In a short, but awesomely brutal fight it is one of the few fish against which European sea anglers can measure their strength, stamina and fish playing abilities on a world scale of values.
There is a dreamland scenario which feeds the aims and ambitions of dedicated Conger anglers where a big broadshouldered eel ventures from a deep sunk wreck to pick up a bait. The angler feels the pick up, waits and waits for the Conger to take that yard of line which signals that the bait has been taken. Then reeling like a good’un to take up the slack line, the hook is sunk and with the reel in almost solid lock up and the rod deep into its fighting curve, the eel is prised yard by vital yard away from the bottom.

Conger Club members live for those moments, because it is a crazy time………. Is it a Gold medal eel, a new British Record or just a satisfying workout, a rehearsal for the big one!

Finding big eels is never easy but knowledge is the keythe what, where, when and howcouple that knowledge with some bloody minded determination and it won’t be long before you are catching Conger.
The big boys might take a little longer, but you need to practice, to get into the groove, get the feel for the bite, knowing just the moment to put the power into the heave and haul to spring the eel away from the sanctuary of the wreck. To practice the "pump’em up" technique. It is not as easy as it looks, especially when it is a real mean big’un

WHAT

The Conger Eel(Conger Conger. L.) is a creature of myth and legend, especially so amongst anglers. One of these myths is that it is a slow growing species. Conger kept in an aquarium have reached nearly 90lb in five years. In Michael Kennedy’s book "The Sea Anglers Fishes" there is a paragraph relating to a conger kept in Southport Aquarium which attained a weight of 69lb in four years.

Evidently, in the wild these growth rates are going to be slower, but the Conger is voracious and cannibalistic in its feeding habits. Its main menu consists of fish and crab, but from experience its favourite food is squid, especially cuttlefish, a bait which will often catch when nothing else will tempt them. (Avoid getting the sepia on your floatation suits, nothing marks like cuttle ink.)

Male conger rarely reach three feet in length, the really big eels are always female.

Mature male conger begin breeding when they are about 18 inches long but the female conger is not mature until she exceeds some three feet in length and most exceed four feet before they can breed. Conger of both sexes die after breeding due to a degenerative process where the fish will stop feeding, the teeth will drop out, the bones decalcify and become brittle, all the bodies nutrients are passed to the spawn.(Seems familiar!)

Before spawning the Conger moves to deep water where between 3 and 8 million eggs per female eel are released. The eggs are bathypelagic, which means that they are free floating, but at depth. After two years the fry have reached about 5 inches long, only then do they finally take the shape of a conger eel and begin their residence on the sea bed.

WHERE.

Conger, surprisingly, are caught in many parts of the world from South Africa to the Caribbean, in the Mediterranean and up as far north as Norway. But what we are really interested in, is where can you go to stand a good chance of catching a big’un in UK waters.
From the earliest days of modern Conger fishing, i.e. the Decca era, the South West ports of Brixham, Dartmouth and Plymouth swapped and changed the record between them. In the last decade or so enterprising skippers from Exmouth, Weymouth and Newhaven have shown that big conger are not the sole preserve of the South West end of the Channel.

Perhaps it is fortunate that Conger do not have a great commercial value, indeed the amount of money spent by Conger anglers probably exceeds the value of the commercial landings by a considerable margin. So, although there is some commercial pressure on stocks, given that conger are a relatively fast growing species, wrecks that were once considered fished out will often produce good eels again within a comparatively short time span.

The well established charter boats from Exmouth, Brixham, Dartmouth and Salcombe working the Lyme Bay wrecks, boats from Plymouth working the Patch to the east of the Eddystone and up to the east’ards. Boats from Looe and Falmouth working the western wrecks, these are all charter boats capable of producing some very big eels.

The wrecks off Newquay and Padstow are relatively unexplored in their potential to produce big eels. On a recent trip we took fifty plus eels, to fifty pounds on the first visit to a wreck that had probably never been fished before with rod and line for Conger. I predict some big eels from this area over the next decade.

I have heard people say that Ireland only produces small conger. I have never known small conger to inhabit a wreck without there being some big mothers hiding away there too!

There is still a real opportunity for some pioneering by anglers who are not concerned about treading the same path as everyone else and that can be the most satisfying gamble of all, when a hunch pays off big time. The Eastern end of the Channel has some of the most "go get’em" skippers at the moment, skippers like Stu Arnold have an attitude problemthey just love catching big eels.

WHEN

The traditional season thru’ from Easter to the back end of October is more to do with the boats getting out than with the eels. Conger can be caught all year round in deep water. Inshore wrecks, where a drop in water temperature can have an influence, are much more likely to see the conger migrate to the more stable temperatures of deeper water.

HOW.

I can tell you howbut first you must ask yourself if you are seriousif notpass at this point, go and read someone else’s article. We sometimes read of big conger being landed on light line and, as people who know me will tell you, I really enjoy fishing light linebut not for Conger!

The Conger can swim almost as powerfully backwards as it can in front facing mode. Its tail is almost solid muscle, once it is wrapped around a piece of the wreck or the Conger is curled like a dogfish into a constricted space, you do not have much of a chance of getting the eel into free water.

The first few seconds after you sink the hook is a critical time. You have to be able to pile on tremendous pressure in those few seconds to catch the eel off balance and be able to pull it away from the wreck before it can take a purchase or jam itself into a crevice.
To get a big eel to the side of the boat, a 50lb class outfit is what you want. Do not be tempted to go the cheapskate route, there are many bargains around at the moment from reputable firms, especially Penn!

Buy something like a Penn 50lb rod and that inestimable standby the Senator 4/0 or maybe even a 6/0 reel. Load it up with good quality line, either mono or braid whichever you prefer. Some good quality booms and traces will complete your outfit.

The next step is the hardest one, finding a like-minded charter group. A shortcut to success is to join the British Conger Club who are a great bunch of people to fish and socialise with. The annual Club Dinner is an event not to be missed.

Give the Conger Club Secretary Tom Matchett a call on 01 752 769 262 or email him on tommatchett@congerclub.org for details.

Any questions to russ@reelfoto.demon.co.uk