Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 12:33
Updated date: 2/6/17
Corey American Eel Anguilla Rostrata Roughfish


Welcome to the realm of madness. The American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) is one of the most amazing fish on the continent. To catch eels, you must first understand the eel's strange life cycle.



Each and every American Eel begins its life in the Saragasso Sea, far out in the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle region. Here, eel eggs hatch into tiny, transparent larvae called leptocephalae. These larvae drift with the ocean currents, until they reach an area near a river mouth, where they transform into miniature, transparent eels called glass eels. At this point, the sexes diverge: males remain in the saltwater and brackish environment, while females head far upriver. The glass eels gain color as they feed, becoming miniature black eels called elvers. The elvers mature as they migrate upstream. Most of our midwestern eels swim up the Mississippi from New Orleans to get here. They swim close to shore, and when they encounter fast current, they leave the water and crawl on land. This is how they circumvent dams. That's right, the many dams of our river systems, which block the migration most every other species of fish, are no obstacle for the eel. On a moist, rainy night, an eel can crawl across land for long distances. They might climb rip-rapped banks, slither through dewy grass, or even cross a muddied parking lot on their journey. By the time an eel makes it to the upper midwest, they have crossed over 29 dams in the upper Mississippi alone. At some point, the female eels decide they have found their home. This could be a deep, muddy section of river, an oxbow lake, or a pond near the river. There, they live out their adult lives, feeding and growing until the time comes for their return journey. Then, they swim back to the ocean, in some cases across an entire ocean, all the way back to the Saragasso Sea, thousands of miles away.  When they get there, they lay their eggs and die.  Presumably.  No human alive has ever witnessed the spawning of the eels.


The part of the eel's life cycle that is of primary interest to us (the dedicated lunatics who would angle for them) is the life of the adult female eel, either after she has reached her final upstream destination or shortly before. During this time, the female eel is a voracious predator, feeding on minnows, frogs, crayfish, worms, leeches, insects, and whatever else she can catch. They like deep water, silt, and darkness. Some of their lairs may not be connected to the river except during floods. Some not even then, due to the eel's remarkable ability to crawl. Because of this, it is very hard to tell just where the eels will turn up. If you live near a river, there could be one in your basement right now. Eels tend to be most active at night. Legends speak of gigantic eels that leave the river to feed on nightcrawlers on dewy nights.


To master the art of eeling, one must cast aside almost everything you have learned about fishing. Even the part about fishing only in the water. A stagnant pond that bullheads would not be able to live in just might be the lair of a giant eel. Maybe eels eat bullheads? Only the eels know. If I had to choose a bait for eels, I would most likely settle for either a gob of nightcrawlers or a lively minnow. My only eel was caught on a 3-inch gizzard shad, hooked through the eye sockets. Where to fish for them? Once again, only the eels know. If you find a dark, evil-looking place, full of mud and slime and half-rotten logs, you might as well try there. Preferably at night. Eels are strong fighters, and some can grow to over six feet in length, so your tackle must be stout. You must also be an optimist. When choosing a spot for eeling, you are taking it on faith that a fish has swam its way from the distant ocean. It has travelled through a gauntlet of ravenous sharks, dolphins, and barracuda. It has swam, slithered, and crawled up the Mississippi past innumberable dams. It has tolerated filthy water often choked with toxins, and dodged pike, alligator gars, muskellunge, and catfish. Somehow, it ended up right in the very spot you have decided to fish. The odds against you succeeding are very steep. But maybe, just maybe, the mysterious eel is waiting for you in some god-forsaken place. I hope so.



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