Hake (Merluccius Vulgaris) And Ling (Molva Vulgaris) are two fish which are frequently confounded by amateur sea fishermen. Both of them, but more particularly the ling, incline to the appearance of being a cross between a codfish and a conger eel. In both the body is long and thin, and they are furnished with long back and belly fins, starting near the root of the tail and extending beyond the middle of the fish. The hake is the more ferocious-looking fish of the two, the rays of its two dorsal fins being spinous, while its mouth is furnished with quite an ogreish double set of teeth of the orthodox fee-fo-fum variety. Its eye is round. The ling, on the other hand, lacks these prickly points to its back fins ; its teeth, while very formidable, are not so conspicuous ; its eye is lozenge-shaped ; and it has a barbule in the centre of its lower jaw, which is altogether wanting in the hake. Those teeth of the hake sometimes get him into trouble. On summer nights, when the sea is phosphorescent and the herring nets and herrings are sparkling with silver light, up comes Master Hake from the bottom, where he rests during the daytime, for he is a night feeder, and calmly sups off the caught herrings, until finally, getting too bold, his teeth are entangled in the meshes of the net, and sooner or later he is dragged on board the fishing boat and knocked on the head by the joyful fishermen.
The hakeing season is principally in the autumn and winter. Targe quantities of these fish are caught on hand lines from the herring and pilchard boats while the nets are drifting. A whole pilchard or herring is one of the best baits that can be used. There are important hake fisheries in Irish waters, particularly in the south (in olden times Galway Bay was called the Bay of Hakes), and also off Devon and Cornwall. In two nights the crew of a West-country boat once caught eleven hundred of these fish. I have eaten hake in Ireland and rather liked them. They are fairly good salted, and in the hands of a judicious cook are certainly more than passable.
Fishing for hake is, as I have indicated, nearly always done at night. A few may be caught during the day if the bait is kept close to the bottom. But during the hours of darkness it should be held at about midwater, various depths being tried until the fish are met with. Sometimes, indeed, they will be found only a fathom or two below the surface. They grow to a large size, and the ogreish teeth necessitate stout tackle and an armoured snooding near the hook, which measures about 1 1/2 inch across the bend and 6 inches in length. Such a snood as that used for conger will answer the purpose (see pp. 74 and 274), but it is certainly desirable to have it served with wire.
Some fishermen, in lieu of having an armoured snooding, use hooks with shanks about eight inches long, with an eye at the end ; the fish then bite on to the hook shank instead of on to the snooding.
The Ling, though perhaps not so fierce as the hake, emulates the cod in the matter of voracity. There is certainly no record of a fish of this variety having swallowed ' a booke in three treatises' or a bunch of keys (afterwards returned to its owner through the medium of a long line), but there is an unusually well-authenticated legend that one was caught off Brandon Head, in the county of Kerry, which contained a flask. Moreover, in the flask was half a pint of spirituous liquor.1 Another such a story dates from November 17, 1881. A Mr. Boal, of Consett, opened a ling, which weighed twenty-five pounds, and discovered within it a small bottle, pieces of sealing wax, some parchment, a few herrings and a codling.
Ling grow to a great size. In the 'Field' of March 23, 1895, is a record of one weighing 85 lbs., and of three which together weighed 222 lbs. They were caught off the Faroes from the steamer fishing line-boat ' Saridus'.
If ling fishing is being carried on from the pilchard or other drifting boats, not so much lead is required as if the boat were moored, unless, indeed, the wind and tide are opposed. A lead of half a pound may be quite sufficient. The exact weight needed is soon ascertained. Below it should be a very long snooding, three fathoms or thereabouts—that is, assuming a hand line is the form of tackle. If a rod is used the line will, of course, be finer and the lead lighter. Very strong paternoster tackle will answer every purpose, but only one hook should be used, and the hook link may be eighteen inches in length and should be placed a couple of feet above the lead.
1 Here is a certificate of truth culled from the Pall Mall Gazette, being a letter to the editor : ' Sir,—In reference to the amusing article of April 8, giving an account of the cobble stones which were found in the stomach of a ling exposed for sale in a fishmonger's shop at Liverpool, it may perhaps be of interest to your readers to know that I have in my possession an example of what I think may be considered as " gross an error on the part of a fish" as has ever been placed on record. On the table before me is a round zinc flask, on which is inscribed the following legend : " Royal Irish Fisheries Company. This flask, containing two glasses of an ardent spirit, was found in the stomach of a ling, taken off Brandon Head, co. Kerry, February 1849. Presented by J. E. Stopford, LL.D., director, and W. Andrews, manager, to Mr. M. J. Ffennell, in testimony of their esteem and their sense of the services rendered by him as Commissioner of Fisheries." The flask, which was presented to my father, holds four wineglasses. With two glasses the flask weighed just 1 lb.—Yours, etc, Henry Ffennell'.