Massive conger live long lives coiled in harbour walls or cliff crevices as well as in rusting wrecks or among reef pinnacles. So shore and sea anglers have an equal chance of thrilling sport 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 ten-tative ‘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, easy-to-catch species. Even when the conger is on the surface of the water there is still the task of finally landing it.
When the angler goes fishing for a species that has a rod-and-line record of 109lb 6oz from a boat, and a shore record of 67lb 1oz, it is obvious that the tackle must be suitable for a large fish.
The choice of reel is most impor-tant. 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.
When used in deep water where a strong current is flowing, braided lines have a tendency to belly away in the water, making it impossible to feel the fish biting. In deep water, such as when wreck fishing, nylon monofilament is the better choice, as it is more resistant to chafing, and less affected by a running tide.
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 60lb wire as if it were cotton thread. The wire trace should therefore be of at least 100lb strength, and about a foot long.
As a large bait is more often used, a size 90 or 100 hook is needed. 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.
Shore fishing for conger
Shore fishing for conger produces the best specimens after dark, and autumn evenings can be very pro-ductive. The conger is found where there is deep water and a supply of food. Breakwaters, harbour walls, piers, rocky entrances to river mouths—all have produced some fine fish. Fish of over 55lb have been taken from shore marks in the Portland area, and each year sees the landing of fish over 40lb from such marks, particularly in the West Country. Groundbaiting can be very effective, and small pieces of fish will attract the conger to your bait.
The best tackle when shore fishing for conger is a good rod, a reliable reel loaded with at least 30 lb-strength line with a strong wire trace, and a hook at least 60 baited with an oily fish bait or squid. A run-ning 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 in 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.
When shore fishing, the best results are achieved when the rod is propped up on a rod rest or secured to the side of a wall. The reel should be set on the free spool and the rat-chet engaged. The bite of a conger is very gentle—a knocking on the line. When this is observed, leave the rod alone until the line is taken off the reel at a steady rate: then strike the hook home and pump the fish as hard as possible. Try not to give line, for the fish has a habit of curling its tail around the nearest obstacle, where it is difficult to dislodge. Avoid giving line by keeping full pressure on the fish at all times. When the fish is alongside it should be gaffed as quickly as possible. Most escapes happen here.
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 an-chor their boats in the right place for anglers to fish into them. The boat has to be positioned up- tide, at just the right distance for the baits to reach the fish. A fasttaper 50 lb-class boat rod, with 50lb 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 fish is only nibbling at the bait, the movement of it away from the con-ger will cause an even more en-thusiastic 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. Quite often the fish will come up quite easily. It is sometimes possible to get the fish halfway to the surface before it realizes that something is wrong and starts to fight.
If the conger dives
Make sure that the clutch on the reel is set correctly to allow line to be taken if the fish dives. When a large conger makes a determined dive for the bottom it is practically impossible to stop it, so give line reluctantly and always be ready to start pumping the fish back up again when you sense it slowing down. This can be very hard work, but the fish must be played out, or there is the chance that it will be too fresh when it reaches the surface and might break free and escape.
There is more chance of controlling a conger just beneath the surface than when it is on top of the water, and every effort should be made to play the fish out before it gets to the side of the boat. With wreck fishing there is usually a good depth of water beneath the surface, but on many reef marks this is not the case, and the fish will have to be played just below the surface.
The conger should be gaffed either in the lower part of the jaw or beneath the head. Once the gaff has been properly placed, the fish should be lifted smoothly and quickly on board. The angler whose tackle is in the fish should have his reel clutch set in case the fish avoids the gaff and plunges for the bottom again.
There is a great sense of achieve-ment in catching a large conger, and it is a form of angling that has a fanatical following both in this coun-try and on the Continent. The British Conger Club was formed to cater for the enthusiasts and will assist any anglers who wish to try this fascinating sport.
Small mackerel is baited-up by taking the point of the hook into the mouth and bringing the barbed end out between its eyes. Conger seize a fish-bait head first, so the hook should always be at the head end.
One very useful additional piece of equipment is a body belt or butt-pad with a socket to place the rod butt in when playing and pumping the fish.