There is a tackle, known as the "sprawl" or " chopstick," of which some account must here be given. There are two "rigs" of this tackle, the Kentish and the Dartmouth. In the Kentish, the form seen along the coasts of Kent and Sussex, the lead is conical or pear-shaped, and through it, or immediately over it, is a transverse sprawl of wire. It is to the extremities of this wire that the hooks are made fast. The Dartmouth " rig " differs from this, for, instead of being made fast to the centre of the wire, the hand-line is attached to one end of it, the lead being fastened below. This has the effect of making the hooks stand out obliquely on a long trace of their own. In the Plymouth " rig" for whiting and other fish there is no wire bar at all. The hand-line is made fast to one end of a boat-shaped lead and the trace bearing the hooks to the other. This boat-shaped lead, which is the only one for ground-fishing or drift-lining in a strong tide in use in Cornwall, has to be cast out somewhat carefully to avoid fouling. In case I have not already alluded to the importance of this, it may here be mentioned that this particular tackle, though excellent if properly used, is very apt to get tangled. To avoid this, the lead is held in one hand and the hooks in the other. The hooks are cast out first and allowed to drift clear of each other with the tide, and then, and not until then, the lead is thrown out and against the tide, the line being allowed to run out slowly as it sinks towards the bottom. Any one watching a fisherman do this should be able to imitate him in the course of about five minutes. To describe it satisfactorily on paper would take a chapter to itself, and the foregoing suggestion of the proper mode must suffice.
Another fish caught principally from anchored boats is the silver whiting-the true whiting (as distinguished from the whiting-pout and whiting-pollack), the fish dear to doctors who have convalescents in their power. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that those ingenuous longshore boatmen who take summer holiday folk whiting ten or fifteen years ago. To fish the Eddystone properly it is necessary to choose a fine night during the short, or neap tides-a moonlight night, with just a little breeze to take our boat out to the old lighthouse. We leave the Hoe pier at eight or nine in the evening and draw slowly out, with a professional from the Barbican to put the vessel on the right spot. By midnight or a little after we have taken up our berth, and there is nothing to do till daybreak. Some one in the party remarks that it would have been better to start later, but if we had done so, the very excellent ground we are on would have been occupied by one or other of the tall-masted fishing craft that have silently followed in our wake, their green and red lights revealing and yet concealing the rest of their dim forms. One by one they drop anchor all round us, and from this alone it is apparent that our man has chosen his spot with the knowledge that comes only of long experience.
At last there are purple gleams in the east, and the black veil of night seems to be pulled slowly off the face of the waters by a hidden hand down west, behind the Rame. The baits-chiefly herring, mackerel, and squid-are cut up, the lines are baited, and the heaviest leads are used, as the ebbing tide still runs quickly. We let down the leads till they bump on the ground, then withdraw them five or six feet, according to the distance between them and the hooks, the object being to keep the latter just clear of the bottom. As the tide is swift, though it will slacken every minute, it is necessary to make sure every few moments that the lead is still near the bottom, and this is done by keeping some slack line handy on the deck and every now and then touching bottom with the lead and drawing in the necessary length to take the baits just clear. Then the line may be hitched round a cleat or thole pin and held in the right hand. For whiting it is essential to strike as quickly as for pout, and with them also the hauling must be continuous or the fish will be lost. Indeed, but for the fact that the pout is caught on the rocks and the whiting on the hard sand, the two styles of fishing are much the same.
The whiting is in one respect the most agreeable fish to catch in our seas, and that is that it is perfectly clean and free from spines. It may be grasped in the left hand while the right removes the hook without any fear of being either wounded with spines, like those on the bass, or covered with slime, like the conger's, or with scales, such as come off the pout.
The fun may be furious for an hour, but the fish do not come at the hook as a rule much longer than that, and when half-a-dozen lines have taken their six or eight dozen good fish-a catch that, while not perhaps entirely satisfactory to those who have to sell their spoils at the Barbican in time for the London train, should content any amateur who is not a pothunter-it is advisable to stop fishing and make the most of the breeze back home.
Let me give one word of caution to any one with business engagements who is tempted to try a night's whiting fishing at the Eddystone, as here described. It is a temptation that he would do well to resist, unless he makes arrangements for a steam tug to be in attendance next morning at, say, seven or eight. I have fished on a good many coasts, and the experience has brought me my share of acquaintance with the caprices of the winds, with enough at times to blow one to Jericho, and at others too little to fetch back to port a mile or two distant, yet never did I know a spot where the wind was more uncertain in strength and more fickle in direction than Plymouth Sound. Those who are on holiday bent need not trouble their heads, and the only precaution they need take is to be sure that their arrangements with the owner of the fishing-boat is inclusive, covering " act of God," etc, as in shipping agreements, and that they will not have to pay double just because there is no wind to get back. I have been kept fooling out at the Eddystone, gazing in vain and with much wasted rhetoric at the distant breakwater, while the train in which I ought to have been seated was half-way to London. One such experience is enough, and in future steam power will be good enough for me when returning from such excursions.