In the Solent and other places thousands of smelts are caught by means of small meshed nets extended on an iron hoop and let down into the water by means of a stout pole. Shoals of these fish can usually be seen swimming about. It is not advisable to let the net down very deeply, or the fish will be off before it can be pulled up, though it must, of course, be deep enough for them to swim over it ; the depth depends very much on the place, colour of the water, light, and perhaps other considerations.
If the smelts can be found in shallow water where the net can rest on the bottom, so much the better. The pole must be kept very still, because any motion of the ropes which support the net has a tendency to frighten these little fish. To bring the smelts over the net it is customary to cast in crabs and raw potatoes bruised up ; in fact, the ground bait I have already recommended for a variety of fish. The net, as soon as the fish swim over it, should be hauled up steadily but quickly, and its contents shaken into a basket.
In late summer and autumn quantities of young sprats and herrings, better known as whitebait, and in some places myriads of sand-eels, come into many harbours and estuaries, and are often to be seen swimming round steep rocks and along the open coast. They are invaluable as bait, being taken readily by nearly all sea fish. The whitebait are often caught in quantities in these round nets ; in fact, the professional whitebait fishers often use a very similar contrivance, but on a much larger scale. Of course this method of catching smelts can hardly be termed sport in any sense of the word ; but I refer to it here because these delicate little fish are not only excellent for the table, but are good baits for sea fish on many parts of the coast. For instance, they make excellent spinning baits for pollack, and where they can be used alive are a deadly bait for bass.
The hoop net to which I have referred is exactly like the minnow net used on the Thames, but larger. A strong man can use one four or five feet in diameter, but a boy would not be able to lift so large a net quickly through the water ; so boys must satisfy themselves with something two-thirds of the size, or even smaller. For this method of fishing, a small net raised sharply will catch more fish than a large one raised slowly.
Small whiting pout and pollack and whiting require tackle just a little stronger than that used for smelts, but if there are any large flat fish in the harbour, such as, for instance, one would find at Lowestoft or Scarborough, then the tackle must be fairly strong, and what is commonly called lake-trout gut must be used. In my very youthful days, before I had even got into trousers, I remember my big brother lamenting the loss of a huge Yarmouth avonbutt, as flounders are, or were, called locally, hooked in Lowestoft Harbour on fairly strong tackle, which it broke.
In estuaries, and particularly in harbours where shrimps are sifted, a live shrimp hooked by the tail is one of the best baits for flat fish. Next to that, perhaps, ranks a peeled, unboiled shrimp. Lug and rag worms are always killing baits, better even than the usually useful mussel.
Some shallow inshore waters swarm with small flat fish not larger than one's hand, and the angler, if so disposed, may fish for these with what I have termed the paternoster-trot, illustrated on p. 243 ; soft crab or ragworms being about the best baits. Mussels are also good ; but, so far as my experience goes, a bait that will kill in one harbour is sometimes almost useless in another, so that local knowledge is very valuable, and, as I have pointed out, should be acquired at the earliest opportunity.
I have had excellent sport fishing from the beaches and sands of the East coast in autumn, when the codling come inshore. There is a tackle peculiar to that district, known as the 'throw-out line,'which, if not so killing as a paternoster tackle, deserves mention here.
At the end of the line proper is a piece of finer line, eight feet in length and about as thick as common whipcord. The lead weighs about a pound, and is fixed to the whipcord (I will call it so for convenience) by means of a strip of leather put through the hole of the lead. At the other end of the whipcord is a button. The hooks begin at the end of the main line, and may number from six to twenty or even more ; they are fixed on snoods seven inches long and placed fourteen inches apart. A necessary part of the tackle is a broom handle 1 six feet long with a cleft cut at the end of it, and the whole line when not in use is wound on a winder similar to that shown in the illustration, there being a strip of cork along the top of it in which to fix the hooks. The two side pieces of the winder are eighteen inches in length, and they are placed eight inches apart.
1 With a not too stout ash stick which has some spring in it a longer cast can be made than with the stiff broom-handle.
This tackle is used in the following way. The line is uncoiled and spread out in S-shaped curves on the beach, the landward end of it being fastened firmly to the winder, which is stuck into the sand. The hooks are then baited, and if mussels are used these are often tied on by means of a piece of yarn, thread, cotton, etc. Scotch fishermen use a fragment of wool for the same purpose. Lugs are perhaps the best bait; mackerel and squid are also good. The line being baited, the button on the end of the whipcord is placed in the cleft of the stick. The exact position of the lead on the whipcord must depend on the height of the caster and the length of the pole, a short man having to slip it up rather nearer the button than a tall man.
By means of the pole the lead is now swung backwards and then pitched forwards, not too straight, but rather up in the air, for the weight and the line has to be raised. It is not always necessary to cast out a great distance, for sometimes fish will be feeding close along shore.