Equally, a landed conger can be as placid as the household
cat, but the next one goes ape and can be a real handful, especially
in a tight place. But they grow big, fight hard and are a real
challenge, plus have always been a cult fish attracting specialist
conger anglers.

Pick most cliff type rock marks in England's Southwest, the rock marks
of South, mid and North Wales, and the rock ledges along the Scottish
coast and you're in conger territory. The secret to hitting big conger
is the type of terrain you're fishing and recognising just what a big
conger looks for when choosing its home.

First off, what's a big conger? Any fish off the shore over 20lbs is a
big fish in my book. That's the target figure. If you specifically
target the 20lbers, then sooner or later you'll hit an eel twice that
big.

Secondly, try and locate rock marks that few anglers visit. Remember
that congers are territorial fish and a popular mark is likely to get
fished out quickly. Get your boots on and go walkabout in the remote
areas to locate a suitable mark that's little fished. Once you've found
it, fish it at every opportunity to get to know it well in all its
moods and weather patterns.

The sort of mark they like is over very rough ground, maybe adjacent
to a sandy patch where they can ambush small fish that stray close
enough. They often choose a home close to a passing tidal current
where small fish get swept past them. Don't believe all you hear about
conger always living in holes in the rock either. They definitely do,
but they are also adept at lying inside rock cracks and fissures. That
is why nature designed them like a snake. Their body will adapt to
many different types of home, being so slender and supple.

There's a clue in the last paragraph regarding where to find bigger than
average conger. If a fish is able to locate and claim a hole-type
abode, then it can grow fat without having to work too hard for its
meals. These are the conger with big heads and carrying the bulk of
their weight behind the head with short fat bodies. On the other
hand, conger having to adapt to living in more exposed rock cracks and
fissures are likely to be feeding on the move and hunting by stalking
like a cat. They tend to burn up more energy and grow less quickly.
These are long, slim fish. That's why you need really rough ground,
fairly tight in to jagged rock cliffs where boulders that have fallen
from the cliffs have piled up to create holes to locate the bigger
conger.

Water depth is less critical than you think. Just 5-metres can be
enough, but generally I look for a depth exceeding 10-metres. I've
noticed the bigger eels are more comfortable in the greater depth when
it comes to making a permanent home.

There's a basic rule you can use to begin to learn about your chosen
mark or marks. Congers tend to feed during the smaller neap tides when
the tide is lessened. They also feed for a longer period. On bigger
spring tides, the feeding spell can be very short and is usually
concentrated either side of low water slack or high water slack when
the tide run is minimal.

Just to throw a spanner in the works though, some marks produce best
for short periods right in the middle of the peak tide flow. These
tend to be the marks where the conger are living in the rock cracks.
What I think is happening here is that the small food fish tend to
congregate together around the base of rocks and other structures that
break the tide flow. The conger knows this and goes on the prowl
trying to chase something down by scaring it.

The weather is very important. In my experience, the best conger
fishing comes in two patterns. You can choose to fish calm weather
during the early autumnal period when the first night frosts appear or
the warm, sultry nights in high summer. This seems to trigger the eels
into a feeding frenzy some nights, but not always. My theory is that
it's likely to be the calm seas associated with summer or frosty
autumn nights that allow the more active smaller food fish like
rockling, pout and poor cod, plus the influx of whiting to feed close
in that the conger are capitalising on.

But it works both ways. When the weather has been especially rough and
the seas huge, fishing a falling sea immaterial of tide size can be
the most productive of all. I think this is due to the fact that the
smaller food fish are pushed out in to calmer water. The eels haven't
been able to feed for some time and go on the binge as the smaller
fish return inshore as the sea ease back. Safety comes in to the
equation here, but fishing a rough sea going down after a blow is a
good time to fish. This sequence can produce excellent fishing in
early and late winter in the west.

I never fish a deliberate daylight session, even in overcast
conditions. You'll get strap conger to double figures, but I've rarely
had bigger conger during daytime. Dusk can be a good time, but I like
my sessions to fall in full darkness.

The best baits for conger are natural fresh baits. It's a good idea to
fish a second rod just to catch the bait. Whole small poor cod, pout
and rockling are excellent. If they are biggish fish, then use a
fillet.

