Monday 13 May 2013


I forgot.  A couple of days ago I completely forgot that the tench lake I was fishing contains eels.  I should have remembered, for this time last year I went equipped with maggots and worms as bait... and nothing else, no tidbits that would prove unattractive to old Anguilla anguilla.   And I suffered that night with no less than 12 eels taking my bait, none over a pound and a half,  despite an unconfirmed ( as far as I am concerned ) rumour of a double figure specimen having been taken from the venue.  So, shortly after dark, and having continued to fish with lobworms two days ago: another eel, about a pound and a half.  Luckily this time I did have alternative baits, so the eel remained my one and only wriggly companion that night.   Few anglers, save the specialists, actually like eels, and I am sure no-one at all likes small eels.  If I am lucky, I can slide my fingers down the line, grasp the hook between thumb and forefinger, and shake the eel off without any major problems. Often though, an eel comes complete with a deep, irretrievable hook, a job that would be made easier if the fish would only co-operate and lie still.   It rarely happens though, and usually I end up having to cut the line, as near to the jaws as possible, for to try and get the hook out, as it wriggles and slimes its way about everything in its path, is about as likely as my seeing God suddenly choose me, an out an out atheist, as the target for his next miracle.  The Anguilla club recommends cutting the line, and assures us that the eel is accomplished at shedding the hook, so even at today's hook prices, I will go with that. Although I do not like catching (small) eels, I am nevertheless very pleased to have them in our waters.
But eels have had a bad time over the last couple of decades and have been in major decline, with some reports saying we now have only 5% of the numbers present a few years ago.  So it is with some pleasure that I read the recent Daily Mail article that said elvers in the Severn this year were being caught at ten times the numbers captured in previous recent years.  I quote from the article:

Baby eels squirm their way back onto British menus after the biggest harvest in 30 years drops prices.

Elver eel numbers could reach 100million this year - ten times last year.
Fishermen say it is the largest harvest they've seen in 30 years.This has meant restaurants can serve the delicacy at reduced prices.
So many have been caught this spring that the city's elver station had to close for two weeks because its storage tanks were full and it was turning away fishermen trying to sell them.
So far, 660,000 Severn elvers have been donated for re-stocking rivers in this country and that figure will rise at the end of the season.

 This is all very good news for our rivers, for elvers do provide food for many other species, and the adults are, so I am told, a favourite of the otter.  So: more eels and maybe the otters will no longer be quite so hated by so many anglers. Of course for them to reach a size of any interest to otters will take a few years, eels being quite slow growing.  I am not sure whether there was a real need to transfer 600,000 to other rivers, especially as half have gone into the Avon, a Severn tributary.  I suspect that a good head of elvers on the Severn this year will be duplicated by similar good elver runs on most other rivers.  After all they are supposed to spawn somewhere off Bermuda, and, by the time they reach our shores usually have spread out to invade most of Europe.   I predict a good year for elvers in all our rivers for 2013, for, unlike salmon, they have no home river to aim for.  But why have other recent years been so poor?   Maybe global warming has had a diverting effect on the Gulf Stream, sufficient to lose many of our elvers en-route?   I am still hoping for some more substantial scientific verification as to where the parents of our elvers actually came from.
Of course in the North West, centred around the Manchester area, eels have been  rare to absent for many many years.  The rivers, certainly those fed from near the Mersey Estuary have been a pollution barrier for a very long time, probably for  well over a hundred years.   And so in my youth I never caught an eel locally. My first eel came, after about 4 years of eel-less fishing locally, on a match fishing trip to Lincolnshire.  Oh my God!  What an experience. I had no idea how slippery they were.  I expected to unhook it easily.  Wrong!    I just could not hold the foot long bootlace still.  I even stood on it and it slipped from under my feet.  I dropped it on the grass, whilst I worked out what to do with it, and it wriggled backwards, disappearing into the grass, taking my hook and line with it.
 Today things are better locally, and  the 12 eels I caught in my tench lake undoubtedly came up the Mersey some ten or a dozen years ago.   Maybe the Mersey, like the Severn, is also experiencing a large 2013 influx of elvers as I type.   In the 4 or 5 years during which I have resumed fishing, I have caught eels from the

A Mersey Eel
Mersey, and from both its main tributaries, the Goyt and the Tame. Very pleasing.  Some were good sized eels, up to 3 pounds in weight, so obviously they have been in the rivers, albeit in small numbers, for at least the last 15 years, the population increasing as the rivers regained their cleanliness.     35-40 years ago the nearest eels were in the Shropshire Union Canal, fed by the river Dee.  The Mersey catchment had none, and now it has considerable numbers, so the North West is probably the one area in the UK where the eel density has increased over the last 30 years. 

I am sure that I have read that elvers take some three years to reach our shores, so if we add another year for adult eels to reach their spawning grounds, then four years ago, it seems unlikely that eels were endangered?   So, considering also that awful night last year, when I landed a dozen small eels,  I must ask, are they really so endangered?
But all in all a good news story for our eels at last. Maybe we will see more elver rich years in the near future.


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