the line will be tightened ready for the next move, and second, if the fish is only nibbling at the bait, its movement away from the conger will cause an even more enthusiastic attack on it.
Get the fish clear off the bottom. In most cases in deep water there is no need to strike as the fish will hook itself as it turns towards the bottom. Very often the fish will come up quite easily. It is often possible to get the fish halfway to the surface before it realizes that something is wrong and starts to fight.
The boat has to be positioned uptide, at just the right distance for the baits to reach the fish. A stout boat rod, with 50 lb monofilament on a heavy duty multiplier reel is recommended. You can use the same end tackle with a Clement’s boom or a large swivel to which the lead weight is attached. This weight is at least 1lb and sometimes has to be heavier if the tide is a strong one. Between the end of the main line and the wire traces, use a strong link swivel which will act as a quick release if the fish is deeply hooked. You should.also have spare traces ready.
The bait is either a small whole mackerel or half a very large one. A small mackerel is baitedup by taking the point of the hook into the mouth and bringing the barbed end out between its eyes.
Conger demand respect. Tenacious of life, many are as dangerous after a couple hours out of the water as when fighting the angler, as is borne out by the number of commercial and sporting fishermen who have been injured handling fish they thought to be dead.
Even when thought safe in the bottom of a boat, congers will try to escape, and at least three fish—the biggest being 42 lb—have been known to fling themselves back over the gunwale.
The largest authenticated conger ever caught weighed 250 lb and was captured in a trawl off the Westman Islands near Iceland. It is probable, however, that some fish grow to as much as 350 lb. So the angler has few fiercer adversaries than this brutal fighter.
Specimen conger weighing over 50 lb are commonly found in wrecks, and on rocky ground. Both types of mark produce heavy fish, although most specimens are taken from wrecks. In the period 1966-72, many thousands of large eels were caught by anglers fishing off Brixham, Plymouth and, to a lesser extent, near Mevagissey.
The latter port was developed as a wreck fishing centre after 1971, and although excellent fish have been taken, its full potential for congering has yet to be exploited. Older marks include the dozens of wrecks lying under 40 fathoms of water in Lyme Bay in Dorset.