American Eel fish identification, its habitats, characteristics, Fishing methods
American eels begin their lives as eggs hatching in the Sargasso Sea, a 2-million-square-mile warm-water lens in the North Atlantic between the West Indies and the Azores. They take years to reach freshwater streams where they mature, and then they return to their Sargasso Sea birth waters to spawn and die. Eels do not become definitely male or female until they are 20-25 cm (8-10 in) long. Eels can absorb oxygen, not only by gills, but through their skin and are known to travel over land, particularly in damp, rainy weather. The American eel in Europe are considered to be a delicacy, especially when they are smoked or jellied.
A combination of understanding the fish and the techniques used to catch them will help you to hook more fish to the end of your line. Better knowing and understanding of the fish that you are trying to catch will make you a more successful angler, whether you are fishing for trout on a river or surfing on the beach or trolling on the open water.
American Eel – Anguilla rostrata, also known as Anguille, yellow eel, black eel, green eel, glass eel, silver eel, river eel, bronze eel, is a fish occurs in freshwater rivers and lakes, estuaries, coastal areas and open ocean from the southern tip of Greenland, along the Atlantic coast of North America, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, to Venezuela, and inland in the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. The eel is an abundant resident of all tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay in its yellow eel phase.
The American eel is a smooth and snake-like fish. Adults have greenish or yellowish-brown coloring, a whitish belly, a rounded tail, a continuous fin stretching around the tail from the back to the belly. Tiny, elliptical scales embedded in the skin. Eel has no pelvic fins, but has one long dorsal fin that extends more than half of the body. Their head is rather long; eyes small and placed well forward on head. Lips thick. The mouth has numerous small teeth. Caudal vertebrae without transverse processes. Premaxillae not developed as distinct elements in adults. Frontal bones paired, not grown together. Adult eels are very muscular, slimy and difficult to hold because they secrete a slime when they feel threatened.
Coloration is variable with maturity level; the larval stage is called a glass eel. This stage is transparent and leaf-shaped with a prominent black eye. The glass eel develops into elvers, a 2-4 inches color from gray to greenish brown. The next stage, the yellow eel, is the adult form that lives in freshwater; color ranges from yellow to olive-brown. Sexually mature adults, silver eels, are dark brown and gray dorsally, with a silver to white ventral side. Large eyes are prominent in silver eels. Females usually grow to about 3 to 5 feet long, while males are shorter, usually growing to about 2 feet long.
Dorsal fin spines: 0.
Anal fin spines: 0.
Lower jaw longer than upper.
Caudal fin rounded, joined to dorsal and anal fins.
Pectoral girdle has 7 to 9 (up to 11) radial elements.
Maximum length 52 in (152 cm), average 1.5 ft (46 cm).
One small gill slit is in front of lower half of each pectoral fin.
Glass eel stage: transparent snake-like body, with pink gills and visible digestive tract. Pointed head. Pectoral fins present. Size up to 4 inches in length
Elver stage: darker coloring (gray to greenish-brown); single gill slit in front of pectoral fins. Size up to 3 feet in length
Yellow eel stage: yellowish- brown tinted skin; single gill slit in front of pectoral fins; lower jaw protrudes beyond upper jaw. Size averaging 3 feet, with some specimens reaching 5 feet (usually females).
Silver eel stage: grayish-brown skin on the back and silvery under parts; single gill slit in front of pectoral fins; large eyes; robust body; lower jaw protrudes beyond upper jaw. Size the same lengths as the Yellow eels, but weigh more.
Habitat and Habits
Eels can be found in a wide range of habitats from rivers and streams to lakes and ponds, estuaries and salt marshes, throughout the Bay watershed, from creeks and ponds to the deep, swift channels of the Bay. In the post-elver stage they tend to be a solitary species that is more active at night. During the day they will often hide under a rock or bury themselves in bottom sediments. Adults usually live in fresh to salty rivers and streams, but some remain in the Bay's shallow waters.
Eels can also be found in waters where there are no inlets, because eels have been known to cross wet ground in search of a resting place. It can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and can live out of water for days if it stays moist and out of direct sun. American eels can absorb oxygen through their skin as well as their gills, making it possible for them to travel over land, particularly in wet grass or mud, which may help them move around barriers in streams.
The habitats required by this species include the open ocean for larvae, then the continental shelf for the glass eel stage. Elvers can be found in a wide range of estuarine habitats, often in submerged aquatic vegetation. Travel to estuaries and rivers seem to be random and can vary annually. During harsh winters eels will move to deeper waters where they may burrow in the mud.
American eels are nocturnal, active at night. Its diet changes with its size and location. Smaller eels will feed on benthic invertebrates, while larger eels feed on a variety of prey, including worms, small fishes, clams, insects, frogs, crayfish, snails, and other mollusks, whose siphons sticking out of the sediment look like worms, crustaceans, such as soft-shelled crabs. Eels eat anything it can swallow, also will eat dead animal matter. Eels can move equally well and forcefully in any directions: forward or backward, giving them the ability to pull, twist and spin to tear apart large prey.
