I have on more than one occasion found the study of marks extremely valuable, even when I have been out with men who were professional fishermen, and might be expected to exercise reasonable care in placing the boat correctly. A very few yards one way or the other will often make all the difference between catching fish or missing them. On three successive days I had wretched sport in Broad Bay, off the Island of Lewis, owing to the crofters who were with me being careless in this matter. They knew the marks well enough and told me them without hesitation. As soon as I found we were not quite on the spot which was generally considered the best fishing ground, I made them move the boat about twenty yards, arid we at once began to catch fish ; and I do not think that at any subsequent time we were unsuccessful at that particular place. Those who set lobster or crab pots, trots, and long lines, unless most careful in taking marks correctly, will run very great risk of never seeing their property again. Except when the sea is absolutely calm there is nothing more difficult than to find the pieces of cork which are used to mark the pots or lines. Even so large an object as an upturned boat is soon lost to sight in a rough sea.
Closely connected with this part of my subject are charts. It will be seen later on that certain fish affect certain bottoms ; some preferring rock, others sand, others again marl. An Admiralty chart is supposed to show not only the depths or soundings, but also to indicate the nature of the bottom, the direction and speed of tidal currents, and generally to give information of value to those who have anything to do with the sea. At the same time special fishery charts are needed, and it is to be hoped that the Admiralty or Board of Trade will see the necessity of preparing something of the kind. At present we must make the best of what we have, and whenever any new place is visited the fisherman should buy a chart and note on it the marks of the best fishing grounds. When entering marks on the chart it is a simple matter to indicate with a few pencil lines the tree, barn, church, or whatever they may consist of, not drawing the things elaborately, but sufficiently plain to recognise what is intended. If the marks consist of one headland opening behind another, draw a line between the two headlands and continue it out to sea until it meets the line drawn from the other pair of marks. A note should be made of the kind of fish to be expected at the place, the best time of year, and any bait which is particularly successful there ; for it is a curious fact that baits which will kill at one place may not answer so well in others. Sometimes, too, the fishing ground can only be worked at certain states of the tide, and this also should be carefully noted.
The Admiralty charts can be obtained at Stanford's, Charing Cross, and other places. There are general charts, secondary or coast series, and special charts of particular bays and inlets where the navigation is difficult, and the chart has to be made on a large scale to show the rocks, etc, and the fairway for large vessels. If a special chart is published of any place which the sea fisherman proposes to visit, it should certainly be obtained ; for the larger the scale the more complete the information given. To show the distinction between the different sizes and kinds of charts, the Bristol Channel, the greater portion of the English Channel, and the coast of South Wales are covered by two large general charts. A secondary chart includes the Bristol Channel ; while there is a special chart of Carmarthen Bay, which is a part of the Bristol Channel. There is also what I may term an extra special chart of Burry Inlet, which is within Carmarthen Bay. It is well to get an index of charts from Stanford's, Charing Cross, at the cost of sixpence, which serves to show whether or not special charts are published of the places one wishes to visit.
It may be useful to add that charts cost from sixpence to five shillings, a half-crown being the most general price. The outlay is not large, and a little study of the chart sometimes puts a stranger almost on an equal footing with the local fisherman. To show oneself the possessor of a little knowledge places a considerable and useful check upon the inventive faculties of the boatman.
The charts are covered with figures and various letters, each of which has a particular meaning. The figures mostly refer to the depths, but there is no fixed rule as to whether the depths are given in feet or fathoms, a fathom being two yards. At the same time, it may be said that on the large general charts, where the depth to a foot or two is unimportant, they are usually given in fathoms, but on the special charts the depths appear in feet. This point is of course explained on each particular chart. The depths stated are those of the sea at low water during spring tides. In other words, it is the least depth there ever is on that particular part of the coast ; but even this statement requires some qualification, because, should there come a tremendous gale of wind, the water may be forced hack and brought to a slightly lower level at low tide than is given on the chart.
The various letters, etc, on charts are so numerous that it is almost necessary to have the little sixpenny book interpreting those signs and abbreviations. M. as a rule means mud, St. stone, S. sand. Rocks above the surface are shown by a cross, while R. indicates rocks below the surface. As an instance of the abbreviations used, Sp. 3Kn., Np. 2Kn., means that the tidal current runs at the speed of three knots an hour during spring tides, and two knots an hour during neap tides. Of course all this will be in the nature of A B C to yachtsmen ; but a great many men who now go sea fishing know nothing of these matters, and for them the information is intended.
I am afraid that the ordinary man generally gives up any attempt to understand the tides as hopeless, and ' ebb,' ' flow,' ' neap,' and ' springs ' are to him unmeaning terms. Yet on a study of the tides the success of the man who fishes with hook and line greatly depends. I do not propose to go into any elaborate explanation of the causes of tides, or to use any scientific terminology ; but it is so extremely important that the sea fisherman should have some knowledge of the subject that I will attempt to explain the matter in such a way that a schoolboy of ten years old could understand, and more than that can hardly be expected of any writer.