When it comes to eel imitations, there’s nothing quite like the Savage Gear eel.
Fishing with eels at night is a textbook strategy for targeting big bass. Eels are one of those baits that are downright effective. We’ve all heard the stories of anglers landing the fish of a lifetime using an eel. Believe it or not, stripers also feed on eels during the day. Although I’m not a bait or eel fisherman, when it comes to eel imitations, there’s nothing quite like the Savage Gear eel.
If you’ve ever seen an eel swim, you’ll notice that they have a streamlined shiver through the column. In short, the Savage Gear eel does just that. It sports a long tail, a lifelike appearance, and even a rattle chamber to alert any fish in the area. While many anglers focus on throwing baitfish imitations during the day, I’ve come to realize that, much like humans, stripers aren’t very interested in eating the same thing day in and day out. Giving these fish a different choice in the form of an eel presentation can often lead to success.
Fishing boulder fields or along inlet rocks is the first key to targeting daytime stripers on the Savage Gear eel. The Northeast has no shortage of these shorelines filled with jagged rock or rocky inlets leading to the ocean. It’s no mistake that this is a prime habitat for striped bass. When it comes to choosing the spot, I always consider the water depth and tide. Because the Savage Gear eel sinks, I try to fish between 5 and12 feet. If I fish anything shallower than 5 feet, I won’t be able to present the bait effectively and will likely get hung up.
When I find a location that I feel confident in, I always make a plan. I take note of how many visible and underwater boulders there are in the area. When it’s time to begin fishing, I start on one side of the boulder field or end of an inlet and meticulously work every nook and cranny of each rock that I’m targeting by casting at them and working the lure back. Ideally, my casts are made left, right, center, and parallel to my target. Sometimes, all it takes is a slight change in presentation to get the right fish fired up.
As for retrieve, I reel with a constant yet slow cadence; every six cranks or so, I work the eel with a light flick of the rod tip. Usually, the first 10 yards is the money zone for a big strike; however, it’s not uncommon to have stripers smash the lure boatside. In the event that I hook a fish, I always try to muscle it away from the structure as quickly as possible. If the fish has a chance to get near a rock, you run the risk of an immediate breakoff. In general, the high-pitched rattle of the eel and its streamlined wiggle tail does a fantastic job at enticing fish hiding around structure.
The next focus point I target with the Savage Gear eel is underwater reefs and drop-offs. As a boat fisherman in the Western Long Island Sound, my approach involves using a Simrad depth finder to prospect for steep drop-offs. Once I find an area that I think looks promising, I set up my drift up-current and slowly slide my way over the desired structure. In terms of presentation, there are two main strategies. The first is to use the Simrad to mark fish at depth. Once I have an understanding of where they’ll be in the column, I slide the eel down and hook up. The second approach I take is to work the contour of the bottom. I do this by dropping the eel down just above the bottom. Next, I work the incline and drop-offs of the reef while the boat drifts. In both cases, I work the eel with few light pops and allow it to sit. Once I drift over the desired structure, I reposition the boat and do it again. As mentioned earlier, if I hook a fish, I always try to get it out of the structure as quickly as possible to prevent a break-off.
The final spot in which the Savage Gear eel excels is fast current, which includes inlets, outflows, and creek mouths. The presence of current attracts a myriad of bait species; this sets up the perfect conditions for staging stripers to feed. When setting up to fish inlets, I always cast the eel upcurrent and allow it to swing down current. As the eel slides across the seam, I give it tiny pops. This is the most natural presentation, as stripers will often stage head first in current to grab anything that rips by. Although it may seem easy on paper, working for staging fish in current can be tricky due to the fact that current direction and speed are dependent on the tide. In order to hone in on the most productive periods of the tide, I always try to fish on both the incoming and outgoing to see what works best. Once I find the bite window on a certain tide, I’m usually able to pattern the fish for a few days before they change feeding habits.
For rod and reel choice, I lean toward a light, fast-action rod. My favorite setup for the eel is a 9-foot medium light Shimano type J Grappler and 6000 Shimano Sustain with a 30-pound Power Pro Max Quatro.
As for bait size, the eel comes in a few different sizes and colors. One of my favorites is the 8-inch 1-1/3-ounce model. For rigging the bait, the Savage Gear eel is truly unique. The top of the bait houses your typical through wire hook system, while the belly of the bait contains a split ring and treble hook. As a catch-and-release angler, one hook is enough for me, so I ditch the belly treble. For a leader, I prefer 10 feet of 30-pound Cortland fluorocarbon. The reason for the long leader is that it helps prevent any break-offs in structure.