For my rods I'm using my old and trusty North Western Rodcraft 12ft, 2¼lb tc rods.. these were the first set of three rods I ever bought back in the 80's and they're still going strong. They're perfect for eels as they have a nice soft through action which helps stop the strong headshakes from pulling the hook. Although I've used braid for virtually all of my fishing for 20+ years there are a couple of situations where I prefer mono and one of those is eel fishing. This is because the stretch in mono also helps alleviate hookpulls. Some eel anglers actually use a length of powergum in their rigs for the same reason but I've never been confident in the knots I get with powergum and dismissed that a long time ago. So, I've loaded 12lb mono onto my old 4000GT's, which is plenty as I'm fishing at very short range in a water with relatively few snags.
Onto rigs; when it comes to eel fishing, in fact most fishing, I'm generally in the "keep it simple, stupid" camp. I see no reason to complicate things unless you have a specific need. Start off simple then change and adapt as you need to. In reality there are very few eel rigs per se but which cover 99% of eel fishing; The JS (John Sidley) Rig, The Uni Rig and the Dyson Rig. Personally I rarely get past the JS rig and prefer it to the Uni rig but the Dyson Rig can be a very useful to present a suspended bait or livebait. It might surprise some to know that eels can be caught well off bottom and some anglers think that it can single out the bigger fish.
When approaching a new water after eels then the first thing to do is find out whether they are crustacean or fish feeders. When eels enter a new water they soon decide what is their best food source and as a result their heads and mouths develop to suit. If they choose crustaceans, snails, grubs etc they develop a pointed head shape and a small mouth with small teeth. If they choose fish as their main diet they develop bigger and wider heads, with bigger mouths and teeth. Both types are perfectly suited to how they feed so it is important to find out which they eat. Quite a neat trick really and one which very few fish can do to the same extent. It's like evolution speeded up, which is ironic seeing how slowly the eel grows.
So with these things in mind I started off with the JS rig on both rods.. it's the simplest rig and would be ideal to use with a bunch of lobworms on one rod and a roach head on the other... the only difference being that I used 15lb Caliber Wonderwire for the fish bait as there are a few pike in the lake.
Simple really; a low resistance buoyant ledger boom on the mainline to a protector bead which covers the top swivel on the boom section, which is made from 7-10" of 20lb fluorocarbon. It doesn't need to be fluoro, amnesia is just as good, I just had a big spool of it to use and like the fact that it is heavy when compared to mono. As in the photo, this is how the rig actually sits on the bottom and the heavy FC and bottom swivel fall parallel to the buoyant stem. This boom section helps lay the rig out and keeps your hookbait close to the swimfeeder if you use one. The hooklink is 5 or 6" of 35lb Quicksilver to a size 4 ESP Raptor T6 which is a short shank, wide gape pattern with the barb squeezed flat. Baits are kept on with a small piece of rubber band. Keeping both the boom and the hooklink short is important. It enables the earliest indication of a take as the eel has less distance to move before it pulls line through the low resistance ring, and so minimises the chance of a deep hooked fish.
So, I started off and it soon became apparent that the recent revival the perch are having on this lake, after being virtually missing for 20 odd years, was going to be a problem. The deadbait rod was largely ignored but the worm rod lobbed 10m out was constantly going off in short pulls as the perch pulled at the ends of the 3 big lobworms. I caught one about 6oz and it seemed to scare the rest off but since then they have become a real pest, sometimes getting through 30-40 worms in 3 hours! I also got fed up replacing tin foil rings that ended up in the lake so thought I'd revisit my indicators.
I looked around for a 2nd hand pair of Fox swingers to convert into mini, clip-on, rear arms but after tinkering at home found that I couldn't get them to work as I'd like as I wanted to do away with any line clip. I came across the Matrix Cheeky Monkey climbers which would have been ideal except for the silly price. Only one thing for it, make my own, so with bits and bobs from my lure making kit and tackle boxes I came up with a prototype rear arm swinger and so far it seems perfect for the close range fishing I'm doing. With the Delkim sensitivity turned up it is an incredibly sensitive set-up. I've rested the end of the arm on scales and they only register 2g so are very light. The next version might have a weighted arm but I've no need for it yet as the prototypes are holding up well. The line is just laid under the bent section of the swinger arm which just falls off when it lifts up, thus totally getting rid of any "bang" as the line exits a clip.
Jump now to a couple of sessions forward. I'd been fishing roach heads with mashed fish in the feeder on one rod and lobworms with chopped lobs in the feeder on the other. One evening about an hour before dark a steady run developed on the worm rod. I wound down and struck immediately, and knew straight away that I'd hooked an eel. The wild, side to side headshakes is a dead giveaway. After a short tussle I drew the eel's head right up to the spreader block and with a quick heave the eel was in the net. I didn't weigh it but she looked 2½-3lb. Not a monster but a decent start. A quick inspection of the head showed that it was most definitely a crustacean feeder.. a very pointed snout and small mouth.
That was the first stage of the plan complete; I'd had a bite and caught an eel so what, if anything, had I learnt? I've learnt that worms are most probably the best way forward and I've learnt that the perch are a real problem so loose feeding or prebaiting are not options. I've also learnt that although I'm at a disadvantage by not fishing nights, catching them in the evenings is viable.
With any sort of baiting programme impossible I've taken to the "rifle shot" approach. This means no free bait in the swim but a concentrated attraction in the swim feeders. Both rods would now be fished on worms but as far as rigs go I doubt things will change much. I'd expect a bunch of lobworms suspended off the bottom would attract even more perch and pike so a Dyson rig is out for now. I've modified the swim feeders and blocked several of the holes and have started using a fishmeal based groundbait I put together along with dead maggots... thawed at least once and left out to make them really stink. Any used worms are chopped and added. I don't want to leave any bait in the lake as it will just attract perch etc but just use the eel's strongest sense, it's smell, to attract it to the feeder.
This standard set-up allows me to have little experiments going on, which I always try to do in all my fishing. I'd fish one feeder with a bit of groundbait but mostly dead maggots and in the other I'd use a few dead maggots and more groundbait, but adding a chopped worm liquid attractor. It'll be interesting to see if one outscores the other.. if it does, I'll change both rods to that option.
Move forward a few sessions again; I've caught a couple of tench and a tiny jack on the worms before one evening a steady run starts. I wind down and hit it and again knew it was an eel straight away. Bit bigger this one at 3½lb...
So far I've concentrated all my efforts in one corner of the lake to try and draw them to me but the perch have made that difficult. Now I know that the bait and rigs are working I'll start moving around fishing likely areas and hopefully the next eel will be a bit bigger. :-)