Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Snig Hunting

Danny Taylor

Eels have always fascinated me. They have an amazing life cycle, travelling thousands of miles from the Sargasso sea in order to enter our river systems, with some finding there way into the most unexpected of places. Ponds, lakes, reservoirs, lochs, drains, ditches, canals, park lakes, mill lodges etc. It is this that really interests me about the eel, you never know where they could turn up. Often no one even knows if Eels exist in a given water and the only way to find out is to target and capture one. Like most other predators big eels thrive on neglect so there could be a water close to you with no previous form for producing Eels that could just be harbouring “snig” that have grown large left undisturbed for many, many years. Growing fat on all manner of aquatic creatures. They are a powerful fish, demanding strong tackle. They often prefer to feed at night and are rare and elusive creatures all of which only helps to add to there mystery and appeal. To me they now represent the ultimate challenge in freshwater angling.

Last summer I was at a bit of a loss as to what to target, but after watching an excellent talk by top Eel angler Barry McConnell I was well and truly inspired to have a bash at these enigmatic predators. But where should I start? What venues where worth trying? What bait should I use? How would I cope with handling and unhooking Eels. I had a “thousand” questions but this is what I wanted a challenge! It was like starting angling again from scratch and it breathed fresh life into my fishing.

I began to soak up information like a sponge. I Joined the N.A.C and read everything I could get my hands on relating to Eels and Eel fishing (which did not amount to much). Eventually after a few practice sessions catching “bootlaces” on a local “cut” I felt a little more confident with rigs and the handling and unhooking of Eels. It was now time to hunt for a specimen “Snig” but where?

There are a couple of key points to consider when it comes to choosing a venue for big Eels. One of the most important factors is pressure. Has the venue been netted in the past? Has anybody targeted the water for Eels? If the answer is no then the water is worth considering. The next and for me one of the most important factors is the age of a water. The older the better. As the Eel is such a long lived creature it stands to reason that the older the water is then there is more chance that Eels have found their way in at some point and if left alone will have had time to grow big. Another interesting thing to consider is the phenomenon of “prison waters” As eels can easily find there way into the most unusual of waters they can often quite simply just leave. Occasionally they will enter a water where they become trapped - a “prison water” these are classic big eel waters. Waters change over time and just because you think that it would be impossible for eels to get in there, it may not mean that they are not present. If the water is of sufficient age then anything is possible. Couple this with sufficient fodder fish and you have the perfect ingredients for creating the ideal habitat for big eels.

After a bit of homework I was lucky enough to come across such a water and it ticked all the right boxes. Situated within an urban park was an old boating lake in excess of 100 years. Mature trees towered over the lake and marshy reedbeds encroached the water. The water had an old island with knarled and cracked willows which where collapsing with age. There twisted and torn roots probing into the water. It was fished by pleasure anglers and a few lads who targeted the handful of big carp which the water held. When I did some “digging” as to the presence of Eels most looked at me as if I had two heads, the common response being “nay lad thas no snigs in ere”.

I walked the perimeter of the lake but couldnt find no obvious points of entry for eels. But there was something about the place it just screamed “EELS!” It just felt “right” only one way to find out, I would go with my instincts.

As with all the best laid plans there will always be hurdles to overcome and the boating lake had a few. Firstly it was not the most pleasant place to fish. Looks can be deceptive, although the lake looked inviting the surrounding area was, lets say………………ROUGH. Like fishing on the set  of “Shameless” Gangs of “feral” kids and “smack heads” roamed the park after dark drinking, fighting, thieving etc. The walkway around the lake was used as a short cut by drunken pub and club goers from the local town. So as you can see it didn’t exactly lend itself to a comfortable nights Eel fishing. 

Oh! I forget to mention it, there was no night fishing. Great! But I wasn’t going to let a small detail like this spoil my plans. The water was rarely bailifed at night, after all who would be mental enough to want to fish there. On the other hand I didn’t want to draw attention to myself so I decided that discression was the best form of valour. I decided to fish in the swampy reedbeds. They reached above head height and gave perfect cover, it would be muddy and uncomfortable but I felt it would be the perfect place to fish from, remaining undetected. I would only approach and fish the water as darkness fell and then leave like a “thief in the night” as the sun rose. Nights where short at this time of year so there would be no need for bivvies and beds. Just me a seat and the rods. Real night fishing for only the “hardcore”. I love to fish like this, sat by the rods in the dark, awake not sleeping, my senses truly tuned into every night time noise and movement.

