At several of the Yorkshire watering-places it is the exception to see any amateur with a hand line ; and, as I stated earlier in the chapter, rods have been used for many years for fishing from rocky headlands and suchlike places on the coast of Devonshire and Cornwall. In fact, from the shore the rod may be an absolute necessity. In the Mediterranean the Italians and others have fished for years with rods, as also have the Irish and Scotch for pollack and coalfish ; but not with such weapons as the modern sea angler would care to handle.
What are the general advantages of a rod in sea fishing? I will answer the question here, at the outset, because it will be one of the first asked by the sea fisherman of the old school. As a matter of fact, the rod plays much the same part in the sea as it does in fresh water. In the first place, it enables a reel to be used. Not only is it more pleasant to wind up a long wet line on a reel than to handle it, but the chance of bringing into the boat any large fish which is hooked is very much greater when there is an abundance of spare line on the reel with which he can be played. If we use a hand line it must be of considerable substance or it will cut our hands ; but the thicker the line, the greater the resistance of the water on the line, and the heavier the leads which must be used. Therefore hand-lining necessitates not only stouter line, but a heavier lead than is required if rod and reel are used. A fine line and comparatively light lead are, then, two important advantages arising out of the use of rod and reel. My favourite line is much the same as the anglers of the Trent use for pike—undressed twisted silk. An old fisherman, to whom I promised a hundred yards if he could break it, cut his hand deeply in the attempt and failed ; and I take it that when new, assuming there is enough of it, the largest cod that is to be found round our coasts could be killed on it without great difficulty.
Secondly, the spring of the rod and yielding of the line prevent many a fish from breaking the tackle at the first or subsequent rushes. Imagine a large, vigorous, fresh-run salmon on a hand line ! Snap would go the stoutest gut in an instant. Even if the line was not broken, the hook would be torn from the jaws of the fish. What prevents a disaster is the spring of the rod and the free yielding of the line which rolls off the screeching reel. In the sea are fish not a wit less fierce in their first rush than salmon. A big bass will sometimes make a glorious run when first hooked, and so will a large grey mullet; while the downward bolt for its home among the rocks and weeds of the pollack, is a thing which would startle even a salmon fisherman. If we are using a hand line we have to pay it out in clumsy fashion between thumb and first finger. We get our hands cut, and as likely as not the loose coils of line catch in something and the fish breaks away. If the tackle is so very stout that it will hold the fish, then the hook may tear out; and if the water is at all clear and the day not very rough, we catch very few fish because of that same stoutness and visibility of line.
Thirdly, on a rough day the hand-liner's lead responds to every movement of the boat, and dances a wild jig just above the bottom of the sea. With the rod, on the other hand, the lead can, as a rule, be kept still on the bottom. Though the butt end of the rod shifts with every movement of the boat and the angler, the rod point can be maintained in one position without much difficulty. When angling for some species of fish the advantages of being able to keep lead and bait steady are great.
The drawback to the method I am advocating for certain kinds of sea fishing, is that the rod acts as a lever and vastly increases on our wrists and arms the actual weight which is depending from its point. The ordinary freshwater rod varies in length from about ten to eighteen feet, and in the early days of modern rod fishing in the sea, freshwater anglers used an eleven- or twelve-feet rod. Great indeed was the labour of reeling up a tackle weighted with a lead of half a pound or more. But the evolution in sea-fishing rods has gone on steadily. The rod has been shortened inch by inch until now for boat fishing a handy little instrument of six or seven feet is made, doing away with all the disadvantages of the ordinary pike or other rod which was formerly used. There is an illustration and detailed description of it in Chapter VII. It has special fittings at the top and on the ring next the butt, which reduce friction to a minimum. Possibly some day ball bearings may be introduced into the little block used at the end of sea-fishing rods. They have already found their way into the bearings of reels. With these short but trustworthy rods a weight of a pound can be reeled up without any difficulty, and fishing can be carried on, if needs be, with sinkers of two pounds or even more. These are great weights for use on a rod, and rarely needed, even in deep water, if the line is as fine as the one I have described. With sinkers of eight ounces or thereabout I prefer to use an eleven-foot rod. For fly fishing from a boat nothing more than the ordinary grilse rod is required ; but on shore, especially in steep rocky places, it often happens that the longer the rod the better, within reasonable limits.
Generally speaking, a rod and reel cannot and ought not to be used for fish of any size from a yacht or any good-sized sailing vessel when under weigh ; for then fish cannot be played, and the dead weight of reeling them in while the vessel is going along four, five, or six knots an hour is a greater strain than can ever be safely or comfortably placed upon any rod or winch of a size which a man could handle. I have no doubt that in the future both these useful items of tackle will be varied to suit this special purpose. At the same time be it understood that even from large steamers a rod may have its advantages, as will be found exemplified in the chapter on the Ocean-Fishing Rod. A modified form of the gear there described might certainly be used on yachts and large fishing boats for saithe, bass, etc.