Surf: Are Eels A Non-Purist Method? - The Fisherman

Surf: Are Eels A Non-Purist Method?

The live eel might be the best way to hook your next personal best from the surf.

Over the last decade, eel-slingers have been stigmatized, do they deserve it?

Surfcasting has done a lot of evolving over the last two decades; it’s actually mind-blowing to see how surfcasters have gone from what might have been described as the MacGyver’s of the angling world to whatever you want to call us today. Where we used to load Red Fins and repaint 20-year-old plugs, we now shell out three times the value of a Red Fin for a retrofitted version, thru-wired and loaded with foam.

And most of us wouldn’t dream of repainting a wooden plug for fear of destroying its value.

Something else that has repeatedly found its neck on the guillotine is the concept of throwing eels. I hate to be one of those ‘back in my day’ kind of guys, but when I started surfcasting, everyone threw eels and it was an accepted fact that live eels were the fastest route to catching your next ‘personal best’. And I can attest to that. For at least a decade, I had a tank of eels of in my garage that almost always had between 40 and 60 snakes swimming in it at all times. Power outages were a nightmare, but live eels accounted for untold numbers of big fish for myself and those I fished with, including my own PB of 50.5 pounds.

Just like everything else these days, surfcasters have used several things to segregate our ranks, whether it’s your license plate, catching a big fish in the Canal versus anywhere else, wearing or not wearing a wetsuit, what type of reel you use…or if you caught your biggest fish on a plug versus an eel.  There always seems to be a newly-invented hierarchy of the level of your achievement based on these parameters (among many others), with the gold standard being that you caught your biggest fish in a wetsuit, on a rock you swam to using a custom wooden plug that was made by a single person in his garage or basement.

I can’t say that I haven’t been swept up in this fantasy. I rarely use live eels anymore and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like there was an extra level of satisfaction that comes from going large on a plug. But, I certainly can’t understand the need to see someone’s achievement as ‘less than’ because it was caught on a live eel.

There’s another ideal of surfcasting that’s being cast aside here. Historically, surfcasters have been known to ‘do whatever it takes to catch fish,’ and there are definite times when a live eel is the correct answer. That doesn’t mean that someone who chooses not to use a live eel in those situations is wrong, but it does mean that that person is voluntarily passing up the potential to catch fish or, perhaps, a very large fish as a personal choice. Why is this considered noble while the choice to do what’s necessary is considered taking the easy road? If I’m being blatantly honest, it’s just a way for the hardcore pluggers to disqualify the catch, because they know it’s likely they wouldn’t have caught that fish, even if they were standing in the same spot at the same moment. It’s, sort of, a reverse excuse.

Whether you throw live eels, plugs or plastics, the hardest part is finding the time to fish and then using that time to be in the exact right place at the exact right time. And living the lives we live, in the times we live in – and being a surfcaster which already skews the odds steeply in the wrong direction – it’s actually the smartest move to bring live eels. They cost $2 bucks, you can catch multiple fish on one eel and they are the closest thing to a guaranteed fish finder available to the surfcaster.

With all that said, if you choose not to fish live eels, I get it. But I will never understand this new stigma that non-eel-slingers have bolted onto the concept of throwing them. Nearly every one of our surfcasting heroes from the 2000s back almost as far as surfcasting history goes used live eels. And if we apply that fact to the historical definition of a ‘pure surfcaster’ making the choice not to use them would probably hurt your chances of achieving that status.

Eels are the perfect bait. They’re readily available, relatively affordable, easy to keep alive and striped bass of all sizes can’t leave them alone. At this point in time, with our boutique plugs, hand-stitched man-purses and $2,000 setups, I don’t think any of us are achieving purity, anyway. So let’s just enjoy surfcasting for whatever it is to you, and leave it at that.


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