There are two types of sandeels, the lesser and the greater. The lesser reaches 20cm in length while the greater can grow to 32cm.
In most boat fishing situations using a live sandeel is often more effective than fishing with its frozen counterpart. When shore fishing, though, you can’t cast effectively with a live sandeel.
Few tackle shops have the facilities to keep live sandeels, so blast-frozen ones are a must if you’re not in a position to collect your own.
Collecting sandeels is quite easy, given the right tidal and weather conditions. Sandbars exposed during spring low tides often have large numbers in the summer.
As the tide ebbs away, the sandeels bury themselves a few inches under the moist sand. Dig them up with a fork or a rake, and put them in a bucket of sea water with a portable aerator.
Sandeels die quickly if they are not kept in well-oxygenated water.
As you fork over the top few inches of sand, look for flashes of silver: you have to be extremely quick when grabbing sandeels because they try to bury themselves as fast as you uncover them.
Storing live sandeels for any length of time is difficult. Ideally you need a large tank filled with water and an aerator – both placed in a fridge to keep the water as cold as possible. If the water temperature starts to rise, bacteria multiply rapidly, killing the fish.
Whether you catch sandeels or buy some from a fishmonger, you can freeze them quite successfully. First kill the eels by hit- ting them over the head with a small stick. Rinse them in fresh water and dry them before laying them individually on dry newspaper. Place them in the freezer. Once frozen, wrap them in plastic and pack as required.
Presentation is vital when fishing with dead sandeels. If you’re legering on the beach for rays or doggies with lesser sandeels, pass the hook into the mouth and then down the entire length of the eel’s body so that the hookpoint emerges about 12mm from the tail. Wrap the sandeel with shirring elastic to secure it.
Cut greater sandeels into chunks and tie on to the hook with knitting or shirring elastic. Fillet the larger ones.
For float fishing pass the point of a size 2 hook through the eyes and then about 12mm farther down, just past the gill cover. It’s essential to make sure the hook-point isn’t masked. Impale a sandeel not longer than 7.5cm on a small hook.