Improvements in gear introduced by amateurs are even making headway among the professional fishermen, who in some few places are beginning to recognise the advantages of silkworm gut over their hempen snooding. At Tenby and Plymouth, for instance, nearly all the men use at least half a fathom of gut next the hook on their mackerel lines, and it is a common thing to see gut hook links on the hand lines used by whiting and pout fishermen on the south coast of England.
Some twenty years ago Mr. Cholmondeley Pennell and the late Frank Buckland were fishing off Plymouth. Mr. Pennell, as might be expected, was using a pike rod and a gut paternoster. With this tackle he not only had better sport than Frank Buckland and the boatman, who were using hand lines, but exceeded the combined takes of his companion and some persons who were in a boat not far distant. On my first attempt at sea fishing in Scotch waters a very similar incident occurred. The place was Loch Inchard. A friend and I strolled down from Rhiconich Hotel, carrying pike rods. Arriving at the water's edge we met our gillie, who looked at us with astonishment and asked what the rods were for.
' To fish with,' I ventured to remark.
' Ye'll no catch fish with rods in the sea loch,' said the gillie most positively ; 'no man effer has and no man effer will. It's only the laddies who catch the cuddies from the rocks there with small mussels that use the rods. Ye'll catch all the fish ye need with these hand lines,' pointing to some rough gear lying at the bottom of the boat.
My friend was so impressed that he went to the trouble of taking his rod back to the hotel. I stuck to mine, but I saw that I had fallen in our man's estimation, the worthy fellow eyeing me with a look which plainly said, 'A wilful man maun gae his ain gait.' A few minutes later we were rowing down the long narrow inlet of the sea, which must have been beautiful indeed before some great glacier slowly swept over it and rounded all the mountain tops.
The anchor was cast a mile or so away from the hotel, on the whiting ground. I used my pike rod and a paternoster made out of single salmon gut; in fact, fished much as I should for perch, but with slightly stronger tackle. There were great quantities of fish in the loch, and in a couple of hours a number of large whiting, grey gurnets, codling, and some remarkably fine plaice had found their way into the boat. The three hand lines were worked by my friend and the gillie ; each hand line had two hooks ; yet those six hooks in all caught fewer fish than were taken on the two-hook paternoster, and before we returned to the shore the gillie frankly admitted that the rod was ' no so bad'.
But the mere fact of having a rod of some kind or other does not necessarily conduce to a large basket of fish. I was fishing in a sandy bay in the Bristol Channel one summer day, using a light bamboo rod and very light paternoster tackle, the lower hook being close to the ground, for the fish most numerous were plaice and sand dabs. A hundred yards from me was another boat in which was an amateur fisherman, his son and a boatman. The father was using a very whippy, salmon, fly rod which was considerably bent by a sinker weighing about a quarter of a pound. The son and the boatman had hand lines bearing leads which must have weighed at least a pound and a half each, and below their sinkers were very long snoodings, a combination which effectually prevented the bites being felt. If a heavy weight is placed on a line used with a fly rod, the fish cannot be struck immediately they bite, for when the angler raises his hand the rod bends towards the lead, and by the time the rebound comes, the fish, which have felt the slight jar preliminary, may have quickly rejected the bait.
Never did fish bite faster than on that August day. In a very short time I had six dozen, varying from half a pound to nearly two pounds. My neighbours were catching next to nothing, and shifted many times without bettering themselves. Seeing they were faring badly, I called them to bring their boat as close alongside of mine as they pleased. This they did, but were even then unsuccessful, and I do not think they caught altogether half a dozen fish. It was not a matter of position that day at all ; no doubt I was in a good spot, but fish were plentiful for some distance around me. The failure of these people was entirely owing to their using both rod and hand lines unsuited for the purpose.
Yet another instance of the advantage of the rod over more primitive methods : On the east coast of England there comes a great run of codling close in shore during the autumn months. One September I fished a good deal from the beach at Lowestoft, using ordinary Nottingham tackle, and a paternoster with two hooks. Along the shore was a perfect regiment of men who were throwing out the lines peculiar to that part of the world— there is a drawing of them in Chapter VI. Suffice it here to say, that each of their lines had thirteen hooks on it, and that, with their heavy leads and heaving poles, they could get their line further seaward than was possible with my lighter tackle. Yet, as a rule, I could catch two or three times as many fish on my two hooks as any of these men did on their thirteen hooks. There is mention in my diary of an evening when the paternoster killed twenty-four fish while the men on each side of me with the twenty-six hooks between them landed only three. I can claim no particular credit or skill for this. The explanation is simple. The throw-out lines were heavily leaded, and it was only the most vigorous bites which were felt. On my tackle I could detect the slightest bite, strike at once, and so catch fish while the hand-liners were having their hooks robbed of bait.
On the whole, the sea seems to afford even greater possibilities of sport than does fresh water, more particularly now that so many rivers are polluted and over-fished. Artificial fish culture has been the salvation of certain trout streams and salmon rivers ; but in the sea this generation at least has a natural store of splendid fish, many of them as sport-giving as any found in river or lake. All men, rich and poor, are free to catch what they can, and those who choose to travel northwards will find themselves amid as grand scenery as that commonly associated with the watersheds of the finest salmon or trout streams. A popular fallacy exists in connection with the sup-posed ubiquity of fish in the sea. Not a few people consider it the duty of Nature to provide fish for them wherever they choose to drop in a baited line. Acting on this principle, and failing to hook anything, they decry the sport. Now, sea fish are not scattered about in this indiscriminate way. Many of them are migratory in their habits and swim in shoals. Occasionally they leave certain districts for a time, perhaps four or five years, and then return again. Certain localities they always seem to favour ; others they apparently dislike, and they seek comparatively shallow water rather than the deeps — the fishing fleet goes to the Dogger Bank, not the Dogger Hole. Where there is no food there will be no fish ; and where torpedo boats practise, and big guns are fired, and large steamers are constantly plying, it is hardly to be expected that shy creatures will abound. But go to the right place at the right time, and the sport may be simply magnificent.