Catching and holding live eels

The Asian swamp eel (Monopterus albus), called Pla Lai in Thailand, is used as a food source and also for offerings to the spirit deities. When still slim and young, eels are sold to the Buddhist local population for doing a good deed by releasing them (the dealers catching them thereafter again) and when they are getting mature, thick, and long, they are a preferred roasted snack for local male villagers around a bottle of moonshine. Both holding live eels is tricky.

Catching swamp eels in the wild

Catching Pla Lai is relatively easy. They occur in swampy areas with a low depth of water (between 10 – 50 cm deep). A line and hook with any type of raw and bloody meat on will be located above their lairs and they bite easily. In every hole with cloudy water around, an eel can be expected. Another possibility is to use a bamboo tube trap, which will be presented in a future article.

How to hold live swamp eels in hand

Catching live eels is nice but holding them in hand is difficult. A mature eel should be wrapped into a piece of cloth and thereafter held with both hands. The idea is to suck up the mucus on its skin and thereby increase friction between its skin and the human hand.

Smaller-sized eels can be caught and fixed with the middle finger of one hand and pulled against the index- and ring finger called the ‘Finger-hook method’. This gives the best available grip the author knows of – although it is never an easy task.

Lessons learned on holding live swamp eels in hand

  • Eels don’t like moonshine liquor
  • Catch eels with line and hook baited with raw meat
  • It is still easier to catch them with a bamboo tube trap
  • Use a cloth between eel skin mucus and your hand
  • Catch slim eels with the finger-hook method

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