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September 21, 2013

Outdoors: Fishing for eels at night can net a big fish

This is the time of year when the big stripers start their migration south out of the Gulf of Maine. They follow the shoreline slowly south, feasting along the way. There are some big fish out there and the best way to get them is fishing eels at night. The reason for eels is that this is the time they start coming out of the freshwater rivers headed off for the Sargasso Sea to breed.

The eel life cycle is unusual to say the least. The females lay their eggs in the Sargasso Sea in the mid-to-late winter, releasing from one-half to as many as eight million eggs. Once the eggs have been covered with sperm it takes about a week for them to hatch out. It is believed that the adult eels die after spawning.

The young are rather odd looking little fellows with small pointed heads and very flat “leaf-like‘ bodies. They drift along in the Gulf Stream both westward and northward, taking as much as a year to reach our eastern seaboard. As they reach the continental shelve they start to change body shape and become what we know as glass eels. You can literally see through them. On average it takes about nine months for them to reach our rivers.

As they do so, they change in both color and size. They are called elvers at this stage. Their sex has not yet been determined. Research shows that the number of males finally produced is determined by the density of the numbers reaching shore at this point. If there are a lot of elvers, there will be a higher number of males. This keeps the females and future reproduction under control. These young eels start to turn yellow with a creamy-colored underbody. Some eels remain along the shoreline while others make the sometimes long journey up the rivers.

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