Last week my friend Keith and I swam out to a rock that we fish regularly. It’s a consistent spot that produces quality fish pretty regularly, we’ve never taken a really big fish there but, I think it’s just a matter of time before that happens. There are many particulars to the pattern that produces there wind, tide and wave action all have to be right. One of the things that has really proven itself to be true is that, no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to get much (if any) love if you’re not throwing eels.
It could be the steep grade of the bottom, or the fact that a decent cast has your bait landing in water we estimate to be around 18 feet deep, or maybe it’s just an anomalous thing where the few times we’ve fished there with only plugs that fish weren’t around. Some things in fishing can never really be known. Last week, we were there, throwing eels as usual. The unfortunate part was that I wasn’t able to get to the bait shop before it closed so we were both fishing out of Keith’s eels and what he thought was a dozen turned out to be more like seven. I’m sure you can imagine my displeasure when my second cast was interrupted by the chattering, jerky tug-o-war of a bluefish—I reeled up to find about half an eel.
Keith and I have been friends for a pretty long time and we get along well, like the same music etc, but I don’t like the feeling of having to use someone else’s anything and that goes up by a figure of about 87 when the supply of said thing is low and I ALREADY need another one after only a few minutes of use! So I stuck with the cigar butt eel in an effort to ‘take one for the team’ and so as not to deplete our eel supply too quickly. My resolve began to waver when Keith bagged a 25-pounder 10 minutes later on a live eel. I acquiesced and grabbed a new eel, but I left the cigar butt lying near the bag, just in case.
Well, I can’t write my exact words down here, but needless to say within three or four casts I found another woodchipper with fins and again I was left with about 8 inches of my once 17-inch eel. I cast the half back out in shame and decided to just let the chips fall where they may. The eel fell unceremoniously to the bottom where I moved it with very short lifts of the rod tip every 10 to 30 seconds. A couple times my already shortened eel was trimmed again by a bluefish, but about five or so casts later I felt a solid and short thud and then the slow movement of a bass, I set the hook and it was game time. Not a giant fish, but a nice 20-pounder! I re-hooked my half-eel, fired it back out and let it settle using the same lift/drop routine. Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, I felt it again; bam, slow movement. This fish was a very healthy 26-pounder. Around that same time Keith was verbally lambasting an unseen bluefish and changing eels again. And then he was bluefished yet again! As he was eyeing the last full-length eel in the bag I set the hook on an 18-pounder and I told him what I was doing to catch the fish.
After that we were both using half eels and before long Keith was tight to a 20-pounder, then I had another around 15 pounds, then a schoolie, then another in the upper teens and another low-20. Somewhere along the way Keith turned to me and said, “let’s not kid ourselves here, we ARE NOT eeling right now, we are chunking.” As our tide window closed we had about 10 bass between us including a 25 and a 26-pounder, one dogfish and a rogue keeper sea bass. I made one last cast with an eel head that looked like it had been dragged behind a formula 1 racecar for three hours and I felt a pickup. The hit was uncharacteristic of a bass, but didn’t feel like a bluefish either. But then it changed and seemed to me to be a definite bluefish. I came tight and set the hook hard, the fish took off like a cannon shot, but I soon landed the yellow-eyed bastard, roughly 8 pounds, and during its angry display of head shaking it regurgitated no less than FIVE eel tails. I got him. And that, we decided, completed the eel chunking grand slam; a striper, a blue, a dogfish and a sea bass. I doubt, very much, that we’ll ever do it again. So don’t discount or discard your cigar butt eels, sometimes they can save your night and (full disclosure) this is far from the first time half eels have saved or made my night.