This leads me to a not unimportant portion of my subject, namely, the migration of sea fish. All freshwater anglers know that the larger the river or lake, the more difficult it is to find the fish. In the sea, which is infinitely greater, we meet with the additional difficulty of having to learn the seasons at which the fish are likely to be present at any particular spot. Some years, as may be gathered from the little anecdote I have just related, they do not visit their usual haunts at all; and the tiro who has journeyed many miles to some noted spot, only to find the bass or other fish a source of local wonderment owing to their absence, may very likely declare that sea fishing is a fraud, depart after a few wasted days, intensely disgusted and with a very false impression of the sport. I may have more to add on this subject later on.
Assuming that the angler has a reasonable or average amount of skill, and enlists the assistance of a man who thoroughly knows the fishing grounds of the locality, and fishes during the right tides, there are fewer blank days, or even bad days, on the sea than in fresh water. Much, of course, depends on the variety of fish sought after ; but, so far as the common species which fall to the lot of the paternosterer are concerned, the result of a day's fishing is, more often than not, satisfactory. That is my experience ; but then I take pains to fish at the right times and in the right places, and I am in hopes that the remarks in this chapter may prevent many people from falling into the errors which were my own when I began to sea-fish—errors which usually lead to very indifferent sport.
There is one difficulty to be overcome at every new place we visit, and that is, the dislike of professional fishermen to give information. Certain marks, and fishing grounds, and facts, and baits are common knowledge among them all; but the older and more experienced men often have special and very valuable knowledge, more particularly as to fishing grounds, and this they very wisely like to keep to themselves. One year I did a good deal of bass fishing from small luggers in a tideway on the Welsh coast. The little port from which we started was a watering-place ; but the sport came on after the visitors had departed, and many local professional fishermen went after these bass for the market. There was not much fishing ground ; the place was well known ; and a little fleet of four or five boats would be sailing over it as long as the tide served, for the bass only seemed to feed there during the best of the flood. We all used much the same tackle and baits ; but there were two boats which always brought home more fish than any of the others, and one of them most of all. I would have given a very great deal to have discovered the secret of her crew's success, and I watched them very closely ; but, so far as I could perceive, there was no appreciable difference at all between our methods, unless, indeed, their boat was handled rather better than the rest. Lead, line, tackle, speed of the boat, and place of fishing, all seemed exactly the same.
A taste for sea fishing often leads to a taste for yachting, or, at least, small-boat sailing. Whilst I must confess that a knowledge of nautical matters is not absolutely necessary for success in sea fishing, nevertheless it is desirable that anyone who places himself at the mercy of wind and wave should know how to handle a tiller, hoist or lower a sail, and take a turn to windward. Curious accidents sometimes happen. It is a very unpleasant thing, should the boatman be disabled by a sudden illness, or tumble overboard, or require to leave the helm to clear some little hitch in the running rigging, if his employer cannot take the tiller or otherwise render assistance. The more deeply a man goes in for acquiring a knowledge of all the details connected with any particular sport, the more gratification he will obtain. Fishing does not begin and end with the mere hooking and playing of the fish.
At the outset the mere tiro cannot do better than place himself in the hands of some friend or professional fisherman who can be relied upon to provide him with the right tackle and the right baits, take him to the right place, and, in fact, treat him as if he were a mere rod-holding, winch-winding machine. But the shorter this machine period, the better. There is little satisfaction, and less credit, in fishing with other men's brains, and the sooner the beginner masters a knowledge of baits, tackle, suitable conditions of weather and water, the elements of seamanship and small-boat sailing, and the thousand and one minutiae of sea fishing generally, the greater will be his enjoyment of this very delightful sport.
To find a really satisfactory boatman is frequently no easy matter. Many of the fishermen are mere hands, and only work well when there is a head to direct them. Others have a good knowledge of rough hand-line fishing, but do not sympathise with nor comprehend the sportsman's finer methods. Not a few are jealous of strangers coming to the place, even though they pay their men well. On many parts of the coast bass and pollack, two of the most sport-giving fish, are not much sought after by the professional fishermen, which means that the amateur is forced to rely upon his own general knowledge of the habits of the fish in searching for them. But, happily, there now begin to be not a few places frequented by amateur fishermen where the local personages have become reconciled to seeing a fishing rod project from their boats, and cease to declaim upon the folly of fishing with line so thin that, in their opinion, a one-pound whiting might break it. Let us hope that, in time, the British Sea Anglers' Society will have the names of one or more really good boatmen at all stations of importance (from the amateur sea fisherman's point of view) on the British coasts.