Fishing for Eels – Eels are a NZ Native Species

Fishing for Eels

Some coarse fishing clubs include eels in their fishing events

Eels on the prowl, Canterbury New Zealand – Video

This video was taken during the early evening in a Canterbury low land stream.
The eels were coming out to hunt and feed. The trout filmed near the end of the video (2.22) was not staying around! Video made by and courtesy of Kevin Belcher.

Hamish Milner with a 20 lb eel caught at the Ryton River mouth area. Many fishermen have reported large eels swimming near them while they have been fishing around Lake Coleridge at night. Photograph courtesy of Noela Mitchell.

One of the more unusual targets for coarse fishing is eels. Many anglers are quite prejudiced against eels probably because of their snake-like appearance. However, eel fishing can be one of the more rewarding aspects of coarse fishing.

Eels can grow to quite large sizes. Our Canterbury Float Fishing Club record will be divulged at the end of this article. They are very slow growing but are found in most waterways in the Canterbury region.


Let’s look at eel fishing methods. Eels like fresh bait, the fresher the better. Worms are probably the most deadly bait, however fresh pieces of fish are also good. Ground-baiting is difficult for eels as they do not readily feed on bread-based ground-bait.

A good option is to use chopped worm mixed with a little fresh fish. An old method was to punch a few holes in a closed tin. Attach a long piece of string, put some liver, or similar, inside the can and lower into your swim. Do make sure that you attach the other end of the string to a tree or similar. Pre-baiting can work if you are prepared to visit your chosen swim two or three days prior to actually fishing.

Dawn and dusk are the best times for eel fishing. All night fishing is also productive. Warm nights are good. Try fishing from dusk up to about three hours after. Make your traces up before setting off fishing. Have a good sized landing net and a bright torch. Eels can be very elusive once on the bank!

Usually there are no visible signs of eels, however, you might catch sight of them alongside reed beds looking for fry. Eels have a highly developed sense of smell and will pick up the odour from your chosen bait quite easily.

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Big eels will not venture too far from their hiding hole looking for food. They are very powerful fish and will warp their tails around an underwater snag very easily.

If your eel goes to ground and you cannot move him, then try the following method to free him. Keep the line tight and grasp your line between the reel and the first ring and gently saw it backwards and forwards. This sometimes works.

Use an 11 or 12-foot rod, 8 lb main line and a metal trace around 18 inches long. You must use a swivel between your trace and mainline. Hook size can vary, we suggest around a 6 to a 10.

Ledgering is usually the best way to catch eels, however, float ledgering can be just as much fun (see sketch). This method can be very sensitive. The eel will slowly pick up the bait, move off, then turn the bait round in its mouth. At this point, the eel will rush away. No delicate bites with this fish! You must try and get the eel out as fast as you can at this point. Strike really hard to drive the hook home.

The eel uses its tail similar to a whip, swinging from left to right. If you let it pull off line, then it will surely find a convenient snag to wrap its tail around. Ensure you have plenty of rag laid out on the ground. Lay the eel on the rag, wrap the rag around the eel, then holding the eel behind the head carefully extract the hook using long forceps. After weighing your prize, get a good photograph and then return it to the water.

Final note. The Canterbury Float Fishing Club record for a rod caught eel is 17 lb 12 ounces. Go out and try and beat that!

Float ledgering rig.

This post was last modified on 28/11/2019 6:26 pm

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