Eels (Anguilla Anguilla) are born in the Sargasso Sea and it takes them around three years to reach UK waters. They can live to be 100 years old. Read more about this fascinating species.

Eel, copyright Jack Perks Eel, copyright Jack Perks
Adults and children walking along towpath

A lifeline during lockdown

Local waterways have been an escape for many during these difficult times. Our work to protect them is more urgent than ever.

"They are not shy feeders and due to a powerful mouth they can bite through fine lines."

Carl Nicholls, fisheries & angling manager


  • listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species
  • UKBAP Priority Species
  • on the OSPAR list of threatened and/or declining species and habitats
  • species of principal importance for the purpose of conserving of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
  • European Eel Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007
  • the Eels (England and Wales) Regulations 2009

British record: 11lb 2oz (British record committee 2015)

Lifespan: eight to possibly 100 years (if landlocked)

Appearance: eels have a distinctive elongated, cylindrical body shape with small gill openings, one pair of pectoral fins and no pelvic fins.

All about eels: eels are born in the Sargasso Sea and after about three years swimming the Gulf stream they reach the UK and Europe as tiny transparent elvers known as glass eels. Here they gradually mature, becoming a darker green / brown in colour with a silvery belly. They inhabit most waterbodies and may even crawl over flooded land to access pools unconnected by streams or ditches.

They prefer dark and heavily coloured waters or waters with plenty of silt and mud at the bottom. They mainly feed at night and generally scavenge for food preying on dead and dying animals, fish and invertebrates. At between eight to 18 years the mature eels then head back across the Atlantic Ocean to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

How to catch an eel: early evening or dark is the best time to target and catch eels. They are not shy feeders and due to a powerful mouth they can bite through fine lines. The best baits are small dead baits or a bunch of lobworms or maggots on the bottom, often close in the margins or around weed beds. Small dead baits such as roach, rudd or gudgeon are a favourite and can be fished with a single large hook such as a size two or size four.

In the past, it was common practice to take eels for the pot when their numbers were high. However, removal of eels for any purpose is no longer permitted. All eels caught on rod and line must be returned to the waterway, either immediately or in a competition after the weigh in has taken place.

Where to catch an eel: eels can be potentially found in all waterbodies. The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal produces many small eels to anglers. Large eels up to 9lb have been caught in lock chambers during lock repair works on our canals.

Find out why the Victorian elver wars were a time of trials.

Last date edited: 10 November 2020