Conger eels are easy to identify. The only identification problem occurs between the conger eel and the freshwater eel, mainly due to the latter migrating to the sea to breed bringing both in to the same realm. The difference between the conger and the freshwater eel is that the conger has a longer upper jaw and the river eel a more prominent lower jaw. The river eel also has rounded pectoral fins whereas the conger’s pectoral fins are pointed. Also look at the conger’s dorsal fin which begins just rearwards of the pectoral fin, but on the freshwater eel the dorsal begins half way back along the body.
The colouration of conger changes markedly depending on the type of ground they live on. When living tight to sand they will be a light to semi-dark brown, but in deeper water conger take on a light to dark grey colouring with a creamy brown to grey white belly colouring. Occasionally over reefs and rough ground conger will be much darker, more like a slate grey.
The science of how conger breed is still somewhat sketchy. They supposedly only breed once and do so by congregating way out in the tropical Atlantic in depths as deep as 4000-metres. There seems to be no significant information on whether conger have a definite breeding season. The larvae is flat and transparent and lives near the sea surface drifting slowly inwards towards continental Europe and transforming in to the recognised eel shape over a 1 to 2 year period.
Their adult diet consists of small fish such as pouting, poor cod, whiting, codling and small flatfish, also crabs, lobsters, squid and cuttlefish.
WHEN AND WHERE TO FISH
Conger can be found throughout the whole of the UK and Ireland, but also range as far north as southeast Iceland, southern Norway, also southward taking in the whole Western Europe and the Mediterranean.
Shore living conger are rarely caught from Kent eastwards and up to Bridlington, but can be caught occasionally from the North East coast and from the east coast of Scotland in the rougher ground.
They become a common catch from Dorset, especially so from the rock ledges of Devon and Cornwall, throughout Wales and on the rougher ground in Cumbria and right up the west coast of Scotland.
Shore conger are most common in Ireland from rough ground marks west of Waterford, throughout Cork and Kerry and right up the west coast in to Northern Ireland and east as far as Red Bay, generally speaking.
Conger can be caught from shallow rough ground beaches as small eels up to a few pounds, but the best fishing is from the deeper man made breakwaters and especially when fishing off deep water rock ledges in to water over 30-feet deep and in to rough ground.
Conger have a habit, on the majority of shore marks, of feeding just after low water for an hour or two, then literally going off the feed. When this occurs they all seem to feed. Bigger fish over 20lbs tend to feed alone and can show up at any state of tide, though more typically when the tide run is stronger. Where tides runs are very strong, smaller neap tides produce best, but on marks where the tide run is less, they can show on both smaller neap and bigger spring tides. Big conger also like rougher seas with a good swell on, not the calm, moonlight nights some anglers swear by.
The key to successful conger fishing is to fish at night. Strap conger to 10lbs or so can be caught in daylight, especially in well coloured water such as the Bristol Channel, but generally they can be classed as nocturnal feeders.
Ideal rods are ultra fast taper designs with stiff lower mid and butt sections that can apply maximum pressure to bully fish away from snags and pressure fish that are jammed tight in snags. Rods over 13ft 6in can increase the leverage against the angler dramatically, so bear this in mind. Good examples are the Penn Affinity Surf and Zziplex HST’s, or the Abu Atlantic 464’s and Ron Thompson Accelerator’s.
Reels again need to be tough. For longer range the ABU 7500i or Slosh 30’s are good, or the Shimano Torium and Penn 535 and 545 reels. Load these with 30lb mono and an 80lb shock leader for casting, or 40lb mono on the 545 for eels tight in under feet when fishing breakwaters and jetties.
Blast frozen mackerel such as Ammo are good. Fresh fillets of pout, whiting and rockling are superb, as are small whole live or dead pout and poor cod. Smaller eels take ragworm and lug baits, plus crab and occasionally shellfish.
A consistent bait for shore conger is a mackerel / squid cocktail bait.
Too many anglers use baits far too big for normal conger and get a high proportion of drooped takes. Only use whole mackerel flappers when chasing specimen sized congers.
TOP TIP 1
Always fish with the free spool ratchet on click and the reel in free spool. Even huge eels can be very shy biters. They often just “pluck” lightly on the rod tip as they gently inch the bait back in to their mouths. As you see the eel pluck on the rod tip, allow just that couple of feet of free line to run off the reel, which occurs as the eel accepts the bait and moves away, then strike by tightening the line to the eel and lifting the rod high and upward to set the hook.
TOP TIP 2
Conger fishing is a waiting game. The baits, when prepared as described, are big and will release juice for long periods. If you know you’re bait is in the right place, then wait. Conger often ignore a bait for ages before finally coming out to eat it.
TOP TIP 3
When rock and breakwater fishing, try fishing a second rod for smaller species such as rockling, poor cod and pouting. All these make great fresh baits when rigged as a fillet in the case of bigger fish, or simply whole small fish slashed along the sides to release scent. Some nights these fresh baits will be the only ones the conger will take.
TOP TIP 4
When fishing very rough ground tackle losses can be high. You can minimise this by using a simple weak link system between the rig and the weight. Make some weights with a 45-degree bent down wire, or cut and bend the loop on an eyed lead. Tie a short section of 15lb mono between the lead’s wire and the line loop at the base of the rig, now simply put the bent wire leg in to the loop . This can be safely cast to range and will release when the lead hits the sea leaving the lead on the weak link. Cheap but effective!
TOP TIP 5
Conger are best unhooked using a T Bar. Simply slide the T Bar down the line and over the hook shank so it sits in the inner bend of the hook, pull the line down at a 90 degree angle to the fish and “bounce” the hook free using the natural weight of the fish. This does the eel no harm and will free even the most awkward of hooks.
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