Not the most popular of fish, Conger eels tend to be avoided by divers, but in all honesty, they are generally non-aggressive. If you are searching for bass or lobsters they may well be hidden in similar places and they will usually retreat out of your way. If however, you are specifically trying for them, they will definitely retaliate if speared and we’ve put together a few handy tips to land them safely.
Spearfishing for a Conger
Conger Eels - the beasties of the deep - How to find them, conquer them and how to eat them.
Where will we find them?
The Conger are actually there year round, but they especially make a good alternative in January and February when other fish are less available. You need to be looking in areas with rocks, wrecks, holes, reefs, this type of seascape. If there is somewhere to hide at a depth of 2 – 20+ metres, that will be your best bet for a conger.
What to expect
On a very rare occasion you’ll catch a conger out in the open as it hunts. This can happen when you are lying close to the bottom, waiting for other species. They will probably take little notice of you. More frequently you will see them hiding in holes or crevices. Usually they lie with their heads peeping out and you should shoot them straight in the head immediately. If you take too long looking at them, they will retreat back into their cover.
Finding them really isn’t the problem – but once they are shot, that is a different story.
It is always best to shoot the conger through the head. Grab hold of the line and pull them out of their hiding place – if you give them slack, they will pull back and dig in. Be aware that if you go after a large Conger, it is likely your equipment will be bent and unusable. Congers will try to spin and tie up the line – always check your leader afterwards to see if it needs replacing.
This may sound obvious – but if you try and grab the head, IT WILL BITE! They are very slippery and without a head shot you will most likely get bitten. Removing the conger as soon as possible from the water is the best option as it will make it easier to kill - they are extremely agile in water. If you have missed the head, stand clear and ask someone else to try for the head shot.
To be perfectly honest, Congers can be more trouble than they are worth for the average Spearo, especially if other fish is available. But for those divers who like a challenge and to struggle, these guys are about the biggest we get in the UK! If you are going out specifically for them, try using a slip tip for easier landing.
Preparation and eating
Conger eel has a pork-like, firm, meaty texture. The tail end third of the conger eel is notoriously bony and can only really be used for stock. The rest can be cut into steaks and grilled, pan-fried or casseroled. In the UK Conger tends to be eaten as a steak, grilled with a little lemon juice. The flavour is strong, but works well with smoked paprika, garlic, bacon, white or red wine. The Portuguese make a fish stew called Caldeirada and conger is also widely eaten in South America, Japan and China.