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Freshwater Eels

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I've got a few questions about freshwater eels. How common are they and where is their range? I've heard that they're what a bass thinks a big worm is, so I'd think that they're pretty abundant just about everywhere. How often do bass eat them? Are they a typical forage species or one of the more uncommon prey species like rats? What are their natural colors? I imagine that they're all black, gray(like a bluecat), dark green (green pumpkin), or maybe brown, but maybe I'm wrong. Any input is much appreciated. I'm sure WRB knows a thing or two about this.

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I've caught them while catfishing, anywhere from 8 inches to 3 feet. Most are bigger where I've caught them, and I can't see how a bass would eat them. But maybe some of the smaller ones or babies. They are usually black with a slightly lighter belly. This is just is where I fish in MA< I don't know about other places.

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They might be prey fish when they are very small, but they get too large to be food for bass (up to 5 feet long!). When they are small, 6 inches, they leave the ocean and swim up rivers in search of freshwater. They can travel hundreds of miles can spend 25 years in fresh water before returning to the sea. They are not abundant any where I've ever fished.  I caught a few while bass fishing back in the 60's in the St. Lawrence River. 

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We have them in the Historic James River.

 

Catch them once in a while if fishing with catfish or live bait.

 

Never caught a big one. The ones I caught were about 18 inches max.

 

Just unhook them and let them go.

 

Heard there are some monster eels in the Historic James.  Maybe one day I will meet one.

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I have caught them in lakes here in VA when soaking minnows......ironically enough the spot i was fishing and caught him was also the same spot i caught the largest fish out of that same lake...coincidence, i think not.....

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I've seen one from a dock, but never caught one. They don't look too appetizing to me, but then I'm not a bass.

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When I was a teenager, I used to catch a lot of them in a river when night fishing with live bait for catfish. Actually caught more eels than catfish.

The little ones were called shoe string eels and would tie your rig in knots before they were "dispatched".

Skinned, cut up in 4"-5" sections, and fried, they were tasty. 

Those not eaten, when cold, would seem to get raw again.

They roll around while cooking like frog legs do.

 

They are a popular striper bait.

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I've seen one from a dock, but never caught one. They don't look too appetizing to me, but then I'm not a bass.

Yeah, but I don't know how appetizing this would look either lol.

(originally posted by Smokinal, I just copied and pasted his original post from here http://www.bassresource.com/bass-fishing-forums/topic/143322-why-would-someone-use-a-mouse-bait-again/ )

Caught this guy on Sunday

34e3d435-2c35-4e38-be2b-d6d3c85b14c9_zps

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My first experience seeing freshwater eels at night with a flashlight was in a small lake about 44 years ago. They were inches from the waters edge and a very dark gray/brown to a black in color. When I tried black rubber worms(creme 6") I knew what they mimic'd. Of course at that time we had black, natural color being offered and purple color worms were offered soon after. There wasn't much in plastics nor colors back the. The walk to the bait shop was up hill both was. I was a slow shopper so the earth turned up hill in both directions. Lol.

My mother's brothers were the outdoorsman in the family. They fished and hunted. They ate everything they killed real old school before the duck guys were cool. They let me taste everything from deer, rabbit, eels (saltwater) etc. He fried the eels with egg and bread crumb batter. They were ok. These were big eels butterfly sliced. The rabbit catcha-tore was great. Tastes like chicken.

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Eels are very common in the upper Delaware river on the NY-Pa border.  I used to fish for them commercially using an eel weir, and on a good night you can catch thousands of them.  One reason there are so many eels here is that there isn't a dam on the river for three hundred miles from the ocean.  The eels spawn in very deep water in the Atlantic, I believe the number is 20,000 feet deep. (about 4 miles). The baby eels then migrate back to fresh water where they will live most of their lives until they return to the ocean. They can live a long time, and if there is a dam in their way, they can wait a long time and get really big before they migrate.  When they are small, everything  likes to eat them. Once they get big, they are a little tougher, but I have caught striped bass and walleye on eels 12-18" long.

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I suspect that bass eat lots of eels where they are available. That's why   worms work so well imo.

Eels will go up the smallest of streams to get into ponds and ditches.They were in my pond yrs ago that had a very small stream close by but didn`t run thru it.

C22

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I've never seen a live one but fishing with a friend on a private lake in South Carolina my wife caught 2 bass that spit up eels while she was fighting them, I was able to recover one of them.

DSCF0125_zpsb94a684c.jpg

Inspired me to try an 11" YUM Mightee worm, my very first cast resulted in this.