The American eel is the only catadromous species in the Gulf of Maine spend most of their lives in fresh or brackish water but spawn in the ocean. Every fall sexually mature silver eels migrate to Sargasso Sea in the western Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas and south of Bermuda for spawning, which occurs in a winter. Mature females are producing as few as 400,000 eggs. The largest females produce nearly 20 million eggs.
Eggs hatch into larvae called leptocephali, which are transparent and shaped like a willow leaf. The larval stage may last for over a year, during which time the lar¬vae grow as long as 2.4 inches (60 mm) in length, drifting in the ocean’s currents and may be transported thousands of miles to reach the freshwater streams.
Leptocephali metamorphose into a more recognizably eel-like form called glass eels, so named because they clear in color.
Glass eels are generally 1.8-2.8 inches (45-70 mm) long. Glass eels feed little or not at all and actively migrate across the continental shelf, swim toward coastal areas and move into estuaries and tidal river reaches in late winter and early spring. Once they reach estuaries and tidal rivers, they begin to feed and become pigmented, turns brownish, looking very much like a miniature adult and are known as elvers. Elvers are 2.6-3.9 inches (65-100 mm) long; they swim up tidal rivers during flood tides and retreat to the bottom as tides ebb, travel over obstacles like rocks or grass wet from rain.
Migration of glass eels and elvers toward the coast occurs mainly from April to July, though some will migrate into early fall. Older juveniles are strong swimmers capable of ascending riv¬ers and navigating small barriers. It may take several years for eels to migrate up rivers, during which time they may travel hundreds of miles.
The immature adult eel is called yellow eel and can remain in this stage for 5 to 20 years. Young females ascend into freshwater where they may stay for 7-30 years as yellow eels. When they mature, they migrate downstream to the ocean to become silver eels and join the males heading back to their spawning grounds. The smaller males tend to stay in saltier water most of their life and can take up to 12 years to mature. Adults are thought to die after spawning.
The eel may be taken by the angler at the bottom with worms, loach gudgeon, bleak, minnows, a small lamprey, the entrails of fish, flesh, or fowl, or, indeed, with almost anything; but it is generally caught by nightlines, to which several hooks are attached, and which are cast into the water by a brick, stone, or other weight being attached thereto, and the other end pegged into the bank, or tied to a branch of a tree, or to a bunch of weeds on the water side. Sniggling is a plan successfully adopted for catching eels in the daytime, when they creep into holes in the bank or woodwork, or under stones, or logs of wood. It is practiced by baiting a small hook or stout needle bound to the line for half of its length only with a worm, and presenting it at the entrance of the hole, or at the edge of the stone or log by the aid of a bent rod; the eel takes the bait, and the angler holds the line taut until his prey, gradually relaxing its adhesion to the shelter, is drawn out. Bobbing also is practiced by first string - a quantity of large lob worms upon worsted, attaching them to a bell-shaped piece of lead, sufficiently large to readily sink them; the lead and worms are secured to a pole of sufficient length, say twelve or fourteen feet long, by a piece of stout cord.
The age of water is an important consideration. Eels are a very slow growing fish, and can take 10yrs to grow 1lb in weight, so, in general, look for the older waters. Look for any form of underwater feature such as gravel bars, plateaus and shallows. Also look for snaggy areas such as tree roots along islands, sunken bushes and, if you are fishing a river or canal, look for bridges and viaducts, as these areas often hold many snags which provide an ambush point for big eels. Once an area has been located, you can either pre-bait for the eel using a mixture of old fish, maggots, chopped worms and, if allowed, chicken offal, or just go for it. Big eels are thought to be territorial, and often a big fish will come out on one of the first visits to a particular swim. If none are caught after three trips, move to another part of the water and start the process again of pre-baiting. Rods should be capable of both casting small deadbaits and worms great distances and be able to cope with setting the hooks at a distance - there are no self hooking rigs in eel fishing. Eels do not tolerate resistance, so unfortunately you will not be able to use those nice carp swingers, as the eel will drop the bait as soon as it feels the line pull out of the clip.
Always fish with an open spool and not with the baitrunner left on, as this causes resistance and the eel will drop the bait. It takes various baits, as worms, small dead fish, which are the best for it, and takes them better when they are still than when moving. Thus, night-lines are the best way of capturing the eel. Occasionally float tackle is used for the purpose, when the roughest tackle, with a float-hook and worm, suffices.
Sniggling for eels is an amusing way of taking them. A stout needle, lashed to a long string, is concealed in a worm; the point of the needle is stuck lightly in the end of a long stick. This is then introduced into the mouth of a hole in which an eel is supposed to shelter. As soon as the eel sees it he secures it, pulls it from the stick, and devours it. The string is lashed to the middle of the needle, so that when the angler pulls at it the needle turns crosswise in his gullet. The angler pulls with a steady strain at the line, until at last the eel, unable to resist longer, comes out and is caught. Clotting for eels, by means of a big bunch of worms strung upon worsted and gathered up into festoons, is another way. The eels entangle their teeth in the worsted, and are lifted out and dropped into a pail.