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Late Summer Live Eel Fishing for Cape Cod Stripers

There was a "nip" in the air the other morning when I woke up, which to me is a clue that summer is waning. I love late summer on Cape Cod, more so than any other time of the year. The hot and muggy air is dissipating, and the bass bite on truly large stripers is improving.

For some odd reason, striped bass on Cape Cod seem to eat live eels with more abandon during late summer and early fall, contrasted to the spring and early summer. Of course there are a thousand exceptions to this rule, but for me it seems to hold true the majority of the time.

If you are looking to catch a truly impressive striped bass over the next several weeks, whether from shore or boat, from Plymouth to the Elizabeth Islands, consider tossing a live eel.

The Toughest Creature on Earth

live eel fishing stripers

Eels have got to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest creature on Earth. What other animal can withstand an impaled hook through its head, and still swim at max speed? What sort of creature gets bitten in half by a bluefish and still continues to squirm and curl as if nothing has changed?

Only the American eel.

These slimy snake-like creatures are capable of astounding feats. Eels gulp air as well as breathe underwater. They are more than happy completely out of water (as long as they are kept damp) as they are on the bottom of the ocean.

Eels spend most of their lives in freshwater but have no trouble at all adapting to the oceanic environment. When they decide to spawn they squirm from their freshwater homes and swim 1,000 miles to the Sargasso Sea where they will lay 1 million eggs.

Pretty incredible wouldn't you agree?

sargasso sea live eels

And to top it all off, when winter sets in and the water gets super cold, eels simply burrow down into the mud, enter a torpid state and sit still until the water warms again in the spring. Talk about one heck of a way to spend the winter.

Eels as Bait

striper fishing live eels

Because eels are so darn tough and versatile, it was only a matter of time until people realized that they make a great live bait. Unfortunately for the eel, this realization has created a high demand for them. Us striped bass anglers kill a lot of eels each season in our pursuit of big fish, and I fear that this may come back to nip us in the butts years down the road.

I suppose only time will tell.

Yet for now eels are abundant at just about every bait and tackle shop in New England. If you purchase eels for bait, it can help to understand what technique to apply to the area you plan on fishing. Here's a couple of examples:

3-Waying Live Eels in Rips

3 waying live eels in rips

By using a 3 way swivel with a heavy bank sinker, it is possible to fish live eels right along the bottom in deep water and strong current. Bass often hunker down in rips and holes, and if you can get an eel down in there, the fish will often whack it without hesitation.

In these situations, bass often have only a second or two to decide whether they want to eat the eel before it gets swept away in the current. Hold onto your rod with both hands because the bites can be vicious.

3 way rigs are rather simple and look something like this:

3 way rig eels cape cod

The most important component of the presentation is to use the perfect amount of weight. You want to use the least amount of weight possible to keep the line vertical.

Whatever you do, avoid letting out a bunch of line and dragging the rig on the bottom. Doing so will make it difficult to detect bites, plus you'll probably end up fouling up on the bottom.

live eel fishing stripers cape cod, maFor more information on 3 waying live eels check out this article.

Fishing Live Eels from Shore

night time surfcasting live eels

If you haven't already done so, right now is a great time to start fishing live eels from shore on Cape Cod. Late summer and early fall are prime time for fishing Cape Cod's beaches with eels. Of course don't forget that live eels work great at the Cape Cod Canal as well.

Fishing live eels from shore is relatively simple. I would recommend not using any weight and lobbing the eel out into the ocean. A slow retrieve with the rod tip high in the sky is the general technique. Once you get a bite drop the rod tip, allow the line to tighten and then set the hook.

Of course this is much easier said than done! The most important piece of information is fishing an area that contains a lot of life.

Often times these areas are lonely stretches of shoreline, estuaries or weed beds. When bass start migrating several weeks from now, try to think about where large schools of fish may show up. Log in a ton of time in the surf and you'll eventually hit the jackpot.

For more information on fishing live eels from shore, give this blog post a read:

Fishing Live Eels from Shore During October 101

Live Eel Fishing this Week on Cape Cod

I have a feeling I'll be fishing live eels a lot this late summer and early fall. I have a few out of the box ideas up my sleeve for fishing live eels from shore which I'm dying to try out. From the boat I plan on fishing a few little-known areas I haven't fished since I was a kid.

Stay tuned this week for a new fishing report focused on fishing live eels. I plan on having a report up within 48 hours.

Until then tight lines and take care,


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  1. Hi Ryan I tried to reply to the live eel blog did you see it?

    1. Hey Art – yes I received the comment, been up in Maine for the past few days without a computer. Kinda nice to put the technology away for a lil bit! lol

      I too like fishing right after a NE blow. Seems like you have a honey hole beach down there which is awesome.

      I once caught the same bass on 2 different eels that I had in the water. Almost as aggressive as that bass with the bluefish in his mouth that you mention. Incredible.

      I will definitely keep it up – I’ll have a new report up tomorrow actually about a recent live eel fishing trip.


    2. Hi Ryan,

      I have used eels freshwater to catch larger catfish in freshwater and as you described in your article, they are pretty much indestructible and can live for hours and withstand all kinds of abuse. My question to you is: how long can they typically live in saltwater (barring any major strikes from fish, crabs, etc.)? I cannot seem to find any data on how long I can expect them to stay alive if I hook them form the back, behind the anus on the fleshy part of the tail (this type of action allows them to swim their best and doesn’t damage any internal organs). Any info would be of help, thanks!

      1. Very interesting Sebastian, I will have to try hooking the eel through the tail next time I fish them on my boat.

        The eels will last very long in saltwater, all day in fact, as long as they are kept wet. I keep them in a 5 gallon bucket of salt water when they are on the hook, and not being actively fished.

        Even with a hook through their head, they will last all day in that five gallon bucket of water.

        They will die quickly though, if you leave them in the sun on the deck of the boat.

  2. Hey Ryan great article! The timing is perfect. Personally I think a live eel is tops for large bass ,surf or boat. Even the purists among us justify using (the living lure) as you said reel just fast enough to maintain contact with the eel and keep him away from the rubble. As I’ve admitted before on this blog us surfcaster s in n.y. Just don’t see the numbers of fish that our fellow casters in New England do. But in my area as soon as that first nor’easter blows there is one beach that we run to at slack low water (eels in hand)it is just about as close to guaranteed fish as it gets. One surfcaster even reported catching a good bass that had a bluefish stuck in his throat which still hit his eel! Enough said?. Keep it up Ryan were listening.


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