When starting out on a water for the first time, I recommend that you experiment with both these baits to determine what shape head of eels there are in the water. If the large headed eel is caught, it will mean that the eels will be predominately predators, and will these will require fishing with fish baits. If however the only fish you catch falls to the worm and the eels have small pointed heads, the use of deadbaits will be a waste of time, and you will be better off sticking to the lobworms. An old friend of mine, the late and great John Sidley, fished a Birmingham reservoir for several years, and caught all his eels on worm, and in all this time only had runs on deadbaits from pike. All the eels he caught there had small pointed heads and showed a preference for worms, despite being fished alongside tasty deadbaits!

Deadbaits can be fished whole or half, with a personal preference for the head half of the bait, with the intestines hanging out to attract the eel with the scent of blood. Whole fish baits can be up to 4 inches in length, and will often benefit from the swim bladder being pierced with a baiting needle so the bait will rest on the bottom. The added benefit of piercing the bait is the release of the fish's natural juices which hopefully the eel should detect. The hooking of the baits is simple. For half deadbaits, place the hook through the eye socket or the root of the tail. For whole deadbaits, place the hook through the eye socket. With worms, place four worms on the hook and break off their tails. This will release a scent in the water which will attract the eels. I have had limited success with small livebaits during the hours of darkness when the pike are less active, though I still found that the humble deadbait outfished the livebait. If you do try fishing with a livebait, the hooking method is with a single hook through the top lip of the bait.

Other baits which catch eels, though these are not so selective, include luncheon meat, cheese, boilies, maggots, squid, liver strips and bacon rind. I have used all these baits, though I have been plagued with nuisance fish such as carp, bream and tench, and as a result have tended to shy away from them, preferring to stick with the traditional baits.

Rigs for the eel are very simple. Often, the simpler the rig, the more successful it will be. Standard light link ledger rigs work well, with the emphasis on 'no resistance'. The light link is essential in snaggy waters, as should the lead become snagged, the light line will break before the main line. Bolt rigs and other carp-style rigs have no place in the eel anglers tackle box. Eels will drop the bait as soon as it feels any form of resistance. I would not even recommend the use of free-lining. The lack of indication when the fish takes the bait could lead to deephooking. Always use as light a lead as you can get away with, allowing for distance casting. A substitute for the ledger is a swim feeder filled with maggots, deadfish, worms etc. to help attract the eels into the area.

A form of eel fishing which has become fashionable over the last few years is ‘sub surface’ fishing. This is when, on bright moonlit nights, the bait is presented inches below the waters surface. The idea behind this, is that during these nights, the eel will hunt in the upper layers of the water where any small fish will be visible against the moonlit skyline. The eel can stalk it's prey from below and hit the small fish against the moonlight. Many years ago, the traditional eel angler would shy away from fishing big moonlit nights with the reason being that they could never catch. Could the reason be because the eels were in the upper layers of the water hunting prey? Tactics for this form of fishing involves attaching a small chub float to the wire trace swivel, and fishing the usual link ledger rig. After casting, let the float rise to the surface, then tighten the line so the float is under tension, but still visible on the water surface. This float should be big enough to suspend the bait below the surface, but small enough not to cause to much resistance. The bait will then be suspended below the surface at a depth determined by the length of trace being used. Runs from baits fished this way can be explosive, and it's very exciting to witness eels swirling around the float before taking the bait, which they do in an extreme manner! I have yet to land a really big fish using this method, though it does offer another way of catching eels without having to resort to the traditional method of ledgering on the bottom, which can be useful if the area is snaggy. If this is the case, remember to use a light line ledger link.

The strike should be immediate if you are using small baits and worms and, if the bait is slightly larger, the run should be struck as soon as it stops. Any further delay will result in a deeply hooked fish. The playing of an eel can be treacherous if the water is snag-infested. Never give an eel an inch of line or it will reach the sanctuary of the bottom and a snag from which you will never be able to free it. This is why I recommend a minimum 14lb breaking strain line. You will need it at times during a fight with a big eel.

Many anglers shy away from fishing for eels due to half the fight being on the bank when it comes to unhooking the fish. This not need to be the case! The bigger the eel, the less of a handful the fish is on the bank. We all hate the small eel that wraps itself around your arm as you try and remove the hook, which it has no doubt swallowed. Well, the unhooking of the larger eel is a quiet and calm affair if you just follow a few steps and don't panic. Once the eel has been landed, give yourself a few moments to compose yourself and get the forceps, towel, weigh sling and scales ready. Place the eel, still in the landing net, on the unhooking mat and kneel over it. Give the fish a minute or two to calm down before attempting to unhook it. After this time has elapsed, turn the eel over onto its back, and stroke the underside of the fish in a calming motion. This will help relax the fish and make the hook removal an easier event. The stroking of the fish seems to help relax it and the removal of the hook with a pair of forceps is then an easy procedure. Should it have swallowed the hook, cut the wire trace as close as possible to its mouth. (Do not try and rescue the hook, as much damage can be done when poking around in its throat. Studies have shown that the eels digestive juices are very acidic, and will slowly dissolve the hook inside, allowing that it has not damaged any vital organs). Once the hook has be removed, turn the eel back the correct way up. Prolonged time spent on its back will cause it to die, so be careful! If the capture has taken place during darkness and if it is to be weighed and photographed, use a soft carp weigh sling and zip sack to keep the eel in. Photographing them is like the unhooking, though the fish can be more lively after having a few hours rest in the carp sack. Talk to the fish, stroke it, lay it on its back, (all rather sexy I think!) and the fish will behave for the camera. Once the photo shoot is over, the fish can be released to its watery home.

Please return all eels back alive to water from which you have caught them, as they have undertaken a great journey to get there, and they deserve the same respect that other fish get. The eel is a mysterious, and some even say, a magical fish. To my mind they certainly deserve many hours of time and dedication. Think about it, they have swam halfway across the world to rest in your local small pond. Treat them with respect.