Eel - Leuciscus Cephalus

About the Eel.
The serpent-like eel can never be mistaken for any other fish. It can't really be confused with a snake either due to the fact that it possesses small gills, pectoral and dorsal fins.

The European eel has a curious life, spending most of it in freshwater but migrates to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, after which it dies, although this has never been seen or proven.

Unfortunately, in today's climate, the European eel is in danger of becoming extinct, as eel populations have fallen drastically by approximately 90% or more.

Eels are one of only two species of fish found in the UK that can actually swim backwards and when hooked they will battle until the very last second against the angler even when other fish would have tired out and given up.

Eel Identification

The snake-like shape of the eel is its most distinguishing feature. It can reach lengths of up to 40 inches (1m), although it could take 30 years to do so.

These ugly fish change colour as they mature through different stages in their life. They start off transparent as larvae, changing to a brown colour on the back with yellowy flanks after about 3 years, which then turns to black on the back with silvery sides as they reach sexual maturity.

The head is very small and pointed and the lower jaw protrudes slightly out from the upper jaw. The mouth contains small teeth and the eel's eyes are small but grow bigger with age.

The eel has a small dorsal fin that is located about a third of the way down its back and it also possesses a small pair of rounded pectoral fins.

Eel Habitat

The European eel is distributed all over Europe and some parts of Asia.

They inhabit rivers, freshwater lakes, canals, ponds, gravel pits and estuaries when young.

The first part of their life is spent drifting on the currents of the Sargasso Sea, a region in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, until they reach the estuaries of various European rivers, after which they make their way upstream.

Larger fish are often located in stillwaters, rivers and canals.

During the daytime eels like to bury themselves in the mud, silt or sand and they like to remain in areas where there is shelter and protection such as behind rocks, islands, plateaus, undercut banks, sunken bushes or fallen trees.

Eels can often be found in waters with no apparent access, as curiously they are able to travel across wet ground, just like a snake.

Natural Eel Food

Eels are predominantly bottom-feeders and live on a variety of small crustaceans, fish, molluscs and insect larvae.

As their mouths are very small they can only eat fish of up to 10cm in length.

Worms make up a large proportion of their diet and eels are also known to feed on dead prey as well.

Eel Reproduction

Young eels begin their life in the Sargasso Sea. They drift in on the ocean currents until they reach a river estuary. This can take anything between three and ten years. At this point they metamorphose and become elvers and resemble a much smaller version of a large eel with their yellow and brown colouration. From here they have to battle against the current and travel upstream until they find a suitable habitat. During this arduous journey they do not feed and rely on their fat reserves to keep them going. They can then remain in freshwater for anything up to forty years or until it is time for them to spawn themselves, which is when the cycle then recommences.

The Eel's Vital Statistics

  • Average weight: 2lb
  • Average length: 40 inches (1m)
  • Specimen weight: 5lb (2.27kg)
  • Life-span: up to 40 years in the wild and 60 in captivity
  • Current UK record: 11lb 2oz (Kingfisher Lake, Ringwood, Hampshire)

Rivers with big eels include:


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