Helping you keep your aquarium beautiful and healthy


Where to Buy a Cool Eel for Only $2

by Robert W. Bly, founder,

I've always liked eels and have owned them on and off.

In one of our saltwater tanks, I had the obligatory snowflake eel, which I bought when it was young and small, so as to get a better price. It was an attractive specimen but spent a lot of its time hiding in the sand - something the larger snowflakes don't seem to do.

In my current 92-gallon freshwater tank, we have a fire eel a few inches long. Again though, he spends most of his time well hidden.

And there are two problems with keeping eels as I see it. The first is that the smaller ones stay under the substrate or hidden behind driftwood or other decorations, so you don't see them much. And they seem not to be that active.

The second is that eels in the fish store are expensive - anywhere from $20 to $80 or even more.

When I was in high school, my friend Steve Janosco had a moray eel of decent size in a 40-gallon saltwater tank. We were convinced the moray hated Steve and wanted to kill him: every time we got near the glass, the eel would press against the front of the tank, mouth open, moving back and forth as if positioning for a strike.

A few years ago I had a 20-gallon that was empty. We had kept anoles and eventually tired of them, and so got rid of them. (The crickets they ate were too noisy.)

I cleaned and set up the tank with freshwater, not sure what to put in it. Then I got an idea.

There was a bait shop near my office. They sold live bait, including eels. What about keeping a bait eel in the tank?

Bait eels are the best bargain for the hobbyist on a budget. For just $2, I got an active eel nearly a foot long.

He looked like a snake, as many long eels do. But eels are actually fish. The most common is the American eel. They can grow to considerable size - more than 2 feet.

The bait eel was fascinating to watch. He spent most of his time above the gravel, swimming around the tank.

Most interesting was his feeding. We would drop a live earthworm into the tank.

The eel would propel himself like a rocket toward the writhing worm, which he would snag in his jaws. Then, the eel did a death-roll like an alligator, spinning in a clockwise direction so he could better tear into the worm meat.

Bait stores sell eels at unbelievably low prices, because they are meant to be used as bait, not kept as pets. If you want to save even more money, you can catch eels in a river with a minnow trap.

The drawback with a bait store eel is twofold. Although I thought it was an interesting creature to observe, the colors are drab compared with fire eels and other eels sold in fish stores.

The other drawback is the size: they are always at least a foot long. At that size, they are likely to attack and eat small community fish in your tank.

So a bait eel must be kept alone. A 20-gallon is perfect. A 10-gallon would confine the eel and not allow him to swim and maneuver, which is cool to observe.