A live eel can be the very best thing to put on the end of your line, if you're searching for a big late-season striped bass. But it can also make your life miserable.
There's probably no greater bait for attracting large striped bass. You want proof? Fishing legend Greg Myerson in 2011 caught the world's record striper using an eel - the bigger the eel, the better, he said at the time. Then in 2013 he nearly broke his own record using a jig "sweetened" with a live eel.
And this time of year, surfcasting at night with an eel can yield great fish.
But fishing with live eels can be daunting, if you've never tried it before. If there's anything harder to grab with your hands than a live wriggling eel, I can't imagine it. (Try grabbing one that has escaped onto the floor of the boat... you will be swearing and laughing in equal measure). Live eels are relatively expensive as bait goes. And then there's the phenomenon of the "eel ball": when one of those slick critters winds itself around the leader and makes a writhing knot of your line, and you have to resign yourself to 5 or 10 minutes of untangling by headlamp.
But those drawback shouldn't outweigh the positives. Kevin Blinkoff of On The Water magazine has a few tips for making your eel fishing expedition a success.
- Keep them cold. When you're ready to head out fishing, pack your eels on ice. Chilled eels get very sluggish, making them much easier to handle. Kevin suggests putting the eels into a ziplock bag, putting the bag into another bag packed with ice, and putting all of that into a third ziplock bag. If you're on a boat, you can dump half a bag of ice into the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket (just remember to drain off the meltwater occasionally).
- Have something to grab them with. Bare hands will not suffice. A dry rag is a good choice (bring a couple). Also an option is a kitchen scrubber (though it can get clogged with slime, eventually).
- Hook them up through the chin and out through the eye. This configuration is good for keeping them on the hook while not killing them. A #7 octopus hook is a good choice.
There is more advice on fishing with eels, and a rundown of the fishing action, in the extended version of this week's Fishing News, which is posted above - give it a listen.