The Sand Eel - A Superb Bait Fish
The sand eel, also called a sandeel and a sand lance, at first glance appears to be a small eel, but upon closer examination is seen to more closely resemble a fish that has simply been stretched out. The sand eel is in fact a fish, and not a member of eel family.
The sand eel makes its home in the waters of the North Atlantic. There are at least two major species, the European sand eel, Ammodytes tobianus, which is found from the coasts of Greenland and Iceland, to the British Isles, Scandinavia, and as far south as the coast of Spain. The American sand eel, Ammodytes americanus, is found along the east coast of Canada, and through the coastal New England states to New Jersey, although a few have been sighted as far south as Delaware. The heaviest concentrations of the American sand eel are found in the waters off Nova Scotia, the coast of Maine, and Cape Cod. These fish are typically 4 to 6 inches long and roughly a tenth as wide as they are long.
While most often observed in shallow water, the sand eel will often burrow in the sand for protection from predators, sometimes above the low water mark on the shoreline, where they await the return of the tide. When swimming in the open water, the fish will at times form schools numbering in the thousands, and serve as an important part of the North Atlantic food chain.
Sand eels are not caught for use as food but rather for bait. European fishermen regard a live sand eel as being the premier fishing bait for salt water fish, especially striped sea bass.
Everyone Loves The Sand Eel - The sand eel does not suffer from any lack of predators. They are a staple food item for porpoises, salmon, cod, mackerel, striped bass, and many, if not most other larger fish. Fin back whales have been observed devouring entire schools of the fish. Various sea bids, such as auks, commonly feed on sand eels. Sand eels not only burrow in the sand to escape predators, but often will beach themselves for the same reason. The two strategies for escape are not always successful. Some fish such as striped bass, as well as porpoises, will dig for them in the sand, and some fish will actually follow them out of the water. A fish, particularly a smaller fish, which swallows a sand eel, will sometimes pay a price, as the nose of the sand eel is very sharp and has been known to penetrate through the stomach of the fish that has eaten it. The sand eel itself feeds on fish fry, various small crustaceans, and worms.
For those who prefer fishing with flies as opposed to live bait there are several different sand eel flies fisherman will use. These are wet flies, designed for trolling or casting and retrieving, and are often used in gangs of two or three, admittedly mimicking a very small school of sand fish, but nevertheless quite effective, especially when fishing for striped bass.
The sand eel is not found in Pacific waters as far as is known, and fishermen there have to resort to other forms of live bait, be they other types of bait fish, such as herring, or actual eels, which in the coastal waters of the Pacific Rim are usually quite plentiful.
Life does not seem quite fair for the poor sand eel, as its primary reason for existence seems to be that of being a nutritional staple for other fish, and birds as well. In some parts of the Atlantic, this little fish is even harvested in great quantities for the production of fertilizer.