Tactics had to be considered. I had a feel for the lake as I had previously fished there for the carp. It was very shallow and incredibly silty, any weight greater than an ounce and the lead would “plug” in so deep that it would take the full TC of the rod to budge it. The water also contained hoards of hungry “bait” fish which meant that using worms and maggots was out of the question. I opted to fish a very light running ledger (¾ ounce) on 15Ib line to a 15Ib wire trace and size 4 single hook. Bait was to be small Rudd as fresh as I could get them. I didn’t want to take any unnecessary equipment to the lake so this meant “snatching” a few baits from a small pond on the way to the lake. For bite indication an alarm and “carp style” bobbins where used.

I had the Friday off work so I began my assault on the Thursday night. It had been a nice bright, warm day with gentle southerly winds which eased off to nothing as dusk descended. I arrived at the lake to find a couple of pole anglers and a gang of teenagers fishing who where more intent on “smashing” in a crate of booze than catching fish. I left the gear in the car and sat on a bench cracking open a can myself. I surveyed the water, Roach topped, Grebes dived and a Carp “boshed” by the island crashing down sending ripples pulsing outwards like a watery crop circle. It felt good to be here despite the waters reputation. I imagined what awaited me tonight and as the shadows lengthened and the sun began to sink in a blaze of crimson reds and pinks my excitement grew. This was the unknown, something that I crave for in my fishing and something that until now had been lacking for some time. Dusk crept across the park, the last of the anglers packed up and left, now was the time. I grabbed the gear and made my way round to the reedbeds, I disappeared into them undetected, like entering a tropical jungle, I pushed and sloshed to the waters edge. By the time I got there I was sweating in the sultry evening air attracting swarms of biting mozzies that had a taste for blood.

Rods where pocked through the reeds, one towards the island, one down the margins and a third just off the island. I settled down in my chair poured tea and took in the nights atmosphere. Time trickled by but the anticipation remained. Another hour and the doubts like nagging demons began as i questioned myself. What was I doing here? Where there even Eels in here? This is shite, BBBBEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP! Left hand rods away, a strike and nothing. I stood there numb, there was  not long left of the night, it could have been my only chance. Gutted! I only had half a small bait left due to some mis-casts, so with the last hope impaled on the hook I sent it out to the extreme left by a submerged snag branch. It was only a foot deep here but something told me to put it there.

Slumping back in the chair I zipped up my fleece as the night air cooled. The water was still like black steel. The world slept and the sky turned from black to a deep blue as the last of the nights stars burnt out as dawn approached. The first notes of the dawn chorus had begun when the recently re-cast rod went into meltdown. No preliminary bleeps or warnings. The line just tore off the spool as the alarm let out a single one tone, piercing the still dawn air as the bobbin tried to smash through the alarm. Picking up the rod I knocked off the bait runner and the rod pulled down hard as an un-seen force took line from the reels clutch. At first due to the ferocity of the run I thought that a carp had picked up the bait but as I pumped the fish back a strange thumping sensation transmitted down the rod telling me that this was no carp.

 This tug of war lasted a  minute or so but steady pressure soon had the fish on the surface. There in the half light a snake like form writhed and thrashed churning the calm water to a frothing foam, this Eel was massive and my head and legs went! I got it to the net but I just couldn’t get its body over the drawstring. Twice I lifted the net putting the rod down thinking the eel was in and twice more the fight began from scratch. I was now a mess convinced I had lost the fish of a lifetime. Finally I heaved its head almost up the net handle before I saw the Eels tail collapse into net. Relief and adrenaline flooded my body.I had done it on my first night! Resting it in the net I couldnt believe its size. At first the Eel was well behaved, probably exhausted from the fight. I took the opportunity to flick the hook out which was perfectly impaled in its lower lip. I popped my prize into a sack and then set about tidying the swim and sorting out my camera and weighing gear. Once all this was done I retrieved the sack from the margins, one thing that will always stick in my mind from the night was just how warm the water was. It really was a perfect morning, plumes of mist rose from the waters surface in the soft morning light and birdsong filled the air.

Un-zipping the sack I now took time to admire my prize. The Eel was in perfect condition, unlikely to have ever felt the touch of human hands. It had a lovely two-toned coloration. Various shades of brown merged into a beautiful silvery pearl underbelly. I gazed into its jet black eyes trying to imagine what events had befallen this fish during its strange almost timeless existence. “As old as the hills”.

On the scales the Eel pulled the Reubens round to 6Ib 10oz. An awesome fish and one that will burn bright in my minds eye for many years to come. I set up the self-timer on my camera, cradling the fish, I captured its image a very personal moment for me. Just me the Eel alone on a perfect summers morning. As I slipped the fish back into the muddy waters of the lake I wondered if it would ever be captured again? Would it die? Or would it leave the water in search of pastures new. Who knows ?....... that’s Eel fishing more questions than answers. 

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