Where do You Find The American Eel?

Written by Dane in Fishing
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

American eels are a previously endangered species and are the only eels in North America. 

Unlike much other fish, the eel stands out with its singular snake-like body and movements. 

It can absorb oxygen through its skin and gills, making the American eel both land and water-savvy.

Where do you find the American Eel? The American eel can be found in the Mississippi River, freshwater sources in 36 U.S. states, and along the Eastern Coastline in the Atlantic Ocean, where spawning occurs. American eels are natively found in parts of Texas all the way up to Greenland.

Where do You Find The American Eel?

American Eel Locations:

  • North America
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Mississippi River
  • Texas
  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Venezuela

American eels live in many different locations in North America. They can be found along the coastline in several different evolutionary stages. You'll likely find yellow eels if you've netted or hooked one when fishing.

They perform better in freshwater but are located in the Atlantic Ocean and Mississippi River. If you live anywhere near the East Coast, chances are high that there are eels in your waterways.

They extend all the way down to parts of Texas and are prominent in places like Alabama and Louisiana. These American eels also drift as far down south as Venezuela. 

If you keep your eye out on water connected to the Atlantic Ocean, you'll eventually find an American eel, without a doubt.

Where do American Eel Spawn?

American eels spawn far offshore in the Atlantic Ocean in the aquatic haven of the Sargasso Sea. Newly hatched eels make their way westward by surrendering to the ebb and flow of the oceans currents. During this process, the eels grow exponentially before finally reaching the final freshwater destination.

American Eel Life Cycle:

  • Hatch in the ocean
  • Migrate to fresh water
  • Go through development stages
  • Adults migrate back to the ocean to spawn and die

The trip itself can be up to 2,500 miles long, which is quite a way to go for a recent hatchling. The journey may take years, but with a long lifespan up to 40 years, the American eel can sacrifice youth for its evolutionary rite of passage.

The first stage in the life cycle of an eel is the egg. Nobody knows precisely how American eels spawn, as it hasn't been observed. What is known, is the sheer scale of eggs that can be laid at one time, which is up to 4 million eggs from a motivated female eel.

After a week of underwater incubation, in the Atlantic Ocean, the eggs hatch and the eels are disseminated instinctually throughout the waters. Hatching takes place over many months and is suggested to peak at the end of winter.

The next evolutionary stage is larvae. Small and nearly transparent, the growing eels are almost unrecognizably different in shape and scale from what our mind's eye could assume.

To some, they look like tiny invisible leaves, kicking around the ocean with a prominent set of teeth. They grow marginally daily as the eel larva continue the journey to the freshwater west, and remain restricted in the shallow upper depths of the ocean.

Third, growing into their snake-like shape, the glass eel is a translucent stage developing as they narrow the gap towards the North American coastline.

Still by instinct, heading with the westward currents, the glass eels are able to swim to lower depths of the ocean as they develop their defense mechanisms and evasion maneuvers.

The "elvers" stage which was mentioned earlier in the article as an eel's cannibalistic period, elvers are what you could consider the "teenage angst" period of the eel's life cycle. As they get even closer to the shoreline, eels begin to lose their transparency and grow into their natural yellow hues.

Though they haven't developed a gender quite yet, the eels are coastal and have up to another year to go before they grow to their full size. If entering freshwater too early in their cycle, elvers have a tendency to overshoot their target and continue too much time swimming upstream.

As a yellow eel, the rite of passage completed; the eel is now officially considered an adult, though it still has one more cycle before sexual maturity. Eels are predominantly nocturnal creates, and migrate almost exclusively in the moonlight all the way up the yellow eel stage.

It's at this stage that eels either settle on the coastline or freshwater, deeming the increased or stunted pace of their evolution and directly influencing the lifespan. As the yellow eel grows to around 10.5" it will develop and grow into its now identifiable gender. This stage of the eels life is extensive and lasts for many years.

The final stage of growth, the silver eel, is an evolutionary queue for a return to the spawning pool from which it came. The shape of the eel changes dramatically to assist in the long journey back to the Sargasso Sea.

Changes to the digestive tract, fins, eyes, and color of the eel are visually noticeable. Now equipped with a silver and gray sheen, the silver eel embarks on its journey Eastward through the Atlantic Ocean to spawn a new generation of offspring before dying shortly after that.

More Info on American Eel

American Eel:

  • 4-5 feet long
  • 15-17 pounds
  • Slippery scales
  • Teeth
  • Eat anything they can find

Slippery, slimy, and hard to catch, the American eel is an aquatic bottom dwelling critter that holds its own cliche for its elusive reputation. On average, American eels grow around 4-5 feet depending on gender.

Female eels usually stretch to five feet, notably longer than the four-foot long male. For a fish their size, 15-17 pounds is quite impressive for these strong swimmers. You can generally spot the difference in gender by the color of skin and eyes, as females are usually much more vivid in appearance, while male eels have large eyes.

American eels have teeth, can bite, and don't enjoy being held by humans. The sheer muscular strength of the eels is revealed when being examined by human hands. Eels are not natural captives, they fight back, making them impossible to catch by hand.

Though constant thrashing is an eel plan, pairing the movement with the escape tactic of an oozy discharge of slime, renders a robust human grip a challenge to maintain.

American eels, while introduced to different areas of America, are not new to the neighborhood. It's estimated that eels have been on earth for around 100 million years, navigating and traversing through the aquatic oceans and straits long before humans arrived.

Hungry and carnivorous, American eels feed on whatever prey is around that is smaller than them. Depending on the habitat, most eels swim on the bottom of an ocean floor in search of smaller fish, crustaceans, insects, worms, mollusks.

Throughout their complex life cycle, eels intake different varieties of food based on availability, size, and motivation. In the later stages of an eel's life cycle on the coast, cannibalistic tendencies are displayed as well as a burning desire for feeding.

At full size, American eels will eat blue crab and horseshoe crab, which are effectively used in traps in for fisheries in the U.S.

Eels do have to watch out, as their intimidating demeanor and aggression doesn't deter all predators. Larger fish like bass, bowfin, and cobia love to feed on eels.

Underwater predators aren't the only concern though, as American eels deal with the airborne threat of predatory birds like the kingfisher. In deeper waters near the floor, eels are at their safest, but as they migrate from the Atlantic to mainland United States, they face many predatory dangers.

Can I Catch an American Eel?

Yes, you can. You can hook an eel or catch it with a net. Through experience, they're easier to trap than fish, but trapping is illegal in many areas of the United States. It's not terribly hard to bait and hook an eel with an eel hook and a healthy amount of patience.

Can I Eat Eel?

Absolutely, they're a fish! American eels have particularly tough and firm meat, but it is surprisingly tasty and versatile to cook with. American eels have thick skin, so it's best removed during prep.

About Dane

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