Conger Eel (Conger conger)
Big rod-caught conger eels can weigh 27.20 Kg (60 lbs) or more, making them the largest eel species in the world by weight. Conger eels caught by commercial fishermen has been reported to be around 100kg (220 lbs). These monsters have also been spotted by deep-sea divers. The average rod-caught conger eel weighs around 9.10 Kg (20 lbs).
VU – Vulnerable
The conger eel has a serpent-like head, with a rounded snout and wide protruding eyes, its body is very long, scaleless and covered in slime. The body is generally coloured grey; although it can appear blackish. It has a white belly and small white spots follow the lateral line. The conger eel also has large gill openings which are present in the lateral position and razor-sharp teeth arranged in rows. As with all eels, the dorsal and anal fins are merged, and small pectoral fins are also present. The adult conger eel has an average length of 1.5 m (4 ft 10), with females being longer on average.
The conger eel is commonly found amongst rocks, in holes known as “eel pits”. The conger eel is nocturnal and so feeds at night, where it hunts fish, cephalopods and crustaceans.
Warning: Dodge those teeth!
So how do we catch one?
Conger eels are best caught using whole live fish, hooked through the upper jaw behind the lip, with mackerel, pouting and whiting being the best options. Whole freshly killed fish can also be effective, with squid, herring, or pilchards working well. Crabs and lobsters can also be used to fish conger eels.
Conger eels can be caught all year, conger eels living inshore are more easily caught in warm weather as during very cold winter weather the eels migrate to deep offshore hideaways and return around May. The huge conger eels reported by deep sea divers live in a world of unending cold and darkness, and strike at bait in all seasons, day or night! The most effective months to fish for big inshore conger eels are June, July, August, September and October.
Favourite Feeding Places
Conger eels favour rocky crevices, holes, hollows, caverns and sunken wrecks they also feed by harbour walls, breakwaters and underneath piers and jetties.
Once they’ve found a good area, conger eels set up home and don’t generally move unless exceptionally cold conditions force them temporarily into deeper water or until they outgrow their den and must find somewhere more spacious. Conger eels rarely hunt far aware from their lair and tend to prey on passing fish.
Best rigs for conger eel fishing
If fishing from the shore for conger eels, a basic leger rig with a wire trace attaching hook to swivel on line is a great way to go.
Basic Leger Rig
This rig is used to lay hookbait on the seabed. The distance between the hook and swivel can vary, but should be at least 300 mm (1 ft). This rig works so well because your line is able to pass through the weight’s “eye”, meaning that shy or suspicious fish can tug the bait without instantly sensing the resistance.
If you’re boat fishing for conger eels, a boat leger rig is advised.
Boat Leger Rig
This is one of the simplest and most effective rigs for boat anglers. The space between the hook and swivel can vary, but should generally be about 1 m (3 ft). The bait is presented on the seabed and the line is able to move through the boom without hitting the weight which would otherwise scare off a bait-biting fish.
- Big conger eels live in some rather obvious places close inshore and in “shallow” water no more than 2 fathoms (3.7m) in depth. Because conger eels are nocturnal, their presence in the day is often unspected. Try to look for likely dens – sunken boat hulls, broken pipes, discarded scrap, old collapsing jetties, narrow underwater clefts in rock outcrops, etc.
- The reason that fish baits such as herring, mackerel, and pilchard are so effective is due to their high oil content, this lays a scent trail which the conger eel can swiftly detect.
- Groundbaiting is an extremely good tactic for conger eel fishing. In deep offshore water, weight a large and strong brown paper bag (using one strong brown paper bag inside another will make it even stronger) with some heavy stones, add some conger bait mixed with bran soaked cod liver oil and tie it shut. Next fasten it around the fishing line and heave it into the sea.
The idea is that the bag will break open when it hits the seabed, releasing the contents and arousing local conger eels.
- The eerie feeling before a storm on a hot, humid evening is believed to shock conger eels into a feeding frenzy, fishing for them in these conditions will increase the likelihood of a catch.
- Conger eels often nibble at baits before gulping them down. Don’t try to reel-in your line at the first tug, wait until line is stripping off your reel and the conger is bending your rod – once this happens recover the line and start bring the eel up. As soon as you apply some pressure, the conger eel will lunge towards surrounding obstacles which can snap your line. Once you’ve applied pressure, maintain it and pump the eel to the surface by lowering your rod, reeling-in line, raising the rod, lowering and repeat.
- Once the eel is out of the water, manoeuvre it into an old sack. If you are planning on cooking it, tie the top of the sack and store it away from the sea. Conger eels can be stunned by a blow from a heavy object to the back of the head, but unlike most other fish, this will not kill it.
It can only be killed by cutting the spine with a sharp knife or by using an axe to cut the head clean off. Neither of which should be risked whilst in a small boat or on slippery rocks – wait until you’re securely ashore. Conger eels have been known to survive for hours out of water and can play dead, so don’t be fooled!