American Eel - Anguilla rostrata
Also known as: Common Eel
The American eel, also known as the common or freshwater eel, can be found in a variety of habitats across an extensive geographic range. It probably has the broadest diversity of habitats of any fish species in the world. The American eel 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 while in its yellow eel phase, which occurs as the eel matures. Before reaching this life-history phase, which comprises a large portion of its life cycle, the eel has undergone several physical and geographical changes.
The body is snakelike and the head is pointed. The dorsal, caudal and anal fins are combined into one long, continuous fin. The eel’s coloration is dark gray to olive above and yellowish or white on the underside.
The average size typically ranges in the range of two feet, although larger specimens may grow upwards of three feet. There have been a few rare occurrences of American eels ranging upwards of five feet.
Trees, branches, logs, stumps, rocks,—they’re all structure. They all provide shelter, shade and protection for fish. So it’s a good place to find fish. Always watch your line, and be extra careful if you’re in a boat.
When water boils up from the bottom of the lake, it creates a spring hole. In the summer, deep-water fish are attracted to these holes because the water coming out is always cooler relative to the surrounding waters. Even when the hole is not in deep water, spring holes can attract unsuspecting, deep-water lunkers.
Inlets and Outlets
All natural lakes are fed by a river or a stream of some sort. So they have inlets and outlets for the water. Wherever there is incoming or outgoing water, there’s going to be a lot of food and a lot of fish.
Like any structure that tilts gradually down and into deeper water, a gradual-sloping shoreline can provide plant food, attract fish and create a path out of and back into deeper water. However, a really gradual slope will create a large expanse of shallow water that will not attract fish.
Sometimes, in early spring and late fall, when there’s very little vegetation anywhere, baitfish will roam open lake waters in search of plankton. During those times, you can look for small fish on the surface in the open water. If you see a bunch of small fish, it’s a good bet larger fish are lurking below.
Piers, Docks and Pilings
Call it structure. Wherever there’s structure there’s food, shelter, and fish. Weeds, grasses and other food sources can attach to anything. Docks and piers provide shelter from the sun and a nice resting spot for both big and small fish.
Holes are glacially formed basins that are lower than the rest of the lake. Water in these holes is cooler, attracting deep-water fish on hot, summer days. You’ll need a topographical map to find them.
Walkways and Bridges
Walkways are like piers, but are specially built fishing platforms that are near or run parallel to bridges, piers, shoreline bulkheads, or similar structures. An example is a walkway along a bridge, but constructed at a lower level. This keeps anglers safe from auto traffic and puts them closer to the water.
Fishing isn't always allowed from bridges because of the danger from traffic. Bridges where angling is permitted must be fished carefully. Many game fish hold down current of the bridge as baitfish and nutrient rich water float by. Cast your bait up current, and let it drift back.
Overhanging Trees and Bushes
Usually close to shore, these spots offer protection from the sun and above-water predators. Bigger fish rest in these areas if the water isn’t too shallow, allowing quick access to deeper water for feeding and escape.
When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.
Rock and Boulder Pockets
When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.
Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.
Dams and Falls
When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.
Riparian zones are the middle strip of vegetation between the river and the flatter land beyond the shore. These zones serve as a natural biofilter to protect water from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. And they supply shelter, food and shade for fish and other aquatic animals. A thriving riparian zone is a sign of good water quality and good fishing.
Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.
We won’t say it’s foolproof, but spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting. You can use it to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6–10 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting.
Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.
Bait & Lures
Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.
Minnows and Nightcrawlers
Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.
For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.
For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just in front of the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.
Tricks and Tips for Minnows
For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position
Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.
Worms are a good bait for nearly all freshwater fishing. You can find enough worms for fishing from a few shovels of dirt in your garden or from a shaded, damp area. Worms can also be purchased in fishing tackle stores and bait shops. For walleyes and bass use earthworms or night crawlers.
For pan fish, sunfish and trout use smaller manure worms. You can find them in cattle and horse pastures.
Trick and Tips for Worms
To prevent smaller fish from nibbling the worm without biting down on the hook, you can use just a piece of the worm.
If you have small worms, thread the hook through the side of the worm at several places along its body. For bait-stealing fish such as sunfish, thread the worm on the hook until the hook is completely covered.