In Ringkøbing Fjord, eel fishing with dragnets reached its peak in the late 1890s and lasted until the early 1920s. By the end of the 19th century, the Nymindegab outlet was clogged with sand so there were new and favourable conditions for eels to flourish in the fjord. In time, eel fishing in the fjord superseded sea fishing, which would have been the primary fishing activity had the outlet been dredged. At the time, eel fishing was very beneficial for several reasons. Not only did the fishermen receive good prices for their eel catches, but they also could settle for sailing in the calmer waters of Ringkøbing Fjord. Many fishermen stopped fishing at sea for a number of years.
Dragging for eels became so popular that fishermen from neighbouring fjords came to Ringkøbing Fjord to catch their share of the fat eels. Some came from as far away as Harboøre. There are no official statistics for the number of eel drifters in operation at that time. It is thought that there were about 120 active eel drifters on Ringkøbing Fjord in the early 1900s.
They dragged for eels at night. When an eel drifter set sail, she drifted sideways, dragging her dragnet. At time went on, most skippers acquired a motor. As the vessel tacked in the wind, she dragged her net over the fjord bed. Tacking ensured that the wings of the dragnet opened as wide as possible. Drag ropes were attached to the vessel’s jib-boom and to a boom rigged at the stern. The dragnet did not scrape along the fjord bed but glided over the eelgrass, the eel’s habitat. This was an extremely efficient way to catch eel. As many fishermen showed an interest in fishing for eel, competition was tough, and the eel drifters dashed for the harbour once the night’s fishing was done. Everyone rushed to the fish auction house in Ringkøbing. The first catches of the day were usually assured the best prices.
Eel fishing with dragnet was not only popular, but it was also so efficient that the eel population and its eelgrass habitat were almost wiped out in Ringkøbing Fjord. Eel fishing with a dragnet was then prohibited and before long the eel drifters disappeared from Ringkøbing Fjord.