Andy’s Angling Ad­ven­tures

Amaz­ing ex­ploits with big con­ger eels.

Sea Angler (UK) - - CONTENTS - ANDY WEBB’S ANGLING AD­VEN­TURES

Twenty-five years af­ter set­ting the cur­rent UK shore-caught con­ger eel record of 68lb 8oz, Martin Larkin can­not be­lieve it hasn’t been beaten. A few months ago, I was in South West Sea Baits tackle shop, where Martin works, talk­ing to him about his stun­ning eel taken in 1992 at Devil’s Point, Ply­mouth, when he as­sured me there are big­ger fish out there.

That fish re­placed the 67lb 1oz eel caught by Torquay’s Al­bert Lan­der in 1967, yes 25 years ear­lier, at the Nat­u­ral Arch, an aban­doned coastal quarry near the town’s har­bour. The same venue pro­duced a 62lb 8oz fish for Jock Mel­rose, of Torquay, in 1988.

Other an­glers shar­ing the glory of big eels, in­clude Ply­mouth’s Mark Bryce, who has sought this species for many years, cul­mi­nat­ing in a best eel of 51lb 5oz. Dur­ing the same week, Andrew Withey took the M5 to Ply­mouth from South Wales to meet up with Mark and an­other spec­i­men an­gler, Rob Yorke, to try for a big eel. On his first ses­sion, Andrew landed a 40lb 1oz spec­i­men.

An­other Ply­mouth rod, Peter Ful­ton has a best of 55lb, and the dis­tinc­tion of land­ing three eels heav­ier than 50lb.

CATCH A MON­STER

Qual­i­fy­ing weights for Bri­tish Con­ger Club spec­i­men awards for shore-caught fish are 45lb for gold, 35lb for sil­ver and 25lb for bronze. For those of you want­ing to tar­get a spec­i­men it’s fair to say the South West is the place to go. With many venues to choose from, the hotspots are the rocky out­crops of Ply­mouth and Tor­bay ar­eas of Devon. Top venues in Dorset in­clude Cheyne at Port­land, West­cliff and Pul­pit Rock.

Liv­ing in Devon and in­spired by tales of such big fish, I have tried to catch a mon­ster eel too, achiev­ing a best of 28lb 12oz, but hook­ing and los­ing big­ger ones.

I re­call a ses­sion in 2010 with my fish­ing pal Scott Mills. The night was per­fect; I al­ways find the small tides bet­ter at the venue, which is in the Tor­bay area. With the sea like a sheet of glass, I knew we had a good chance.

Scott was fairly new to con­ger fish­ing and, his per­sonal best at that time was around 10lb. As we sat chat­ting, I had just put out a big fresh bait. The moon shone down over the water, with not a breath of wind in the air; it re­ally was the per­fect night. Our at­ten­tion was soon di­rected to my right-hand rod as the reel’s ratchet started into life, but stopped.

I eased the reel into gear and awaited the pull-down on the rod, af­ter which I lifted it to set the hooks and leaned back into the fish to lift its head and drag the fish to the sur­face. Its power and weight sug­gested it was a good fish, but it was not un­til it reached the sur­face and started to spin that we saw the fish.

Scott, who had a fear of snakes, scram­bled down to the water’s edge but, mak­ing his way back, he said: “I’m not go­ing near that.”

Af­ter a few firm words from me, he was back down with gaff in hand. As I did my best to keep the eel away from the rocks, Scott

“Con­ger fish­ing can give you some amaz­ing sport, par­tic­u­larly for those who put in the time to get the re­wards”

at­tempted to lip-gaff the eel, but got the trace wrapped around it just as the mon­ster be­gan to spin.

Watch­ing as Scott bat­tled with a gaff pole and a 40lb-plus con­ger, I needed a quick de­ci­sion. I put my rod in the tri­pod and set my reel’s ratchet into freespool. By the time I grabbed the gaff, the main­line had been cut through on the rocks, and the eel slowly dis­ap­peared into the depths. It’s the worst thing to lose a big fish, but we all have sto­ries of the one that got away.

ON THE BIG-FISH TRAIL

Re­cently, I ar­ranged to meet lo­cal an­gler Saleem Ali, who, hav­ing caught a few straps to 10lb, wanted to beat his per­sonal best. We met at his home in New­ton Ab­bott, from where we drove to a mark in the Tor­bay area.

Ar­riv­ing about 8.30pm, Saleem started to fish for some fresh mack­erel, but man­aged to catch only three; good job I’d got some Ammo blast frozen mack­erel just in case.

