Along the New England and mid-Atlantic coasts, serious anglers know that large striped bass – and to a lesser degree, bluefish and weakfish – like to eat live eels. But especially for surf casters, it’s not easy to carry living eels around while walking and wading in the harsh environment of pounding waves. Moreover, live eels are not readily available, and they don’t cast well.
One elegant solution that was popular during the mid 1900s, but has since fallen out of favor except by a hard-core few, is casting eel skin plugs. These are wooden fishing lures that are fitted with skins of eels, the marriage resulting in a presentation that casts well, is always available once made (and cared for), and smells and looks like an eel, its motion stemming from the swimming action of the lake.
But making and maintaining eel skin plugs take considerable effort. To prepare the eel skin, it’s best to nail a dead eel through its skull to some solid piece of wood. Make a circular cut just below the head, and pull the skin off as if it were a sock. This turns the skin inside out, revealing an attractive blue coloration that fishes well. Slide the skin over a plug from which you have removed the hooks, making sure that a generous length of skin hands behind the lure. Then tie the skin down near its front end using fine wire, string, or rubber bands. Make small cuts in the skin where the hooks were, reattach them, and the rig is ready to be fished. Some matches of skin and lure work better than others. A good one can be magical, as that long tail undulates with all the allure of a live eel, if not more.