Stop Hating Eels

eel
Conger eels about to hit the deck aboard the party boat Dauntless off the coast of New Jersey.

Eels aren’t glamorous. In fact, among fishermen, eels generally fall under the classification of undesirable—unless you’re using them to catch stripers and cobia, but that’s an entirely different story. But here’s a quick story about eels—at least, one of my earliest remembrances of them—that may make you appreciate their virtues.

It was a sweltering summer weekend in Hunterdon County, N.J. I was just out of high school, and after cutting the grass for Mrs. Scheier, our former high school health teacher, Chris “River Rat” Lido and I had big plans. We “borrowed” a half-empty bottle of Jameson whiskey from the Scheier’s liquor cabinet and set up tent stakes on the muddy banks of the South Branch of the Raritan River for an overnighter. There, we rigged up and cast out nightcrawlers, gently laying our rods down on V-sticks broken from the nearest oak tree. It didn’t take long for the excitement to begin. Almost immediately, Lido reeled in a 2-foot-long slimy, slippery, snakelike creature. Excitement turned to pure elation a short time later, when the thick chunks of eel meat hit the bacon grease in our cast-iron skillet. We eagerly picked the meat off the thin bones, added a whiskey topper, and feasted like kings. It was a righteous meal.

The Eel Deal

The range of the American eel probably spans a wider group of latitudes than any other species in North America. They are currently found in 36 U.S. states—mainly east of the Rockies—but are most prominent in freshwater streams and lakes along the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, the Gulf States, and the Mississippi River basin.

But why, you might ask, would anyone purposefully fish for…

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