Con­ger eel fish­ing re­quires strong gear. My rod is the Cen­tury Kom­pres­sor Su­per Sport, which has plenty of back­bone, but some an­glers use the Ron Thomp­son Ax­eller­a­tor.

Whether us­ing a fixed spool or mul­ti­plier, the main con­sid­er­a­tion is a strong main­line. Ul­tima Power Strike is ideal, and its strength

means you can pull out of a snag most of the time. Be­ing very sup­ple, it is good for cast­ing. I nor­mally load my two Daiwa SL30SH reels with 40lb line, but some pre­fer 30lb. Nor­mally, a ba­sic run­ning leger is the ideal rig, with an added Gemini rot­ten-bot­tom re­lease clip so that you can ditch the lead weight and get your rig back ev­ery time from very rough ground. The venue is very rough ground, where you fish over ledges and, if you can get your baits out far enough, it will be into mixed ground. Get­ting a fish in over it is an ad­ven­ture in it­self. As a re­sult, rather than a run­ning leger I chose a pul­ley rig with a rot­ten-bot­tom clip. The rig is made with 250lb mono and size 6/0-8/0 Cox & Rawle hooks, depend­ing on bait, which is a whole mack­erel or flap­per, squid or cut­tle­fish. A mul­let can be a killer bait too.

With dark­ness upon us, we started to cast out big mack­erel baits and set our ratch­ets to al­low an eel to take line. They tend to mouth the bait and, if you spook them, will leave the bait and move on.

Af­ter a few min­utes, I no­ticed line peel­ing off my reel. Hit­ting into the fish and los­ing

my lead weight, I started to reel in what turned out to be a small, dark bull huss of around 2lb. Just af­ter 11pm Saleem caught a strap eel around 7lb that took a whole mack­erel on two size 8/0 hooks. Un­hook­ing can be tricky af­fair be­cause eels have very sharp teeth, but I’ve found a Gemini dis­gorger gets the hooks out with­out harm­ing the fish.

Things started to pick up around 3am with a few runs, which did not turn into any­thing, and at sun­rise we made our way home. We de­cided to try again in the evening. I still had four packs of blast-frozen mack­erel in the freezer that we could use, so we de­cided to fish it up to and over high water, which was around 2am.

We were back on the mark about 11pm and out went whole mack­erel baits on pul­ley rigs. I had brought along a gaff and a fold­ing net. My Sav­age Gear net was pur­chased af­ter los­ing that big eel with Scott Mills a few years ear­lier. If I think it is pos­si­ble to land the eel with the net then I will, but some­times a gaff is the only way.

Things were very slow, with­out a sign of a fish. Af­ter chang­ing our bait sev­eral times, it was 3.25am and the tide was ebbing. At last, we saw the sign we had been wait­ing for, some in­ter­est on my right-hand rod.

Some­thing was chew­ing away at my mack­erel bait, so I lifted the rod and clicked the reel into gear. My rod tip started to buckle and I reeled in and lifted the rod. It’s im­por­tant to keep lift­ing to en­sure the eel’s head is mov­ing up­wards rather than let­ting it de­scend into the rocks and into a snag.

I could feel that I had caught a de­cent fish and, as it started to come up over the ledges, I knew that I could bully it as much as I wanted thanks to those Cox & Rawle hooks and Ul­tima main­line.

Mo­ments later, the eel broke the sur­face and started to spin. Saleem grabbed the net, man­aged to get the fish to fold into it, and with both hands around the net, lifted it up into the rock face.

The eel weighed 20lb 14oz, well short of my best, but it made our ef­forts worth­while. Af­ter a cou­ple of photographs, I re­turned the fish to fight an­other day. As I watched it swim back into the depths, it was smiles all around.

I started to bait a rig and sent it out, but, as dawn ap­proached, it was clear that this was go­ing to be the only eel of the evening.

For the sec­ond time in two days we made our way to our homes for some well-earned sleep. Con­ger fish­ing can give you some amaz­ing sport, par­tic­u­larly for those who put in the time to get the re­wards.

The record eel of 68lb 8oz caught by Martin Larkin in 1992 at Devil’s Point

Peter Ful­ton has caught three congers of more than 50lb, this one was 51lb

Con­ger eel fish­ing is all about strong gear

Use a dis­gorger to re­move the hook

Saleem Ali with a strap eel of around 7lb

A mack­erel bait on a Pen­nell rig

...you may need a gaff too

A fold­ing net is ideal, but...

Check out Andy in ac­tion on his YouTube chan­nel... www.youtube.com/ user/LINEJUNKIES

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