The Virgin Vingler

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You never stop learning as an angler. On a trip to the West coast on Ireland last month I was introduced to the wonderful world of vingling or ‘scraping’ live sandeels for bait. I’d heard of the technique but thought that it was some ancient custom that had had died out as successive generations of anglers forgot the traditions of their forefathers with the easy availability of top quality blast-frozen bait.

Luckily for me there are still a few practitioners of this ancient art which, when practiced by a master, looks effortlessly easy and provides fresh, live, eels with the minimum of effort. Similarly, when practiced by a novice it can look like the tragic scene of a mad person desperately trying to cut slices of wet sand with what looks like a giant cheese knife. My tutor on this occasion sat firmly in the first category.

With a deft slice through the sand the experienced vingler brings his vingling tool into contact with the eel hiding inches below the surface of the wet sand. Raising the tool the eel is trapped in the hooked end and flicked out onto the surface to be kept alive in a bucket.

To my knowledge vingling tools are not commercially available and the one used on this occasion was ground down from a ham knife. An effective tool needs to be long enough to reach the hiding eels, thin enough to pass through the sand with little resistance, be blunted so as not to cut through the eels, and have a hooked end to flick the eel out of the sand. A large cheese knife might do the job but I suspect they are not made to a suitable size. I have since been told that any knife can be used and the blade simply turned at 90 degrees (flat) when the eel is located in order to draw it upwards out of the sand – although I suspect this is best left to the master vingler and not the novice.

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Our party of anglers began to draw quite a crowd as we dug to locate the eels which, once found, can be hiding in dense shoals. Banks of sand in or next to pools of water near the low water mark seemed to be most productive. Despite many attempts I managed to leave the sand eel population in South West Kerry largely unscathed!

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On returning home I kept my eye out for a suitable knife that could be reinvented as a vingling tool. Eventually I came across a gardening tool meant for digging out moss from between paving stones. It could have been mistaken for a purpose made vingling tool but with the help of a grinder it has been improved. Now time for some practice.

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If you are interested in giving vingling a go I suggest you wear a glove – the dreaded weaver fish is always a threat and its venomous spine can lead to an enjoyable bait gathering session turning into a less enjoyable trip to the emergency room. It’s also probably best not to carry your vingling tool around visibly in public places.

Suddenly the bait digging has become almost as enjoyable as the fishing!

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