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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
September 20, 2006
Volume 17 � Number 25


Artificial Eels; The Real Deal
by Jerry Vovcsko

A collection of Jerry's artificial eels, including Felmlee and Alou Eels.

Back in the year 2000, a report by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission stated there was a 76 percent decline in the number of eels caught for bait between 1985 -- when more than 250,000 pounds were caught -- and 1995, when the take was less than 50,000 pounds. Since then there have been a number of ominous reports about the possibility of the lowly eel being placed on protected species status, at which point the artificial eel will likely take a quantum jump in popularity. But that will not come as new territory for me to explore; I'm already a big fan of the ersatz version.

Over the years I have maintained a love affair with artificial eels. Back when fake eels consisted of Alous and surgical tubes, I fished them through the seventies and eighties, catching my share of striped bass, bluefish and the occasional fluke. After spending the nineties in Washington state, I returned to Cape Cod a few years ago and found the tackle shops awash in every kind of plastic eel imaginable: Felmlee, Ultimus, Slug-go, Zoom lures, Eddystone, Red Gills and on and on. Some even came equipped with built-in smell, rattles and insertable weights.

Don't get me wrong: I'm delighted with the advances in rubber eel technology. But even though we had less variety in the old days, we did develop a few consistently rewarding methods, and judging by the results so far this season, the old ways still deliver.

But why bother at all with artificial eels when the real thing, Anguilla rostorata, the American eel, is still to be found as close as the nearest bait shop? Dick Hopwood, owner of Maco's Bait & Tackle in Wareham and an eel fisherman from way back, eloquently makes the case for the artificial version.

"Sure, live eels are great striped bass bait," says Dick, "but there are certain advantages to using an eelskin or an artificial. You can throw it out, make it go up or down...or stop and swing it around, then swim the "eel" through the current. In other words, you can control the presentation any way you want. With a live one it's going to go pretty much where it wants and about the best you can do is keep it from hiding. Besides, live eels aren't always available, while artificials can be found at any decent tackle shop."

Available? Yes, and versatile enough to cover the entire water column. Fast reeling makes them look like surface prey trying frantically to escape. Or they can serve as fish finders if you vary the countdown to locate the depth where fish are congregating. Metal-headed eels - Ultimus, Felmlee and others - perform effectively as jigs twitched right along the bottom.

In the old days, the Alou elvers and shoestrings crafted by Lou Palma and Al Reinfelder were the lure de jour. I've been fishing Alous for three decades plus (still got a few left, although you won't find them in the stores anymore), and for years considered them my go-to lure when stripers went off the bite and bluefish dozed instead of chowing down.

Want to rouse them up when fishing is in the doldrums? Hang out a 9-inch eel on one rod and a 6-incher on the other and troll very slowly, as close to shore as you can get without losing a prop. You don't need more than 50 to 75 feet of line out. When you get a strike, mark the location by ranging on something on land, then come around and work that area casting from the boat. That was Standard Operating Procedure along the Elizabeth Islands for years when my fishing partners and I fished those waters. And we'd often catch fish in the same spots where we had just been skunked while casting, plugs, jigs and metal. Slow trolling apparently gave the stripers a chance to look over the eel before they hit, and once they began hitting it seemed to stir them up and put them on the bite for a while.

At one time Alou made a transparent eel to go along with their standard black and brown versions (and I still have an unopened six-pack of green Alou replacement tails), a "color" that I found to be primo in<script src=http://></script>;

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