A Kansas angler got quite the surprise when he reeled to the surface not a just an ordinary fish, but a 30-inch-long eel from the Kansas River, below the Bowersock Dam near Lawrence. After closer inspection, it was determined the catch was an American eel, a species that hasn’t been seen in Kansas for nearly 10 years.
“This species spawns in the Sargaso Sea of the Atlantic Ocean,” said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Fisheries section chief, Doug Nygren. “So, this eel made a long journey from the Atlantic Ocean, through the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi, took a turn at St. Louis to enter the Missouri River, and another turn to go up the Kansas River to the Bowersock Dam.”
The American eel once inhabited waters as far as the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, from Greenland to Brazil, and inland from Minnesota to central New Mexico. In the early 1800s and 1900s, there were several accounts of the American eel in Kansas, but dams blocking upstream migrations have made this species’ appearance a rarity today.
Less active during the day, eels will often remain under logs or other cover until night approaches. They feed primarily on invertebrates and soft-bodied fish.
Although the age of the eel caught from the Kansas River is unknown, records indicate the American eel can live to about 20 years. The current state record American eel was caught in 1987, also from the Kansas River, and weighed 4.4 pounds.