What Do American Eels Eat?

If you love fishing it is only natural to think about catching eels.

Many anglers wonder about “what do American eels eat?”

The answer is that while American eels are very carnivorous, they eat many types of foods.

Their diet is mostly of small fish, frogs and amphibians, small rodents, aquatic insects, and dead things they find along the river’s bottom.


What Is the Best Bait for American Eels?

Because American eels are nocturnal, they hunt and scavenge for food at night.

They have very poor eyesight. To find food, they use their nose.

Therefore, the best bait to attract American eels is one that stinks.

For commercial baits, consider any of the Stink Baits. For the DIY baits, it is difficult to beat nightcrawler worms.

Alternative choices for bait will include cut baits from oily fish, such as sardines, bacon, fatty chicken bits, and dead chads or minnows.

What is important when choosing bait for eels, is that they can track the bait by smell.

How Do You Fish for American Eels?

American eels are bottom feeders, so you want to rig your pole with a bottom set-up much like you would for catfish.

The typical pole rigging is a singer with a six-inch to a one-foot leader.

The sinker will keep the bait in at the bottom level of the river and the leader will allow the bait to flutter in the water’s current.

Rod options for American Eels

You want a pole that ranges in length from 6-10 feet.

The action should be fast, and the power should be in the medium range -medium-light or medium-heavy.

Fully grown eels can weigh nine pounds, you want a rod that can handle a nine-ten-pound fish.

Reel Selection for American Eels

Reel selection should also be in the medium range – a 2,000 or 3,000 series spinning reel is ideal.

A bigger eel will fight hard and may strip line off the reel quickly. A spinning reel with a larger arbor is a good choice.

Line Options for American Eels

Your line choices can be any of the three main types – mono, fluorocarbon, or braided.

A good line set-up is to use a braided line as y our backer and 50 or so feet of mono or fluorocarbon line on the front.

6-10 pound test line is an ideal range – go bigger if you plan on targeting bigger eels, and the smaller is good if you are looking for smaller eels for bait.

Remember that eels fight hard when you set the hook and the line must be able to handle their crazy acrobatics.

Rigging for American Eels

A number 3, 4, or 5 hook is a good choice for rigging.

You can use the clinch knot to attach the hook to your leader line.

Use a smaller hook if you plan on targeting small eels for bait and a larger hook if you want to target bigger eels.

What is the Best Time to Catch American Eels?

Dawn and dusk are the best times to fish for American Eels.

You can also target them at night if night fishing is legal in your area.

Personally, I fish eels an hour or two before the sun sets and then an hour after sunset.

If you plan to fish eels at night, you can use a fishing pole monitor, which will alert you when there is a line disturbance.

Are Eels Active at Night?

Eels are most active at night. They will hunt in the daytime if they are hungry, but otherwise, they find a dark spot and rest during the daytime.

Eels will wallow down in the mud to hide from predators.

They also will hide under rocks and fallen logs.

If you are fishing them in the daytime, you will need to look for these underwater structures where there is a shadow.

A good stinky bait will bring eels out of hiding.

How Do You Attract Eels?

Because eels, and especially American eels, hunt by sense of smell, you attract them with stinky baits or baits that leave a scent trail.

They have very poor eyesight so using a flasher or lure will almost always fail.

I have caught eels using a small piece of bacon, nightcrawlers, cut bait, and dead minnows or shads.

Best Places to Find Eels

If you plan to eat the eels you catch, the best and only place is to fish them in rivers where the water is cleaner.

The key spot in rivers to find eels is where there are quiet pools and darker water.

Eels like to hide in the daytime.

A backwater pool with rocks or a sunken log will almost always contain eels.

If you are fishing for bait eels, you can find them in rivers, ponds, canals, below dams, and in reservoirs.

If you are fishing in a pond or reservoir, look for shadowy places or along sunken rocks.

Eels look for dark places to hide during the day and that is where you will find them.

In canals, use a stinky bait and let the bait float down the canal.

Eels will be attracted by the stink and follow the bait.

For all locations, quiet water is the key.

They will hunt in moving water if needed but will mostly be in quiet water with little current.

How Do You Keep Eels Alive For Bait?

Most people use a minnow bucket with a lid. Make sure there is a hole in the lid for oxygen to exchange.

If you don’t have a minnow bucket you can use a small ice chest or plastic container.

Place the bucket or container in a cooler with ice and drop the temperature.

The cooler environment will cause the eels to relax.

You do not have to put water in the bucket as their slime coat will help keep them hydrated.

If you are not putting the eels on ice, then add a small amount of water – less than a cup to the container.

You want just enough water to keep the eels hydrated and not enough for them to swim around in a container.