Hooks ; some of the large and high-flavoured members of this family which come from foreign parts are fit for little else. It should be also remembered that sea fish are fond of the beards of oysters.
For lugworms and ragworms we must go to the sands and muddy estuaries. Where much line fishing takes place, the lads are practised in the art of catching these objectionable-looking baits, and will keep up a daily supply for a small consideration ; but if there be neither sands, nor mud, nor shellfish shops, then, unless we import worms from more favoured localities, we must, if mussels also fail us, seek mackerel, sprat, herring, or pilchard at the fishmonger's. He may perhaps have some grey gurnard, and will most surely be able to supply us with sole-skin with which to make small baits for bass and other fish. Almost any bright, shining skin which is sufficiently tough may be used for this purpose. Smelts, too, are to be had at the fishmonger's, and these are serviceable on the bottom for whiting and cod, besides making very good spinning baits for bass or pollack. If there are any trawlers about they will generally bring home in the early morning some squid or cuttlefish ; but these curious creatures are so plentiful on some parts of our coast that they can be easily caught by means of a bait, as to which more anon.
Thanks to the liberality of gentlemen living at Plymouth, experiments, which were continued for some time, were made under the auspices of the Marine Biological Association with the object of discovering some chemically prepared bait for sea fish. Those who know the difficulty there often is in obtaining a few baits for a day's fishing with the paternoster, can well understand that professional fishermen, who deal with thousands of hooks and miles of line, must be from time to time seriously hampered by want of bait. For while there is often a great abundance of sprats, pilchard, herring and mackerel, in some seasons next to nothing is to be obtained suitable for the purpose. It was thought possible an oily extract of pilchard could be produced, with which some substance in common use and easily procurable could be flavoured. It can hardly be said that any success attended the experiments. The extract was certainly made, but no substance has yet been discovered which, when flavoured with it, will keep on the hooks and be acceptable to fish. Possibly some sea angler of the future will make the discovery ; for sea anglers are not less ingenious than other members of the craft. One medium which I suggested to the then director of the M.B.A. was macaroni. If the hollow centre could be filled with the extract of squid or pilchard and the ends sealed, the whole would be permeated with the strong-smelling liquid. From the mullet-fishing experience related in Chapter XI. it seems that at least one sea fish favours this bait even without the essence. If a quasi-artificial bait of this nature can be discovered, the fishermen will benefit to the extent of many thousand pounds annually.
In connection with baits there are one or two little items to be considered—namely, a bait knife, a hone on which to sharpen it, a bait box, and a bait board. Any flat wooden box with a cover—if hinged so much the better—dressed with pitch inside, and with a few small holes at the sides for ventilation, answers very well to hold sea worms. It should be kept scrupulously clean, and the size must, of course, depend on the size of the bait and the quantity required. Dead baits must be removed daily. For just a few ragworms the ordinary japanned tin bait boxes used for worms and gentles answer well enough, but they must be japanned inside as well as out to prevent rust. More often any old mustard or other tin which may be forthcoming is used and thrown away afterwards.
The bait board is a very important portion of the sea-fisherman's impedimenta; for when fishing from the shore it is impossible to prepare fish baits properly without having a piece of wood on which to lay and slice them. In a boat, too, if a bait board is not provided, the thwarts get into a filthy condition, and sooner or later someone sits down in the odious mess. Perhaps some who read this will laugh and say I must be a fair-weather sailor indeed if I object to a little mussel juice or a piece of mackerel being squashed over my clothes. Most of us can put up with these things if necessary ; but in a boat, of all places, any dirt or general untidiness should as far as possible be avoided. If a quantity of for a bait board is eighteen inches in length and eight inches in width, with a small combing round the back and two sides. The floor of it should be made of oak or any hard wood, about an inch thick. The combing, which should be fixed on with brass screws or copper nails, may be of deal for lightness.
The knife should have a long, flat, thin blade of the very best quality. A very good edge indeed is required to cut fish-skin and other baits. This knife should not be used for opening mussels, for which something stouter with a strong edge is necessary. When mackerel fishing the knife may want sharpening three or four times during the day, and therefore a hone is necessary.
Bait gets knocked off a seat on to the floor of the boat, it is as likely as not to cause one of those on board to slip and fall, and perhaps bring about a serious accident.
And now to take the baits seriatim. The list is long, and it is to be hoped some will always be available.