Yes, we are going to try and make the average reader believe that there is a good use for eels. For the most part, most local fisherman wish that they never existed. When eels aren't wanted, they are probably the least liked fish to catch. They always make a mess.
The most common use for eels as bait is for catching striped bass, primarily during late summer thru the fall. Eels are most often drifted from a boat, although they can be fished from a stationary boat or from land. Anybody that is anybody can drift an eel. It just takes a little getting use to the handling of them. Different people have developed different ways to secure the fish to the hook. When on land, a lot of surf fisherman use sand to get a grip on the eels. On the boat many people just take a roll of paper towels and use two or three fresh sheets off the roll each time they go to get out a new eel. There are endless ways to beat the system. People sometimes keep a few eels on ice to slow down their metabolism so they aren't to fast and therefore are easy to handle. They come back to full life immediately after warming up in the water. Clean, dry rags work fine, the problem is getting the rags clean. ( right Mom )
This store carries eels year round. There are times during the winter when the water gets really cold that our eels have frozen, but we try to keep them as long as possible and get them back in stock as early as they are available. With the mild winter we had this past year, we were able to keep eels all winter. Eels are normally sold by the dozen, but fisherman can buy any amount at Scott's from 1 to 100. We do not do wholesale sales.
Eels store very well in a box at the dock. In the hot summer months, as with shrimp and minnows (see our section on keeping minnows) we suggest that you submerge the box to keep it out of the hot 100 degree sun. Eels can also be kept in your minnow trap. All you need to do is pinch the ends closed from the inside when the trap is open. A minnow trap will probably keep two dozen small bait eels, 8 to 15 inches. Make sure that you don't open the minnow trap on the dock. Use the boat, or do it up on land, because there isn't any way to secure two or three loose eels. They take off like rockets.
Eels can be caught using your minnow trap or with the use of a commercial eel trap. There are a number of different baits that work for catching eels, such as bunker or any fish carcass, but nothing works as well as crushed crabs, especially horseshoe crabs. Eels are most often caught at night because they tend to dig into the mud during the day. The problem with catching your own eels is that the trap doesn't have the sense to catch only the right size eels. You are just as likely to get one that is big enough for you to eat!
In a boat , most people hook the eels through the lips starting from the bottom up. They use a leader anywhere from 30 inches to six feet with a hook known as a live bait hook. This hook usually has a very short shank with quite a large offset. Sizes 3/0 to 6/0 are the most popular. At the point where the leader is attached to the fishing line , most people insert an inline trolling weight . The size can be anywhere from 1/2 oz to as much as 4 oz The lighter the weight the better. The secret is to get near the bottom . On rare occasions unfamiliar fisherman (with eels) have been known to insert a fine piece of welding rod or coat hanger down the eels though to stop the eel from tangling. This works fine but it also stops the eel from swimming normally which is why you are using live eels in the first place. Surf fisherman have been known to hook the eels somewhere near the tail and fish with a fishfinder rig that lets the eels swim away from the rest of the terminal tackle . This allows the eel to look as natural as possible.
All kinds of fish eat eels. Many a nice fluke or weakfish has been caught on eels. Blackfish like eels but have a hard time catching then. Every summer we get a couple of fishermen that catch a large tautog on an eel. Normally 7 pounds or better.
Tuna fisherman love to fish with live bait and eels is right up in their top choices. I personally think other live baits work better, but they are nowhere as easy to take care of during the transport to the canyons. Eels can be kept cool ( like in a cold 35 to 40 deg environment ) and damp ( not in water ) and will last for a couple of days out of water and be just as good as they were when you left home. Also they don't mar as bad as other live fish. To the expert tuna angler, the baits have to be in perfect condition. This is one excuse that they can use when they come home with no fish. The tackle shop sold them bad bait. There are a million others but the reality is that there just aren't as many fish out there to catch. One trick that isn't known to well is that of taking your eels and using a gallon of Clorox to de-slime them. This is done for two reasons. One is so that the eel can be rigged properly before it is put overboard. It is now real easy to handle. The second is that the eel turns almost white and stands out much better in the green water of the canyons. The dunking process is one that has to be done very carefully. The clorox can and will ruin everything on the boat if not handled carefully. The eels go crazy when they hit the clorox. Most people prefer to do the procedure before they leave the dock. Well, this has two problems. One: the eels don't survive two long afterwards. Two: the eels need to be kept in continuous flowing fresh circulated water. The clorox on the outside of them is constantly getting inside and killing them. So the best way to do this is to bring a five gallon pail with a minnow bucket lid (lids available at Scott's), put a quart of clorox in the bucket and insert one or two eels when you get to the canyons, count to 15 seconds and turn the bucket upside down in an empty cooler and immediately fill the bucket from your on-board pump or fill the bucket from the side of the boat. The eels will turn white or at least partially white, and they will be ready to handle with ease so they can be single or double hooked. All size eels can be used, There aren't any eels under 3 feet that a tuna wouldn't want. The bigger the eels though the more problems with rigging and keeping them untangled.