There are two classes of sea fishing, the one incidental to a yachting cruise or the annual migration to the sea coast; the other, the more serious undertaking of the keen sportsman who, regardless of distance, simply seeks the place where he can reap the greatest profit from his skill and endeavours. Those who prosecute the sea fishing of the first description necessarily have to put up with whatever sport chances to be forthcoming, so the remarks in this chapter may be considered as mainly intended for those whose chief object in visiting the coast is sport.
It is a melancholy thing for me to say, because I happen to live in a southern county, but the further one travels from London the better the fishing seems to become. Indeed I once saw a mathematical formula purporting to give the exact increase in the weight of fish taken in a day, caused by every additional mile placed between the sea fisher and the metropolis. Without being quite so precise, I certainly must say that to get the best fishing it is necessary for those living in the south-east of England to travel somewhat far afield.
In sea fishing, locality and season are of great importance. A reader of my little book, 'Angling in Salt Water,' wrote a reproachful letter informing me that he had trailed over many miles of mud banks with all the baits and tackle recommended for pollack, but had not caught a single fish. I ventured to suggest to him that his researches in my work had not been very deep, or he might have learnt that the pollack was not a mud fish. That was, of course, an extreme instance of carelessness or stupidity ; but the popular idea certainly is that fish are fairly distributed all over the sea.
The difficulty which meets me at the outset, in attempting to give any advice as to locality, is that sea fish sometimes suddenly desert places on the coast, which have long enjoyed a great reputation for affording sport to the sea fisherman. A rapid decrease in the number of fish may be owing to inshore trawling, or the plying of steamboats, or torpedo or gunnery practice ; but where any very sudden migration takes place I think it must be due to the exhaustion of the food supply. The fish perhaps have increased to such an extent that they find the food insufficient in this otherwise favourite locality, so, like wise creatures, they suddenly decide to migrate to other parts of the coast. For a few years the food supply is thus given an opportunity of increasing, and then back come the fish.
Let us begin our survey on the shores of Scotland. In the north and round the islands of Shetland and Orkney the sea fishing from August onwards is remarkably fine. Pollack and coalfish, called locally lythe and saithe, are very numerous, and the cod fishing in October and during the winter is sometimes splendid. A friend who had been making a tour of Great Britain told me that he saw a man come from fishing an inlet of the sea in Shetland whose boat was simply paved with cod running from 5 lbs. upwards. These had been caught with rod, reel, running line, and gut paternoster.
On the north-west coast of Scotland are numerous inlets or fjords, called up there sea lochs, in most of which the fishing is first-rate. The great charm these waters have for many people is that, being enclosed by high mountains, they are shut off from all the winds that blow ; nor are there any upheavings of their placid bosoms by reason of the Atlantic swell outside. Squalls come down from these mountains in winter-time, of course, but a sudden squall makes no movement of the water which would trouble a bad sailor, and there is always the land near at hand for those who wish to get ashore. Land-locked on all sides, these lochs have the appearance, save for the seaweed round their margins, of freshwater lakes. In the introductory chapter I referred to one of them, which I fished some years agoŚLoch Inchard. There is, or was, an Englishman who regularly visited this loch every summer and autumn for sea fishing, only occasionally taking a rod on the salmon river when it was in good ply.
A difficulty which often crops up in remote places is to find boatmen who have that particular local knowledge useful to sportsmen. They understand your drift nets for herrings ; but when it comes to whiffing or railing close round rocky points and other haunts of pollack, they are apt to be very much at sea, in every sense of the word. Nor do they appear to know the best ground for whiting or flat fish. The angler, therefore, has often to find out a good deal for himself, and, as I have already advised, will do well to carefully note the marks of any good fishing grounds he may discover.
The first thing to be thought of are the habits of the fish. Whiting like one kind of bottom ; pollack another ; and you must not go fishing for southern fish, such as bass, in northern waters. Bass, by the way, are not absolutely unknown in Scotland ; but they are so rare as not to be worth fishing for.
Loch Inver, on that coast, is a very civilised spot from which a great deal of first-rate sea fishing is carried on, and the same may be said of Kylesku, Little Loch Broom, Rhiconich, and many more places in that part of the world. A pleasant way of spending the summer would be to take one of MacBrayne's steamers up the north-west coast, joining it at Oban, Greenock, or Glasgow (in order of merit), stop at any little place which presents itself, fish for a few days, take a steamer to the next likely spot, and so on. The scenery is simply magnificent, the sport is likely to be good, and there is always, in addition to the sea, the chance of some fly fishing in lochs and the smaller streams near the coast. In those bays and sea-lochs into which salmon and sea-trout rivers run, sea-trout, and more rarely a grilse or two, may be occasionally caught in salt water by means of spinning baits, or flies trailed behind the boat. On the north coast of Scotland, in the kyles or sea-lochs of Durness and Tongue, whiffing or railing for sea-trout is regularly carried on with considerable success in April, May, and June, and a good deal of sea-trout fishing in salt water is to be obtained round the islands of Shetland and Orkney.