Conger Eel (Conger conger)
Average Size – 8lb – 20lb
British record 68lb 8oz
Conger eels are almost unmistakable with their snake-like body shape and slimy covering. The continuous dorsal fin runs from just behind the head, all around the body and finishes roughly two thirds of the way along the underside of the fish. Not to be confused with the silver eel, the conger is very much a fish of the sea, rarely venturing far beyond the mouth of any estuary unless it is a large body of water such as the Tamar in Plymouth. Small congers and silver eels can be difficult to tell apart, the best way to tell is the shape of the head. The conger eels has a more pointed jaw and the top jaw juts out over the lower jaw. Conger eels can grow to immense sizes and some very large specimens can be found very close to the shore making a double figure fish a realistic target.
Conger eels are most commonly encountered in the summer and autumn months but will feed all year round, especially if the winter remains mild. September can be a particularly good month to catch a decent specimen. Severe cold weather will stop the conger eels feeding and the most severe weather can even kill eels who do not live in water of sufficient depth. The conger eel loves rocky ground and the bases of stone piers and breakwaters. The South Devon coastline is full of places where you can encounter a conger eel, the British record was caught from a number of locations in Torbay alone throughout the years and a 50lb plus eel is still a possibility for the angler who puts in the time and effort to locate such a beast. Eels look for holes in rocks and piers in which to hide and from there ambush prey or venture out to find food in the surrounding area. Most conger eel fishing is done at night when the eels leave the sanctuary of their lairs to search for food. Heavy tactics are usually employed with strong rods, reels, hooks and breaking strain lines needed to bully the fish away from their rocky surroundings. Eels can swim backwards and wrap their strong tails around objects to prevent the angler from pulling them out. Once on the surface the eel will spin relentlessly in an effort to shake the hook and care must be taken when trying to land an eel of any size, this is an occasion where a gaff is a useful tool to have. Eels love large fish baits with mackerel, pout and poor cod all popular, as are squid and cuttlefish. Smaller eels can be caught on the full range of baits and are often encountered from rocky venues when targeting other species. Rigs must be strong but kept very simple. A running leger using a 150lb hooklength and 5/0 -10/0 hook and a weak link tied to a lead are all that is required. Short casting into the rough ground is the place to search for an eel. Conger eels can be eaten but they are not considered to be the best tasting fish and it is advisable to return any fish to the water once they have been unhooked.