Using Live Eels for Stripers
By Joe Malat
Ive been fishing in saltwater for about fifty years and have seen a lot of changes in the tackle and techniques that are used by anglers. The equipment is getting more technical and a mind-boggling array of gear from electronics to revolutionary lures is available for fishermen to use in their quest to outsmart their quarry. Sometimes its almost too much for my senior citizen brain to keep up with.
But, despite all of the high tech gear, a few things in the sport have remained constant and I am thankful for that. One of those constants is the fact that fish like to eat live bait, and that has been true for surfcasters since they were struggling with linen lines and knuckle-buster reels.
Live eels are deadly for striped bass in the Outer Banks.
With the cost of eels being more than a dollar each, it pays for anglers to be able to keep a supply of alive and lively eels around for a few days of fishing. Ive seen all types of methods used to keep eels alive, but one of the simplest is also the most effective. Its a two-part, plastic minnow bucket.
The eels are stashed in the inner bucket, and covered with a few pieces of ice. The ice keeps the eels cool and moist, and also helps to rinse off some of their slime. As the ice melts, the water runs off and drips through the holes of the inner bucket. The ice also slows down the eels and anyone who has ever attempted to impale a lively, slithering eel on a hook knows that is a good thing. Ive kept eels alive for several days with this simple system.
Handling the eels between the bucket and hook is made much easier with a rag. Many locals use regular paper towels to handle the eels, but I prefer heavy-duty shop towels that can be found at any auto parts store. They wont come apart like regular paper towels and a roll will last a long time.
Live eels can be fished from the surf in a variety of different ways. Some anglers prefer to cast them with no weight on the line, rigged at the end of 18 inches of 60-pound test monofilament while hooking the eels through the eyes. A 3/0 black barrel swivel connects the leader and line. Using this rig, the eels are cast out and slowly retrieved or allowed to swim with the current. This freelining technique will work in the deep water and strong currents that are found around inlets, but may be less effective along the ocean beach in the breaking waves of the pounding surf.
use this method when fishing with eels around structure, bridge pilings
or in relatively shallow shoal water.
Many regular surfcasters like to rig eels on a variation of a basic Outer Banks drum rig, using either a triple swivel rig or a sliding sinker, fishinder rig. With the triple swivel setup, they tie 12 to 15 inches of 50 to 80-pound monofilament on one eye of the swivel, and on the business end of the leader snell either a circle hook up to a large 13/0 bend, or a regular turned down eye hook sized anywhere from 5/0 to 7/0. Any brands will work fine. When fished on these rigs, its best to hook the eel through the tail.
Any type of surf rod in the 9 to 11 foot range, either spinning or conventional, will work for slinging live eels from the beach, but the rod should have enough backbone to cast up to six ounces of lead for those days when the surf is booming or strong currents require a heavy weight to hold bottom. Conventional, revolving spool tackle is popular and these reels
should be filled with 17 to 25-pound test mono, plus a length of 50-pound mono shock line thats long enough to run from the reel to the rod tip, plus a handful of turns around the reel spool.
As I am writing this in early January, the striper season has gotten off to a slow start, with only scattered fish being reported from the beach. Boaters have recently started catching stripers, and they are staying a couple miles off the beach.
But, despite a few days of very cold weather, the fall and winter have been extremely mild. Air temperatures hit near-record highs in the low seventies a couple days ago, and the water temps remain relatively warm. With the season getting such a late start it is entirely possible that we will have fish cruising along the beach from Kitty Hawk southward down to Hatteras Inlet through January and well into February,. They might be seen feeding actively and chasing bait through the waves, and thats the time to break out the artificial lures. But, day in and day out, many of the stripers will fall for live eels, fished on the bottom.
Whatever the location,
tide, or time of day, one of the top striped bass baits is a live eel.
Learn how to fish this natural bait effectively and you will surely
increase your odds of catching a trophy-sized striped bass from the
Outer Banks surf this fall.
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