Justin Stoddart 6lb 3oz Eel

Love them or hate them, there’s something very special about eel fishing. Perhaps it’s the excitement of not knowing what’s in front of you, is there even an eel there? Or is there a beast?
With the odds stacked against the anglers targeting them, credit must be given when a plan pays off and that’s exactly what happened for Justin Stoddart who banked this impressive 6lb 3oz specimen.
He told us “Eels are my favourite species, and since the turn of the new season, I haven’t been able to think about anything else. They’re the ultimate challenge, and even though I’ve caught some big ones in the past, you can’t ever ‘crack it’ with them. So, when faced with a run of blanks on my usual trusted tactics, I racked my brain, searching for what I could do differently, and decided to try targeting them on the float.It’s something I’ve thought a lot about but never tried, but in my mind, it offers the ultimate, resistance-free presentation when fishing at close range. The lake I’m on is one I’ve spent time on before but never caught anything, however I knew it had potential. I was targeting a spot in the margins, right under the rod top next to a big willow. I find that fishing at such close range with the conventional bite alarm setup problematic, as eels will take the bait but feel the resistance from the rod tip and drop it right away.

Knowing I needed to make a change, I set up a float on a spare rod I had in the van. I must stress that a standard light float rod has no place when targeting big eels – you need something with plenty of power, so used my usual stout eel rod. I paired it with 15lb mainline and rigged a waggler above a short wire trace, onto which I mount a short section of solid tubing – ‘twig-rig’-style, and a size four hook. This lake is about 6ft deep further out, and the margins are around 3ft, so I set the somewhere between 18-24”, which would present my bait up in the water.

I always fish off bottom for eels, with the well-known Dyson rig my usual favourite. My view is that an eel hunting at night is relying pretty much purely on its sense of smell and will wait in a spot on the bottom with their heads up, waiting for a whiff of food. With a bait suspended up in the water column, the scent trail goes a lot further, and an eel will therefore pick it up sooner. I believe they naturally feed on the surface for things like dead fish and spend a lot more time off bottom than people realise.

With the species famously night feeders, I banded a luminous starlight onto the top of the waggler, and have to say, it led to some of the most exciting fishing you can imagine. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of being sat in the dark on a still, quiet night, watching the starlight just bobbing around whilst everyone else sleeps in their bivvies. I loaded the hook with pieces of chopped worm and started off by searching all over the place, but kept flicking odd bits of bait by the willow to my right.

The swim I fished was in a quiet, sheltered corner of the lake, so I could let the float drift gently towards the tree. I was sat back watching when, out of nowhere, the little light buried into the blackness. I struck instantly and in a split second the calm night exploded as a big, angry eel ploughed into the bank through the tree roots. Adrenaline took over as I hung on for dear life. If I slipped or gave the fish an inch it was game over, but after a few minutes of pulling hard as I dared, I eventually eased it free. Once in open water I had the upper hand, and the angry beast lay in the net.

It weighed 6lb 3oz and is a fish I’m absolutely buzzing with. Watching a starlight in the dead of night sums up everything eel fishing is about for me; it’s perhaps a little mad, but there’s nothing quite like it.”

Well done Justin!