Conger fishing, another and distinct amusement, is also best practised from an anchored boat, though there are several piers and harbours from which moderately large conger are to be caught in August and September, and on the south-west coast there are here and there opportunities of conger fishing from the rocks. Two conditions are requisite for the capture of large conger-a rocky bottom and darkness. Depth of water is not necessary, and I have caught on the rod a conger weighing close on 22 lbs. in little more than twelve feet of water. That is by no means a large fish as conger run, but it is enough for a rod. I would not recommend that weapon for this fishing; I merely tried it on that occasion, nine years ago, down in Cornwall, and as the conger took about forty minutes to kill, during which time it turned everything upside down in the boat, putting out the candle lamp with a flick of its tail, and thereby causing me and my man to hammer each other in the dark with the belaying pins that we had provided ourselves with, it was an experiment that will not, so far as I am concerned, be repeated. The tackle used for conger, then, should be a hand-line, and the particular form of lead used, as well as the arrangement of the hook with respect to it, does not much matter, and will be a question of taste. Some use a heavy weight on the bottom of the line and have the hook above the lead. The great disadvantage of this, to my mind, is the risk of the lead rolling into a crevice in the rocks and there getting stuck. It is within the experience of all who have fished much for conger that there is considerably more difficulty in freeing the line in the darkness than there would be by daylight, so that every precaution should be taken against fouling. It is with this object that I prefer personally to use in conger fishing a heavier edition of the tackle used in those parts for pollack or whiting-that is to say, the orthodox boat-shaped pattern of lead and the long fine snood below it. The lead must be heavy, as it is desirable that the bait should lie quite motionless on the ground, and only the inertia of a large lead can insure this condition being fulfilled. The hook should also be attached by very strong gimp or flax bound with wire. It is not necessary to use an immense hook, as some conger-fishers insist on doing. If the hook is well-tempered and sharp, one of the size previously figured for pollack should serve the purpose admirably.
The best bait for conger fishing is squid, and squid may usually be procured out of the trawl or seine-nets in the vicinity, a few pence paying for sufficient to bait several lines during a night's fishing. The squid must be cut open and cleaned of its ink, and this is a disgusting job that may, without envy, be left to your boatman. The essential of success in conger fishing is absolute freshness of the bait; the least taint, and you might as well go home at once. It is also regarded as an advantage to hammer it until much of the natural stiffness is removed, and the bait is perceptibly softer than before, but I have not, to tell the truth, found this any particular gain. The clean fresh squid is cut in strips of about four inches in length, and through one of these the hook is passed three or four times, till the bait is firmly twisted on it. The line being all clear, the lead is swung against the tide after first throwing over the baited hook, a method of avoiding fouling with this Cornish gear that no amount of description or illustration can show. Yet the fishermen can teach it to you in five minutes or something less. The lead is allowed to run until it touches the bottom ; then, as was recommended in whiting fishing, it is drawn up again until, this time, the bait lies just on the bottom. As much of the success of conger fishing depends on adjusting this nicely, it is worth measuring the distance between the lead and the hook very carefully, in order to make sure that the latter will lie just on the bottom with enough slack line to make it independent of the swing of the lead. All this being duly attended to, the fisherman holds the line in his right hand and waits. Waiting is of considerable importance in conger fishing, and self-restraint is the lesson it teaches. The successful conger fisherman does not strike at the first nibble as he would do if the fish at the other end of the line were a whiting or a mackerel; he waits until the eel nibbles once, and perhaps twice, and then moves steadily off with the line. All this his hand feels with a little practice, and it is not until the line is creeping steadily off that he quietly, but firmly, tightens it, and then gives a sudden and powerful upward stroke. Such tactics will, in nine cases out of every ten, hook the conger fast, and if the tackle is trustworthy in every inch, the rest is only a question of time. Now and again it may happen that the conger contrives to get its tail twisted round a rock. The proper course to adopt in that case is to throw all the strain on the line that it will bear, then suddenly to relinquish the hold and throw a yard or two of slack overboard. This will generally induce the conger to come out and show fight again. Whether the fish assumes (if deduction be a faculty of fishes) that the line is broken, or whether it is dislodged by some sudden pain consequent on the removal of the strain to which it has braced itself, I do not know, but the result may be tested by any one who finds himself in that predicament. There are other baits suitable for conger fishing, and among them may be mentioned mackerel, herring, pilchard, rock-ling, and sand-eel. So long as any of these is perfectly fresh, it will tempt a conger if there is one in the neighbourhood. In proof of the importance of having conger baits perfectly fresh, I may mention that, although squid is a better bait for this fish than pilchard, I have nevertheless found conger prefer pilchards just out of the sea to squid that had been exposed to the air for an hour or two. This I had an opportunity of proving on one occasion when we started conger fishing at about nine in the evening, just before the pilchard boats had started hauling their nets. We had squid bait, and the squid had on that occasion been taken out of a seine net about five in the afternoon. When we had caught half-a-dozen conger one of the pilchard drivers, with her nets half-hauled, passed almost uncomfortably close to our little anchored boat, and a friend of mine, a visitor on board for the night, threw in half-a-dozen pilchards just shaken out of the net. One of these was promptly used as bait on one of the lines, and the congers, which were biting rather well, only looked gingerly at the squid bait on the other line, while the fresher pilchard lasted. When it was done-and six pilchards don't go far with hungry congers playing around-the squid bait went down well enough, but not before the congers had plainly shown their preference.