Dead or alive – rigged eels

Sun, 11/08/2015 - 7:45pm
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The highlight of this report is that some quality bass in the 40-plus inch size were landed (and verified with pictures) by surfcasters plying their craft in the earliest morning hours. Areas range from the Southwest Point, to the Southeast Light and rigged eels accounted for the better fish, with smaller fish taking plugs. Sporadic showings of working birds are still moving through the Great Salt Pond, which, judging by their movement, would lead a trained eye to surmise that they are working fast-moving pelagic species in the form of false albacore and or bonito. There is still a plentiful amount of bait, namely silversides, around the pond. Last, for the shoreline report, squid are still plentiful in both harbors, with the better sized pieces showing on the east side from sunset through sunrise. So let’s hope these fair conditions persist, and we see a fall bite that we’ve all read about in the popular surfcasting books about Block Island.

So we mentioned ‘rigged eels’ — what are they? Simply put, it’s a dead or live eel, rigged to be fished while surf casting — much like a lure would be. Live eels are best and easy to fish. Of course, as with anything fishing, there are varying levels of complexity with rigging dead eels, nuances if you will, to make these dead ‘snakes’ swim like they’re alive.

Here’s a ‘beginner rigger’ for live eel fishing. First thing is to select the right eels. Basically you want to avoid the small ones since they tend to fly off the hook when you go give it a hefty cast. They are also not heavy enough to cast very far. So select the larger eels, 18 inches and up on the heavier, fatter side. These eels also have a stronger skull section where it will be hooked. Then you must give consideration to the type and size of hook to use. This can come down to personal preference, but we like the circle and octopus style hooks. Size is typically a 5/0 but larger sizes, up to 7/0, can be used with bigger eels. This is tied to a 40 to 60 pound fluorocarbon leader of at least 24 inches.  

If you fish with braided line, the leader needs to be tied in with an ‘Alberto Knot’ or ‘FG Knot’ (YouTube it for instructions). If you are fishing monofilament, tie in a 150 pound swivel between the leader and main line. How to hook the eel is often the trickiest part. Whichever way you choose, it’s critical that the hook go through the skull or eye of the dead eel, otherwise they’ll be flying off the hook with each cast. One method is to run the hook point through one eye and out the other — this uses the skull to support the cast. Another method is to go into the mouth and up and out one of the eyes. Yet another easy way is to go down the throat as far as you can and out the bottom of the throat. You may lose a few more eels this way, but the eels stay alive longer. 

Now the two-hook Dead Eel Rigger is more complex and needs to be done in advance. We suggest you do a few at a time and put them in the freezer until you need them. You will need to buy or make a rigging needle — its best if they are 12 inches long or so. To make one use the length of a coat hanger, pound one end flat and drill a 1/16 hole for the rigging thread, the other end is then ground to a sharp point. You will need Dacron line or rigging floss (dental floss also works well). Select your favorite hook then take a double length of Dacron, six to eight inches longer than the eel. Snell one end onto the hook, the other end is threaded through the needle eye. Insert the needle behind the vent and bring it out the mouth and remove it from the Dacron. Now take another hook for the mouth and position it where you want it to come out of the eel — usually you want the hook eye to sit in the back of the mouth and the hook point to come out the throat facing down. Run the thread through the eye of a hook and then a barrel swivel and tie a series of half hitches around the hook shank. This secures the swivel to the hook eye, you can add a small egg sinker that will sit in the mouth as well if you wanted to. Now using a smaller rigging needle and a 12 inch length of Dacron, go up through the chin and out the top of the jaw, several times on each side of the jaw to secure the mouth closed. A few half hitches and a drop of super glue will secure the Dacron. Lastly lay your eel flat and position your hooks exactly where you want them. Push a length of floss or Dacron through the eel and hook eyes and tightly lash them in place (wrap around the eel like a belt) and tie off and add a drop of super glue.

You also have one more option — the down and dirty lazy man’s one hook dead eel rig. You need a Joe Baggs Eel Jig. Use the lead headed jig and eel like you would rig a soft plastic rig, the hook goes down the throat of the eel and out the back. Next use the zip ties provided and wrap it around the head and cinch down around the jig head. Done — go fish.

Now that the eel is rigged, how is it fished? Consideration needs to be given to the depth and bottom structure of your fishing spot. If you’re fishing sandy bottom you don’t need to worry about the live eel scurrying into rocks and weeds so your retrieve can be slow and paused, let the eel swim around. If you are fishing in rocky areas it’s good to keep the rod tip high and retrieve slowly with a rod twitch as to not let the live eel get into the structure to hide. In deeper water you can lower the rod a bit to keep the eel in the strike zone during your retrieve. Dead eels rigs are fished like lures. Slow retrieves with a rod twitch held high works best, if you retrieve to fast the eel tends to spin in a circle. When you do feel a pick up or hit, pause for three or so seconds before a strike.  Remember if you use circle hooks, a longer pause can be necessary and your ‘strike’ is simply coming tight to the fish with the reel and let the hook do it’s job in setting itself. 

Rigged eels are deadly effective from the boat or beach and can often be the ticket to get the bruiser bass to bite on the slow days. Give it a try and let us know how you do.

Catch ‘em up!