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Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Fishing for eels in the nighttime

July 20. 2014 12:13AM

AS THE season for catching striped bass moves into the heat of the summer, it's often that the striper fishing techniques that were working earlier in the spring and summer are not producing the number of fish per day that were coming earlier.

One of the reasons for this migration of stripers is that the big schools of spawning alewives and herring that attracted the stripers have moved out into their normal ocean depths and the stripers have to move themselves to find baitfish.

Not necessarily herring but whatever is available including the abundant whiting.The one exception to this is when the big schools of squid invade the inshore waters and bays, and these fish encourage both stripers and bluefish to leave the deep ocean and go back inshore to gorge on the squid.

Squid are often thought of as being nocturnal but that isn't exactly correct. Because the squid love to feed on small minnows attracted to the lights around docks and bridges at night, that's where this misconception arises. Squid are just as active in the daytime as at night, but are not as concentrated in such numbers as they are under the lights.

That's one of the reasons to consider nighttime fishing. Another one is a favorite striper meal is eels. Eels are nocturnal and move around after dark to find their own food. They'll eat anything from seaworms to shiners and will also dine on the remains of dead fish. But in the daytime they are quite dormant.

Eels are not much fun to deal with when trying to get a hook into them or handling for any reason. One of the best solutions to this problem is to handle them with a dry rag or towel. But to also help with their handling, keeping them on a bed of ice will numb them up enough so their squirming and slipping away is very much minimized.

But you can't just drop a dozen eels into a bucket of ice as the ice melt will eventually kill them in their own slime. The key to this is to use a smaller bucket inside a larger bucket. The small bucket should have several drain holes in the bottom and needs to be suspended by whatever means above the level of what the ice melt will be. Draining off this ice melt occasionally will help in their survival.

Some anglers find that trolling live eels at night (and sometimes in the daytime) is very effective, but night trolling is full of problems caused by the short range of people's vision. Using bright lights at night is not consistent with good results so most of the people fishing with live eels will do what they call "eel slinging."

Eel slinging is done by drifting and casting your eel out away from your boat and letting the tide, wind or currents move you along slowly to cover more bottom. A pick-up of a live eel is often quite subtle and it's not a bad idea to let the fish take some slack line before tightening up and setting the hook.

Did we mention that getting a hook out of an eel's mouth or gut isn't the most pleasant or easy task? You want to use fairly small circle hooks so you can almost guarantee a hook imbedded in the fish's jaw. It's also not a bad idea to flatten the barb of your hook for a real easy hook removal. And again, the use of a dry rag or towel to handle the hooked eel makes things a lot easier.

Dick Pinney's Column appears weekly in the New Hampsire Sunday News. Email him

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