Andy’s Angling Adventures
Amazing exploits with big conger eels.
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