For as long as I’ve been fishing I’ve been obsessed with catching Conger eels. When I was a young fella I remember breaking my father up persistently asking ‘could we join the fishing club Tralee Bay sac’? Eventually, he relented and the match fishing adventure started when I was seven years old. 

At the time there were a number of factories operating in Tralee and a few even had their own fishing clubs. One such club was from the Klopman textile factory which employed over 1000 people at its peak. They regularly held competitions off the pier in Fenit where the heaviest fish would be the winner and you were free to fish any part of the pier. 

The harbours in Kerry hold plenty of conger

So naturally, this meant almost everyone either tried for a big ray or the congers that were prolific around the pier. This was unique to that club as all the others were pegged matches. The first one we took part in was won by a Conger weighing in at 17.5lb and I remember being awestruck seeing the huge eel (for a 7yr old) being weighed and returned. I’ve been obsessed ever since.

Naturally, we always tried for the congers but never had a whole pile of luck. In fact, the closest I came to one was seeing a guy take the head off to retrieve his hook! I couldn’t believe that an angler would do this but when the decapitated head latched onto his hand there was a sense of justice prevailed…

Getting ready to slide one back home

Over the years I’m glad to say that I have managed to improve on the early barren sessions. Even though the conger seem to be much less prevalent I’ve managed them to just shy of 40lb with some real big ones spotted, but unfortunately not landed from a secluded little pier in South Kerry.

For my expeditions around the rocks and harbours I prefer to use a longer rod than perhaps you might see as the norm when anglers target these hard fighting monsters. My trusty Century bb hasn’t left me down yet.

Straps are less desirable, though welcome in matches!

You see, I love to free line baits when targeting the Conger eel. The longer rod allows me to position the baits exactly where I want them to be just outside the harbour wall or boulder sea defences. For this tactic, fresh bait or thoroughly defrosted bait is a must. Attempting to free line frozen baits such as mackerel will only attract the local Seagull population as frozen fish generally floats…

When targeting the conger, it can be a slow and arduous pursuit. You can get yourself into the best of areas thick with congers but you will come across days when they just won’t feed. Other times you may well sit for hours before they come on the feed and it is mad action then.

An average stamp for a harbour conger, but eels of over 60lb have been caught and up to 40lb is still achievable

To combat the boredom I always bring a mini species rod with me and a few maddies. The small hook means that even a handful of worms will last you ages and keep the mind occupied while waiting for the big one to arrive.

Having waited all week for the conger session and having missed out on one earlier in the month I was determined and the weather looked good. The bigger tides would have stirred up all manner of bits from the harbour and hopefully plenty of congers would be out patrolling. 

Naturally, the overcast, slightly rainy day didn’t materialise when I wanted it too and a delay in leaving meant I arrived later than scheduled to bright sun and clear skies. This delay, though, had given the bait time to defrost properly and my new favourite conger bait was ready to go.

Herring is something that I always dismissed over the years having found that they were very finicky to fillet. The new baiting method has taken away a lot of the hassle in that department for me. Now I just cut in half and head hook the Herring putting the hook in the bottom jaw and aiming for the point to come out through the eyes. 

The perfect freeline bait

Another change I’ve made to my congering is to crush the barbs of the hooks. This makes unhooking an angry eel that much easier and has not been overly negative on the number of eels landed. I set up with the Century bb and an old Shimano fixed spool. I usually just used the shockleader down to a wire biting trace of around 1.5ft with a 6/0 Cox&Rawle uptide hook. With the tide low and the sun high I free lined the herring down and turned my attention to the mini species. Using a 2500 sized reel with 6lb braid and size 12 hooks. 

Immediately the small hooks were doing the job with scores of poor cod attacking the maddies at will. With the tide low it was a lot of fun sight fishing for the minis and trying to evade the poor cod. Soon enough I was racking up the numbers with Ballan Wrasse, Corkwing wrasse, Pollack, Black Goby, Pouting and the swarm of poor Cod to my name. 

A great way of photographing these mini species is to use a clear container such as a Ferrero Rocher plastic box. This shows them in all their glory and minimises the amount of handling needed. A bonus of this is that you need an empty container so enjoy the chocolates. 

plastic containers work great for photos of mini species, especially for identification where fins have to be on show.

Between the crabs and mini species I was having a lot of fun and hadn’t realised my conger set up was after tightening up. Worried that the eel was already in the rocks I lifted in to investigate only to find the fish had gone under the pontoon and was headed for open water. With steady pressure I managed to get it back from under the pontoon although my 60lb leader took a lot of damage from the Mussels.

With the eel spinning violently I was glad to be able to lift it onto the deck. Although it was only 8 to 10lb I was delighted to get it considering the conditions were far from ideal. 

Remember when targeting the Conger eel to bring a cloth to make handling them easier on you and the eel. A long nosed pliers or t bar type tool are vital for safely removing the hook. Congers have extremely sharp teeth and a carelessly placed finger may well not come back. Good luck and happy hunting. 

Finishing the day with some success
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