There can be no possible mistake about the bass being on the feed ; you can even see them. They have hunted the herring fry to the surface and are attacking them below, while the gulls are worrying them from above. Go, cast a whitebait fly over those fish, and see if you cannot avenge the death of many a hundred poor baby herring, sprat, and mackerel. These will not be big fish, mind, but what are called ' school bass '; anything from two to five or six pounds. They must make up in numbers for lack of size. They are the fellows the fly fisher should look after ; the monster bass, weighing maybe fifteen pounds, which we see basking in the sunshine off the rocks or round about the harbour, are, as a rule, too stately to worry . themselves over such inconsiderable trifles as baby herrings or whitebait flies. They like something larger and more tasty, as you will discover if you turn to Chapter XI. Sometimes, however, a really splendid fish is found among the school bass.
One great difficulty is to hold the boat in such a place as I have described. When you get to know the spot you will very likely find that during certain tides the bass feed like this for a half-hour or more, and more or less at fixed times. The sea gulls know it far better than you do, and while apparently asleep on their cliff perches, are patiently waiting the advent of the bass.
It may not be herring fry the bass are feeding on. Their quarry may be sand-eels ; in which case an artificial sand-eel of the kind described on p. 157 as being good for sea trout should be tried. I have often intended to make up a combination whitebait fly ; a union of the real and the artificial. It could be done, I think, thus : Whip on to the shank of hook three or four bristles with points projecting. There may be a little peacock harl with a double strip of white swan's quill feather in the place of a wing. Cut a thin strip of gurnard skin and twist it round the shank of the hook. Tightly fasten down each end with waxed silk ; of course, any tough, bright fish-skin will do. For bristles, by the way, it is not necessary to go to a hog, a hair-brush will suffice. I have often rigged up rather novel spinning baits in some such way as this, twisting strips of fish-skin over an arrangement of hooks, and have caught bass with them too.
The flies which Mr. J. C. Wilcocks recommends for these fish are any of the smaller salmon flies, and in particular the Shaldon Shiner, which was used with great success by the late Mr. J. C. Hale, near the village of Shaldon, on the west side of the estuary of the Teign. It is a kind of imitation dragon fly ; the body very thin, of flattened silver wire ; a small brush of scarlet feather for the tail; a little green, blue, and red dubbing out of an old Turkey carpet for the shoulders ; and bright blue wings, to which are added half a dozen fibres of goose feather. It should be made about the size of a mediumsized salmon fly. Nowadays, however, many bass fishermen prefer the fish-skin flies to any made of feather and tinsel. The dogfish-tail fly (p. 171) should be killing. I have not had an opportunity of trying it. One very important thing in fly fishing for bass is to work the fly in rapid jerks, and, of course, the man who can cast well will catch many more fish than he who is inexpert at this most delightful branch of angling.
It is very desirable not to allow the boat to go over bass ; and in the strong tidal currents which are chiefly frequented by these fish it is often necessary to have two men, or even three, to row the boat. If you can reach the fish from the shore, as from rocky points, so much the better ; but where there is a sound between an island and the mainland, such as I have described, the fish will as likely as not be feeding out in the centre of the current.
Of course there is no reason to be idle while waiting about for the fish to begin feeding on the surface. A little railing may be done ; and pollack, bass, or mackerel will very likely be taken in that way. But,. I repeat, above all things do not let the boat go just over the bass ground, nor, when the bass are feeding, allow your men to take you too near them. The longer the line can be cast, the better.
Very few salmon fishers are able to get out a long line cleanly and well unless they are casting down stream and the line is extended by the water at the end of each cast. If they were to cast up stream the flowing water would bring the fly back to them, and it would be a difficult thing to pick the line off the surface and make the proper backward cast previous to the forward cast which sends the fly in the desired direction. Dry-fly fishermen in Hampshire, who fish mostly up stream, usually grease their lines to make them float. The line can then be picked off the water even when it is not extended ; but in sea or salmon fishing the line is sunk, and long casts cannot well be made unless the fly is fished down stream. At any rate, the beginner should keep the boat placed at one side and rather above the shoal of fish. When I say ' above,' I mean regarding the tidal current as if it were a river. Cast across the current at anangle of about 450, letting the fly fall a yard or two in front of the fish ; then work it in rapid jerks with the point of the rod, allowing the tide to carry it among the shoal. Be particularly careful not to cast beyond the fish, for if you are using a thick line the fish will see the line before they see the fly, which is obviously undesirable.
Bass very often take the fly under water ; so, especially when there is much ripple, it is better to watch the line rather than the fly. From the point of the rod to where it touches the water, the line takes a gentle curve. Watch that curve, and immediately you see it straighten, strike ; and then look out for squalls. In playing the fish, keep the bend of the rod well up ; hold the rod at an angle of about 450. If the fish makes a determined run let him have line, checking it, if needs be, a little with one of your fingers on the rim of the reel; but never allow the rod to be pulled down towards the water. Always keep the rod up at an angle of about 45°. If the bass is pulled kicking and plunging up stream among the shoal, his struggles will be so evident to his brothers that he alone of the shoal will be landed. The wiser plan, which, however, involves a considerable amount of labour, is, immediately a fish is hooked, to draw it across the current towards the boat away from the shoal, and then drop down with the tide below the other fish, who, having their tails pointing that way, see nothing of what takes place. It is a comparatively easy thing to pull a bass or trout or salmon down stream. It should always be done when possible. After the fish is landed the men should again row the boat by the side of, but not too near, the shoal, until they place one within casting distance, when with good luck another fish may be hooked and played in the same way.