One fish in Niagara River from Sargasso Seaby jmaloni
by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
This is a story I said I was going to tell readers about earlier this year. The Sargasso Sea is a region of calm water somewhere near the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, off our east coast. The Gulf Stream touches the edge of the Sargasso. It is recognized by its deep blue color and by the seaweed and other non-biodegradable junk that floats at its top.
Sometime back, when fishing far off the coast of North Carolina in the Gulf Stream, we hit the edge of that beautiful blue water that always reminded me of when my mother would use "bluing" in her water for washing clothes. It was supposed to make whites whiter. It is probably still available but I don't know, I don't wash clothes.
In the next paragraph, don't believe a word it says unless you are a biologist, or if you know what an "elopomorph superorder" is. Ha!
This came from the free Web encyclopedia, Wikipedia. "The American eel, Anguilla rostrata, is a facultative catadromous fish found on the eastern coast of North America. Eels are fishes belonging to the elopomorph superorder, a group of phylogenetically ancient teleosts."
I know most of us don't understand what that says, and the spell checker in Microsoft Word went nuts with little red lines all over - it didn't know those words either. The paragraph might tell you the whole story about the American eel, not to be confused with the lamprey eel or electric eel, but I'll tell you to make it a little simpler.
Sure, a lot of fishermen have caught these eels through the years but there are very few of them around now. In fact it's an odd catch, and it is suspected the dams constructed in the St. Lawrence Seaway for regulating the water levels of Lake Ontario for hydropower and shipping interests might have contributed to the decline. The Seaway versus the ecosystem could and should be another story, but not by me.
Once abundant in the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, eels are a slimy, scaleless, snake-like fish that migrates from freshwater to saltwater to spawn. The slimy coat, increased by distress, protects against diseases. This fish spends most of its life in freshwater. When it is spawning time in their lives they migrate out to the Sargasso Sea, do their thing, eggs hatch, and the little offspring (called elvers or glass eels), moved by the Gulf Stream, travel toward many estuaries along the east coast. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the adults die after spawning, like salmon. Eels have a lifespan of up to 10 years (four to 10 years), and salmon commonly go four. Eels migrate to the Hudson River and other estuaries on the eastern end of New York state, and many others on the eastern seaboard.
In case you don't know where the Sargasso Sea is located, it is a very large area off the east coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Think "Bermuda Triangle" because Bermuda is in it, but the Sargasso is so large, Bermuda looks like the navel on an orange. The Gulf Stream is described as one of its boundaries. I happened to fish the Gulf Stream out of North Carolina some years ago, but never knew just where the Sargasso was. The Sargasso is the only sea with no land boundary. Figure that one out, a sea within an ocean.
Eels are a delicacy to many people across the world, and they are caught commercially but not in Lake Ontario, and the young can be sold for as much as $600 a pound, again according to the USFWS.
When I was a kid, there was an older couple that lived a few doors away. Mr. and Mrs. Say just loved eating eels. At that time I never saw a live one nor did I ever see a dead one until one day when at their house, and Mrs. Say opened the fridge and opened a package that had a fresh eel curled up in it, all peeled, cleaned, and ready to cook. Its color was see-through pinkish looking. She was going to cook it for supper when Mr. Say got home. When I saw that, I thought, ye gads, I'll never eat anything that looks like that. And I never did.
As time went by, many of those critters would get caught up on my fishhook. Oh, what a mess. They would first, fight like hell, and then as you would bring them out of the water, they would turn into pole dancers. Their bodies would curl up the fishing line, somehow untangle themselves, then slide down the line, dangle, then if you are not fast enough, back up the line they would go again.
What I mean by "not fast enough" is being fast enough to cut the line and let it go, fishhook and all. Fishing off a beach was another challenge. First thing I learned, was to drag the fish up on shore, let it squirm in the sand or dirt and that will collect on the slime. Then hold it down with your foot so you can cut the line to free it. Without the sand or dirt, it would squirm out from under your foot like a balloon full of water. The hook in the fish will dissolve in a couple of days, not harming the fish, which is true in all fish because of the strong digestive acids present.
When I was selling fishing tackle, I had a man of Italian decent - in fact he was from Italy, broken English and all - come into my store, and he would set trap lines out at night to catch eels. It was completely legal back then. Now there is a "no possession" on them when fishing the lower Niagara or Lake Ontario. He caught them to eat and feed his family.
He would set his lines up in the river somewhere around the Lewiston sand docks. He told me he would set a heavy cord line out along the shore edge with fish hooks tied to leaders spaced about four to six feet apart. He said the eels liked to hide in the rocks and crevices, then roam out at night to feed. They eat the small fish and other critters that crawl and he'd use pieces of night crawlers on his hooks for bait.
When you catch an eel, they seem to swallow the hook right away and they are caught. The man told me that when caught, the eel would go back in the rocks and fight all night to get away, all the while scraping the rocks, breaking the monofilament line going to the hook, and he would lose what he caught. When he told me that, I told him I could get him fishhooks that had 6-inch stainless steel leaders already tied to the hook, and he should try that. He did, and that was the end of him losing his eels from then on.
Funny thing, I was the loser here. Instead of my selling him two to three packs of hooks a week, the steel leaders didn't fray and break as fast so I only sold him a couple of packs of the steel leadered hooks once a month. I couldn't even sell this enterprising guy worms, he harvested his own.
Anyway, now you know a little more about our American eel in our waters beyond that second paragraph.
Wrapping up, "So Smart" tells me Ann Landers has been quoted as saying: "Bragging may not bring happiness, but no man having caught a large fish goes home through an alley."
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