I was 99% certain that I just saw two American Eels in Booth Lake, Algonquin Park on August 29, 2016. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing- the size and form of the creatures I was watching in the shallows adjacent to my campsite just did not register. I have been fishing in Ontario for more that 40 years, and I have never seen an eel in person – until now.
It happened while out photographing the night sky from a rocky point at the north end of my campsite on Booth Lake. Earlier that evening, I had tossed into the lake the bones and skin from a small pike that I filleted for dinner. I knew that the remains wouldn’t last long in the water as I watched countless scavengers nearby in the lake and creek – cormorant, mink, otter, turtle, catfish, leeches and crayfish.
AT 11:30 pm, I shone my powerful headlamp into the water near shore, and I saw what first registered in my brain as a really skinny pike about 40 cms long. But when it moved, it was fast and writhing, more like a snake than a fish. It appeared to be after the fish scraps. I darted back into the light, and back out again and disappeared. I convinced myself that it had to be a northern pike and went to bed without giving it a second thought.
The following morning, as I was pushing off from shore to photograph the sunrise from the island to the north, I glanced down into the water and saw that the fish scraps were gone, but that something was swimming away, well underwater near the marshy bottom, with a 3-4 cm fish in its jaws. Once again, the image did not register. It was definitely swimming like a snake, but I have seen hundreds of northern water snakes over the years and it didn’t quite match the swimming movements, the size or the shape.
I gave one hard paddle stroke and almost caught up to it, but it disappeared beneath thick water plants and did not emerge again. Now, I was almost 100% certain that it was an eel.
After doing a little bit more research this morning, I now think it was something else. I have seen several of these over the years, and caught a few while ice-fishing on Georgian Bay for bottom feeders. It was this;
So, unless someone tells me otherwise, I will go with the more likely answer – mudpuppy.