If the water is deep, it may be asked how float tackle can be used? By a clever little contrivance, known as the Slider float, which is explained on p. 253, almost any depth, within reason, can be fished. I have also illustrated on pp. 239 to 245 the various forms of paternoster tackle. Generally speaking, for shore fishing there is nothing better than the paternoster illustrated on p. 239, and made of salmon gut or twisted gut with two hooks on single gut placed eighteen inches apart, the lower one six inches or less above the lead. The hook links this tackle. If large fish are about, one hook is sufficient, as, if two are used, the one on which the large fish is not hooked will as likely as not catch in the seaweed or rocks.
From piers either paternoster, float tackle, or the pipe-lead tackle just described may be used. With float tackle the baits can, of course, be worked away from the pier with the tide. When flat fish, whiting, or codlings are expected this is a great advantage, as a considerable expanse of fishing ground can be covered. But the best all-round tackle is certainly the paternoster, for on it the slightest bites can be felt and, owing to the line being taut, the fish can be struck immediately. With float tackle the bites are not perceptible when there is any wind unless the float is drawn under water, and not always then ; and by the time the angler strikes, the fish has perhaps discovered that the bait contains a hook, or has ascertained from the resistance of the float that something is wrong.
A very deadly tackle for casting out some distance is the upper paternoster shown on p. 243, the lowest hook link lengthened to two yards and furnished with two or three hooks. It is very good on a sandy or muddy bottom where flat fish, codlings, or eels are present. I must confess, however, that I do not like a number of hooks on my tackle. They perhaps appear to catch many fish, but in the long run so much time is lost by baiting them and clearing the various entanglements to which complicated arrangements of the kind are very subject, that, after all, the more simple tackle often catches most fish in the course of the day.
Where a very strong tide runs round a pierhead, a drift trot can easily be set. There is no lead at the end of this piece of tackle, which, in fact, is exactly like our paternoster with the lowest hook link elongated to four or five fathoms, and bearing short hook links at every foot or eighteen inches. First of all, the end hook is lowered, and then, as the tide takes this rosary of hooks away from the pier, more line is let out, till finally the lead of a pound or two is gently dropped into the water. Of course, there is little or no sport in this method of fishing. A more detailed description of a drift trot, and illustration, will be found in Chapter VIII.
The fish which are most usually found round piers on the South coast near London are whiting pout, rock fish, small whiting, and flat fish. For large whiting we must, as a rule, go into deeper water. In some places, pollack are fairly plentiful; in others, where the bottom is muddy, nothing but flat fish will be caught. But wherever we may be, there is always a chance of a nasty little wriggling eel which leaves bars of slime on Master Tommy's blue serge suit and threatens Aunt Jane with hysteria—or, should I not say neurasthenia ?— and, after twisting round and round until line, hooks and lead are one inextricable mass of kink and slime, nips through the gut, wriggles tail foremost through a hole in the staging, and drops quietly, smiling to itself the while, into the salt sea.
From the economic point of view, the smelt is perhaps the best of all the fish which are found round pierheads, for they are distinctly edible. Of them more when we leave the pier and make for the harbour. Now and again a goodly plaice will fall to the lot of the pierhead angler, particularly if the pier be not far from the town drain ; and when the big cod are inshore in late autumn there is always a chance of one of these fish. But for cod, go to the East coast.
In summer-time when the water is very clear, and a fringe of unproductive lines depends from the steamboat staging, I have not the least doubt that sea fish, like their cousins of the rivers and lakes, become somewhat suspicious of baited hooks. Then the ground-bait net will be found of great advantage. One of the best mixtures for ground bait is the common green crab, particularly in its soft state, pounded up with raw potato into one big mash. Sink this in a piece of netting, by means of stones, near the bottom, and fish close to it, giving the netting a good jerk occasionally to shake out some of the contents. If there are any fish about, they will most certainly begin feeding round that net, and if your hook is baited with soft crab, it will surely be taken before long.
Ground bait has two characteristics : not only does it collect fish, but it brings them on the feed. Let us try to imagine ourselves a fish. We have been feeding, say, on shrimps and small marine insects, and, having about cleared the table, have ceased our repast. Suddenly there appears in front of us a mangled lugworm, screwed up on a hook, and suspended in the water in a very unnatural position. We eye the thing with suspicion. What reason has a lugworm to be hovering over the rocks which pave the bottom of the sea, like some humming bird over a flower in a tropical garden ? But presently there comes through the water a shower of lugworms, and our suspicions vanish at once. ' This queer-looking worm is, after all, only one of a quantity,' we think ; and, swimming hastily about hither and thither, pouching the luscious morsels, we suddenly find that we have inadvertently swallowed the hovering lug, if I may so term it, are hauled up bewailing our stupidity, and lifted over the gunwale of a boat or on to the stage of some pier or other.
In the same way we regard solitary lumps of soft crab in a hovering state as somewhat suspicious objects, especially at a place where we know hundreds of our brothers have been slain, thanks to their greediness. But when a number of fragments of this most delicious dish—than which there is no better in our dietary—when fragments, we say, of this most delicate food come floating away with the tide from a stupendous mass of it which now and again shakes itself, giving off sweet fragrance, then we all hasten to the feast bountiful Providence appears to have prepared for us, and sooner or later one of us pays the penalty.