DSCF0126_zps20dba8d7.jpg

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Only kind of eels I run across

 

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Fresh water eels use to be very common in our Connecticut River system up to a couple of decades ago. Now, with the advent of the striped bass runs in the river, eels there are endangered, if not extinct. The stripers have decimated not only the natural eel population, but all other fresh water fish species as well, below the Holyoke Dam. Mature eels use to get to 4' long here! Great fighters too!

 

We also use to have a large run of blue back herring in the river (which co-incited with the shad runs each spring)  before the stripers started coming up. Now it's rare to catch one while shad fishing. Stripers are voracious feeders and will eat anything and everything they can get their jaws around. The reason the stripers have taken over is due to heavy commercial herring fishing in the sound. This forced the stripers to come up further in the river to find another food source. At least that's what DNR Officer once told me. :)

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Dams are not a problem for eels.  They can navigate around them.  Here's how they do it.  An eel will swim onto dry land, leaving a slime trail for others to follow, then slide back into the water along the slime trail.  The apparently go only as far as they can without losing too much slime.  As others follow, the trail around the dam gets longer until it leads to the water above the dam.  They can travel over land much like snakes. 

 

http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/american_eel.htm

 

Some eels stay in marine estuaries.  When we lived on Cape Cod, I got an eel spear and would go eeling on a salt pond.  Eels hibernate in balls along the transition line where the bottom changed from sand to mud. 

 

Cut a hole along that line and start probing with the spear.  You did not stab them with the spear.  The tines would go over the eels body then you'd pull back impaling the eel on a barb.  Sometimes you'd come up with four or five, maybe more eels on those barbs.  You could tell when you hit a ball of eels. It felt like you were poking into a rubbery substance.

 

1_eel3.jpg

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Only kind of eels I run across

Moray Eel, caught a large one in Puerto Rico, years ago.. Evil eels...

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Fish are not the only cause of the demise of the eels. Foreign markets pay the ridiculous sum of $2000 + per pound of elvers[baby eels]. They make their way to  fresh water feeding grounds in the spring and are very predictable when and where to catch them.

Just about all herring species are illegal to possess on the east coast now, mainly due to comm overfishing..

C22

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Fresh water eels use to be very common in our Connecticut River system up to a couple of decades ago. Now, with the advent of the striped bass runs in the river, eels there are endangered, if not extinct. The stripers have decimated not only the natural eel population, but all other fresh water fish species as well, below the Holyoke Dam. Mature eels use to get to 4' long here! Great fighters too!

 

We also use to have a large run of blue back herring in the river (which co-incited with the shad runs each spring)  before the stripers started coming up. Now it's rare to catch one while shad fishing. Stripers are voracious feeders and will eat anything and everything they can get their jaws around. The reason the stripers have taken over is due to heavy commercial herring fishing in the sound. This forced the stripers to come up further in the river to find another food source. At least that's what DNR Officer once told me. :)

Sounds like that river has a good striper run. But the striper is not a nuisance fish nor an invasive specie. I think the striper run should be cherished. Im alittle more east than you near the Merrimack. I have never fished the Connecticut River but I have gazed upon it and thought of the smallmouth that must be in there when I was at Umass Amherst briefly. In the Merrimack we have a world renowned striper run and the freshwater fish maintain themselves; and the Northern pike are actually growing and getting more prolific. I would say grab some slug-gos and get in the river during the striper run, its the best sportfishing anywhere on the planet.  

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We catch a bunch when we set mini trot lines in the small river near my house. They can hide really well during the day, it's amazing to catch 3' long eels in a tiny, crystal clear river that doesn't look like it could hold anything. Very good eating as well. The really crazy ones are the huge sea lampreys that come up the river in the spring to spawn. Looks like they came straight out of a horror movie...with a smell to match.

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Used to catch lots of 6-8 inch eels as a kid, on earthworms I dug up myself.  Caught the slimy little guys near my house in a small reservoir in Westchester County, NY.  I recall the eels were nearly white.  I wanted to try cooking them but Mom would NOT let me bring them into the kitchen.  A white or pearl plastic worm or senko type stickbait could probably mimic them fairly well.

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As far as I know, eels numbers are way down throughout their range.  I believe the Delaware is one of the last that has a commercial fishery for eels.  One theory for the dwindling numbers is that freshwater intakes on power plants and other large scale facilities are killing the elvers along with other fish fry, in staggering  numbers.  Single power plants can kill young fish by the billions.  There is some  movement to force companies to re-engineer their intakes to exclude baby fish, but of  course the overriding concern is once again, the almighty dollar..

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