Some Rather Big Eels

An eel 5ft 6 inches and weighing over 40lbs which was caught by Mrs James Stuart of Dromana House, Cappoquin, at Helvick, Waterford. Irish Press 11.07.1952
Conger or Freshwater eel ?

An eel 5ft 6 inches and weighing over 40lbs which was caught by Mrs James Stuart of Dromana House, Cappoquin, at Helvick. (Helvick is a coastal region so this specimen is more likely a conger).

Waterford Irish Press 11.07.1952 (@Irish Newspaper Archive)

Following the recent eDNA results from Loch Ness there has been a lot of speculation and discussion about the possibility that some European freshwater eels may reach a monstrous size thus explaining some reports of apparent lake monsters. Although such leviathan, amphibious eels would not match many (contested) reports such as land sightings at Loch Ness and other lakes, reports of long necks, solid humps etc., there is certainly anecdotal evid that some individuals can exceed the norm in Ireland. The following reports have come to light during our research and may be of interest.

A few days since a man succeeded in capturing in the River Deereen, near Lugnaguila, a monster eel. It measured 6 1/2 feet in length and 20 inches round the body.

Dublin Evening Mail - Monday 6th July, 1863

Conger conger

European eel

The extraordinary size which freshwater fish attain in the Shannon was shown in the bulk, length, and weight of an eel, which was caught with common baited hook, in the river near the Block Sticks, on the evening of Thursday last. It is as large as one of the boa constrictors exhibited in travelling shows of foreign animals, and was nearly six feet in length. It had ears like a young guinea pig, and had life for hours after it was drawn from the water. Its skin and flesh were whitish, and though it had suffered severe blows from its captor, it gaped and writhed round, head and tail hanging from his hand he bore it through the street, followed by a large number of persons. The weight of the fish must have been from eighteen to twenty lbs. It was not a conger but a common eel, grown big and fat on the food which the river seems to supply its species rich abundance.

Shannon Fish Eel-Tralee Chronicle, 26th July, 1864

On Wednesday a Donaghadee fisherman, named William Davidson succeeded after a struggle in capturing one of the biggest eels ever found in Belfast Lough. The monster is now on view at Messrs. Rangecroft Bros., fishmongers, Belfast. It is over seven feet long and measures two feet in circumference at the thickest part. It weighs over half a hundredweight.

Newry Reporter - Saturday 14th November, 1908

An eel which measured eight foot in length and weighed 35lbs was caught in Arva Lake (a section of Lough Gowna in Cavan), on a line set by Mr Gibson Kemp.

A Monster Eel-Leitrim Advertiser, Thursday 15th July, 1915

Whilst engaged in opening a large drain on the Kerry side of the River Feale last week, Mr J. Flanagan caught a monster eel eight feet long. This drain was being made through a low lying marshy swamp about 200 yards from the riverbank. The eel must have inhabited this swamp for years as the place was never before opened up by any person.

The Liberator (Tralee) –Thursday 23rd September, 1926

Mr John McGilly, Glynch, Newbliss, landed a monster eel while fishing at Drumsnatt Lake recently. The fish measured almost seven feet and was landed with difficulty.

Monster Eel-Anglo-Celt, Saturday 17th September, 1955

A number of men cutting turf near the banks of Cro-Leibhe Lake (unknown), Ballymore, Teelin, Carrick, County Donegal, this week, saw a monster eel in the lake. They state that it was over 15 feet long and over eight feet in circumference. It had a remarkably large head.

Monster Eel-Leitrim Observer, Saturday 20th May, 1950

And a few variations on a theme.

In an article in "The Field" Mr J. M. Dickie directs attention to a mysterious eel of the Irish loughs which recalls the stories of the "bunyip" in Australia. "One of my early memories," writes Mr Dickie, "is of hearing an Ulster Scot, a man of extraordinary exactitude where the truth was concerned, state that in Co. Louth there was a small lake in which 'big-headed eels' were numerous. He said that these eels were immensely strong, and could break an ordinary pike trimmer, and that they only fed at night. This man was a good fisherman and a good practical naturalist, but did not study natural history or ichthyology from the scientific point of view; he has been dead for 20 years, so his statements cannot now be investigated. In the County of Tyrone, near Omagh, is a small lake called Lough Muck, in which are pike and other coarse fish. Years ago a Mr O. used to live in a cottage, now ruined, by the lake. He spent a large proportion of his time rowing round the lake 'trolling' for pike. At one time he used trimmers in addition to trolling, but finally stopped doing so, and stated to me as his reason that they were continually broken up in the night by big headed eels. Bear in mind that this was no tall story to impress a small boy; neither he nor I knew at that time that no such fish as a big headed eel was known to science. Mr O. simply gave his reason in a perfectly matter-of-fact way, and stated that the eels could break any tackle which he could obtain by twisting their bodies round the line. "Apparently these eels were new comers to the lough, as for years Mr O. had habitually used trimmers or night-lines baited with small fish wherewith to catch pike. Incidentally Lough Muck is now regularly 'trimmed,' so the big-headed eels must, presumably, have migrated”. "Now as to more recent tales: Mr X., a keeper in Tyrone, states when he can be persuaded to talk of the matter, (which he is loath to do) that he and his father hooked, on a night line in the lough, a fish with a head on it like a child and a body like an eel, which screamed at them, and they were so frightened of it that they cut the line. A year or two ago, when fishing in Lough Melvin which lies between the counties of Fermanagh, Donegal and Leitrim I asked my boatman about the big-headed eel. Firstly I tested his veracity by asking him the weights of fish he had seen caught in the lough. He said 72lb. brown trout and a 141 lb. ferox were the largest he had seen actually caught, statements that left little room for exaggeration in view of a lifetime spent on such a lough as Melvin in which fish of far greater weights are reputed to have been caught. When I asked if he had ever seen a big-headed eel he became obviously ill at ease and said 'No'; but when I asked if he had seen any eel but the one kind, he said he had, once in his life, seen another kind of eel, but that I would think him a liar if he told the story. I pressed him to tell it, and, finally, he related how he had accompanied a party of eel fishers when taking up one of the long lines, with baits at intervals, which they used to set far out into the lough. He said that, lifting a part of the line which was in very deep water, he had felt something very heavy on it, and had with difficulty, raised to the surface a great eel with a head like a terrier dog and lugs (ears) on him, and when I got his head above the water he whistled so that I could hear him a mile off. As to the ears and the loud whistle he was positive and unshakable, though he did not expect us to believe him. He said that the eel fishers were very frightened, and told him to cut the line; this he refused to do, as his curiosity was aroused, and he wished to see what manner of fish this might be. The eel fishers in the boat, however, said that it was an unlucky fish, and that if he did not cut the line they would throw him in the lough and cut it themselves; he therefore cut the line, and never again saw such a fish. He said that the eel fishers were acquainted with these eels, but regarded them with the greatest dread, and would neither kill them nor even speak of them.

A Bunyip Eel - The Queenslander, Thursday 20th August, 1931

And then of course there are otters....

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