Of the bought baits, fresh mackerel is okay, but squid and especially
cuttlefish can be much better. I also use lamprey from Predator Baits
and I've had some great fish on it. Also try mixing the baits to make
combinations. Mackerel and squid is a useful one. Cuttlefish and a
fillet of poor cod or pout are also good. Equally effective is a squid
body full of smashed mackerel or pout.

Don't be in too much of a hurry to renew big baits. If there are crabs
whittling the baits down quickly, then you've no choice, but the
longer you leave a bait the better chance you have of a conger finding
it. Anything up to an hour is okay if the bait is big and smelly,
whole cuttlefish being a good example.

Conger take quite lightly in calm seas. They tap gently on the rod tip
and will pinch a few inches of line off the reel at a time. You'll
have the reel in free spool with the line ratchet on to anticipate
this. Give them time to eat the bait a little, then lift the rod,
strike hard and keep them coming all in the one motion.

In rough weather it's a different story. They will hit a bait hard and
are easily capable of pulling the rod in to the sea in one go. I tie
down my rod rest with a lanyard fastened to a climber's rock nut,
wedged in a rock crack just in case. Just hit and haul these fish
immediately to keep them away from the seabed snags.

Never give a conger an inch unless you're absolutely forced too. If
they make the snags you've pretty much lost them. Fables about
throwing stones in the water to scare them in to moving, tapping the
tight line to annoy them and more are just stories and are unlikely to
work. One thing to try though is to give them plenty of slack line.
Sometimes they think the danger has passed and will move off the snag
giving you the chance to haul them clear again.

They fight by backing away from you and trying to dive. On rock ledges
they can easily pull you off balance so keep away from the edge of the
rocks. Keep that pressure on and they'll come easily to mid water, but
then often go berserk. The critical period is when they approach the
rocks. Expect a crash dive, which can be very powerful.

Landing a decent conger is the only time I advocate a gaff. You need
to wait until the eel is steady in the water and place the gaff only
into the lower jaw to lift them clear. This does no damage and allows
the fish to be returned unharmed.

For photographs, then leave the hook and trace attached to them and
gently hold their heads up with the mid and lower body on the ground.
This seems to semi-pacify them and they hold fairly still, minimising
the chance of damaging them and keeping them at arms length to protect
yourself if you're working in a tight place.

I release them by slipping the gaff back in to the hole in the lower
jaw and letting them slip off the gaff in the water. Every time they
instantly crash dive proving their good health.

Tackle for conger needs very careful assessment. Even for biggish
fish, in my opinion, some guys fish far too heavy and this will
put some eels off feeding when they feel a big hook. The best rig is a
pulley rig made from 125lb mono.

Take about 90cms of mono, tie in a small loop at one end, then slide
on a 5mm bead. Next, slide on a size 4 round eye rolling swivel, then
another 5mm bead. Use a figure-of-eight knot placed about 35cms from
the spare end to act as a stop for the sliding beads. The spare end
takes the hook. This needs to be tough, but not ridiculously big. For
average eels to 20lbs, then a Mustad 4447B size 6/0 is adequate. For
bigger eels go for a 6/0 pennel rig using Mustad 3406 O'Shaughnessy's.

To the loop tied in the end of the rig you can add a weak link of 15lb
line. Either a loop and pin system holding the lead in place for
casting, or a dogleg in the wire tail of the lead placed inside the
loop for casting work extremely well. Both methods will release the
lead as it hits the sea or seabed leaving the lead attached only by
the weaker line, which can be broken free to retrieve the rig and
sometimes a fish.

Rods need to be powerful. Something capable of casting 6 ounces plus
bait with a very fast taper can really apply some power when it's
needed. The choice of reel is down to just a couple. I'd suggest an
ABU 9000, which is what I always fish with myself, as it's tough and
capable of casting a good distance. Also the Daiwa SL30SH, or the more
powerful new Daiwa SL40HV which takes 300-metres of 30lb line. There
are others, but I'd have faith in these. Remember that it's the rod
that does the work and applies the pressure to big eels, not the reel.

Line strength? If possible use 30lb line. It has more than enough
strength to bully big eels and helps you cast a little further if you
need to. Alternatively, for very heavy snags and really big fish,
load with 40lb line. I also fish a 60lb leader for both casting and to
have something to pull on when a big eel is near the rock ready for
landing.

Put back the congers. There are better fish to eat in the sea and the
more that are killed the less there are for the future, as conger take
time to reach a big size, and as stated, are territorial.