There are few baits which conger will not take. Among the best are fresh squid ; cuttle treated like a beefsteak—that is, well beaten to make it tender ; a piece of mackerel, pilchard, herring, or sprat. Unlike the bass, the conger has a decided preference for a soft fresh bait, a fact which should be remembered. It is as well to take the bone out of the bait, for congers are not partial to anything hard ; and if we could do without the hook so much the better, but that seems out of the question. But I would say as to the hook, for this same reason, that it should be no larger than is required to hold a large conger. When the fish are biting shyly it is a good plan to use a rather smaller hook than ordinary, burying it well in the bait, and giving the fish plenty of time. The hook shown in the illustration on p. 74 is the largest I have ever found necessary, and I have caught many a conger on hooks much smaller than that shown. I had, for instance, a very lively twenty minutes with a conger of 7 lbs. in a strong tideway when angling for flat fish with a fine gut paternoster and the little hook illustrated on p. 406. A friend of mine was still more fortunate, killing a 14 1/2-lb. conger on a single lake-trout gut. But, all the same, gut is not the right material to use when making up tackle for conger.
There are two, and very opposite, ways of defeating the attempts of the conger to bite through the line. The snood may be made so hard that it cannot be bitten through, or it may be so soft and yielding that the fish's teeth get buried without severing it. The hard or protected snooding may consist of stout gimp, or a piece of ordinary hemp snooding bound round with copper wire, which is, after all, little less than homemade gimp. The soft snoodings are made of a number of very fine strands of soft hemp, all tied on to the hook and knotted together at short intervals, or loosely plaited in the manner illustrated on pp. 74 and 274.
Another conger snooding which is used by professional fishermen is made in the following way : Take a piece of ordinary fishing line as strong as may be required. This may seem rather indefinite ; but what is meant is that the strength must depend upon the size of the conger expected. For fishing in twenty or thirty fathoms of water at night, over a place known to contain a number of very large conger, strong lines must be used 5 but if we are fishing close inshore where the fish only run up to as much as 14 lbs. or 15 lbs., the majority varying from 2 lbs. to 5 lbs., the line may be comparatively fine. In any case the snood should be finer than the line above it. Having decided on the right size for this piece of snooding, which may be about three feet in length, untwist an inch and a half of the end and whip it on the shank of the hook very strongly with well-waxed hemp twine. Then, straining it tight, plait over it (starting at the hook end) strands of green hemp which may be obtained at the ropemaker's. The ends of the green hemp can easily be pushed under the strands of the snooding when a couple of feet have been covered in this manner.
Amateurs rather favour good new gimp, which is fairly flexible, for conger snoods, but it must be liberally supplied with swivels, and even then I hear that it often comes to grief. The best way of attaching it, is to use a hook with a large turned-down eye. Insert the gimp through the eye, unravel half an inch of the end, wax it well, squeeze it on to the shank, and then bind it round very securely, first with well-waxed thread or fine silk line, secondly with a protective whipping of copper wire. To those who do not believe in eyed hooks used in the ordinary way, that is, with the snooding knotted to them, I strongly recommend this little dodge of inserting the snood through the eye and whipping it to the shank. It is infinitely more lasting than a whipping on the ordinary hook, which always comes undone sooner or later at the end of the shank.
The last time I was conger fishing I had no gimp nor snoods of the usual kind with me, so prepared some by making a three-plait of ordinary eight-plait tanned hemp pike-line, and that is the actual snood engraved on p. 74. More recently, when I came to see some of the tackle used by Mr. Harms-worth for tarpon fishing, I was much interested to find that one kind of snooding for those gigantic herrings was made in a similar manner. The tackle for conger above the snood is of the simplest kind. If a hand line, it should be a very strong one, terminated with a boat-shaped lead, and, below the lead, a swivel and three feet of snooding ending with the hook. This arrangement is suitable for fishing over rocks, where the bait must not be allowed to lie quite on the bottom, for fear of entanglements. Where there is no likelihood of a foul the lead should lie on the bottom, but in that case the snood should not be fastened to the lead, but six inches above it—paternoster fashion ; otherwise, the fish has to move the lead before the bite is felt by the fisherman.
Over rocks where the fish run large, if a rod and reel are used, the former must be short and very powerful. They certainly enable the fish to be hooked with greater certainty than does the hand line. But for very big eels a stout hand line and snood, with which you can safely play the game of 'pull devil, pull baker,' is almost necessary. Outside the reef, where the bottom is sandy, there the rod can always be brought into play with advantage. In any case have out a hand line with a big hook and big bait—e.g. a whole squid— for any chance monster which is passing ; but on the rod use somewhat finer tackle and smaller hooks and baits, and it will be found, I think, that nearly double as many conger will fall to the rod as to the hand line, for congers are shy, cautious fish, and, particularly if there is much moonlight, are prone to observe coarse tackle.
One of the most important items of tackle which should never be omitted is a strong swivel. In the hand line it should be placed immediately below the lead ; with the rod it will come at the end of the hook link. I am assuming that paternoster tackle is used, such as is illustrated on p. 239, the upper hook being omitted. The main length of the paternoster should consist of three strands of the stoutest salmon gut twisted; and the hook links should be of plaited line or of gimp, attached to eyed hooks in the manner already described.