American Eel: Anguilla rostrata


The American Eel is also known as the pencil eel, yellow eel, black eel, silver eel, Boston eel, Atlantic eel or common eel. The body is extremely elongated (snakelike), with a very long dorsal fin that is confluent with the anal fin.  Pelvic fins are absent and tiny scales are embedded in the skin giving eels a smooth feel.  The adult color is a yellow-brown with pale underbelly. It is a distinct species with no known subspecies.  Similar species exist around Japan, Australia and Europe. This is a gourmet fish in the Asian markets and is often used in Sushi.  It tends to be bony by American standards but is good smoked.


American eels are found in waters with coastal access along the Atlantic seaboard of the US. Eels are primarily riverine but access ponds and lakes.  They orient to structure and flow.


Spawning is still not well understood but fascinating.  The adults migrate to the ocean during autumn.  During the long trek the fish metamorphose into a "silver eel" stage, lose their vision and stop eating.  The fish head to a location near the Sargasso Sea where they spawn en masse and apparently die.  The eggs hatch into leaf-shaped floating leptocephalus larvae that drift with the currents.  When they come within range of a freshwater river, the leptocephalus metamorphoses again into a tiny semi-transparent "glass eel" that buries itself in the sand.  The glass eel then changes again into a pigmented pencil eel and continues its migration upstream to find a habitat to mature and await it's time to go spawn.  This process of spawning in the ocean and maturing inland is termed catadromy (the fish are catadromous). American eels are opportunistic feeders, which means they eat whatever food is available to them. They are considered carnivorous and eat a variety of food, including fish, frogs, insects and dead organisms. American eels are known to live as long as 43 years, but generally migrate to spawn and die long before then.

Additional Information

State Record:  Approximately 60-inch long male weighing about 16 pounds.

Fishing Tips and Facts: Not generally considered to be a sport fish in this country. They can be caught on hook and line and are taken commercially. This is a gourmet fish in the Asian markets and is often used in Sushi.  It tends to be bony by American standards but is good smoked.

Image Credit: Duane Raver, Jr.

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