The sandeel is not only one of the best baits for sea angling, but a very important part of the food chain for most species of fish. Three varieties are found in British waters: the greater sandeel, which can be easily identified by the black spot on the sides of the snout, the sandeel and the smooth sandeel.

They all have elongated bodies and no spiny rays in the fins. The upper jaw is extensible and shorter than the lower; the tail forked and separate from the dorsal and anal.

Sandeels are generally caught by towing a finemesh seine net from a small rowing boat off sandy beaches, or by digging and raking in the sand on the beach. The latter is best done at low tide right at the water’s edge, as the eels like to hide in very wet sand. If there is a freshwater stream running down the beach this is a good place to search.

Shopbought sandeel

The undoubted effectiveness of live sandeel has made them a familiar sight in tackle shops alongside more traditional baits like lug and ragworm. In areas where the fish is common, an average size eel sells for about 1 Op or so, but you should be prepared to pay considerably more if they have to be transported long distances. Tidal conditions affect the commercial catching of eels, so it is always best to reserve a supply far in advance of your trip.

Keeping sandeels alive while boat fishing can be done by the use of a wooden box with a pointed end and many holes to admit the passage of water. It can be towed behind a slow craft without damaging the eels, but is usually placed in the water on a tether, when the boat is either drifting or at anchor over a mark.

Keep sandeel fresh

During the journey out, the eels are kept fresh in a plastic drum to which buckets of seawater are constantly added. Some boats with glassfibre hulls have livebait tanks built in at the waterline. A constant change of water can be obtained by simply opening a seacock. With this refinement, both eels and other fish can be kept alive indefinitely. To bait up with a sandeel, hold it firmly but lightly between the fingers and thumb, throat outwards. Put the point of the hook through the bottom lip and nick it into the soft skin of the belly just behind the head—this is the normal way of offering it in a fair run of tide. When fishing in slack water, however, it is often better to simply hook the eel through the top of its body, in front of the dorsal.

Hooks for sandeels

Hooks must be long in the shank, needlesharp, and fine in the wire—a description that fits the Aberdeen perfectly. Live eels must be offered on a very long trace, which allows them to swim around in a natural manner. The movement is enhanced if mylon monofilament with a b.s. Of no more than 12 lb is used.