'I am afraid it is a shark, sir,' remarked my guide.
There are many people who think that shark fishing is done over the side of a ship with a huge piece of pork attached to a hook about twenty times as large as that used for any kind of fishing. From the days of our youth we have heard of this kind of thing, and no doubt they can be caught in this way ; but with the aid of a revolver, or a long spear, a short stout rod, and fine tackle, shark can be killed like any other fish.
I can assure those who have never killed a shark on a line that this particular fish gave me any amount of excitement. Hart rowed as fast as he could, and I reeled in rapidly to gain line, for woe betide the tarpon or shark fisher if his line is overrun. I got within probably thirty yards of the fish, when he was off again, and he ran down a branch creek for close upon half a mile. A big shark can tow a boat a very considerable distance ; but there seems to be one way of tiring him, and that is, to get to one side of him, and then, using one's rod as a lever, swing round and pull against him with all one's force. In course of time that seems to exhaust him, and, revolver ready, one can reel him in, shoot him through the nose, and let him go down with the current, to be torn to pieces by his voracious brothers. My shark was evidently tired when we got up to him, and I could see his great seven-foot body looming green and hideous beneath the water. What a loathsome-looking monster a shark is ! It is said that he has the cruellest teeth and eyes and the smallest heart of anything that swims. As I drew him up I thought he was practically dead. I made a shot, but, owing to the rocking boat and the excitement of the moment, was not sufficiently accurate. I hit him in the back of the neck. For a moment I thought the boat was upset. He lashed the blood-stained water furiously, and the reel, upon which I had put the check, gave such a screech as I have never heard from any reel before. He ran out some hundred and fifty yards of reel, but as I drew up to him again he was obviously getting tired. There is a mental process in angling which enables one to know when one has at last gained mastery of one's fish, and so it was with this shark.
I got him to the top of the water again. He made a violent struggle when he saw the boat, but this time my aim was truer, and I put three shots through his nose. It is usual to cut loose one's shark, and I should not have taken such trouble with this one, but that I had given a good many of my hooks to some brother anglers who had not come well provided, and I was therefore really short of them. To Hart was accorded the unpleasant task of disgorging this hook from the monster. The creature's backbone with a wire down it has made an excellent walking-stick, I may observe, and a portion of his skin has been turned into pocket matchboxes.
We had wandered completely out of our course. No tarpon were known to be in the water near us, and we were thinking of returning; but, despite the bright sunshine, a change had come over the weather, and I know of no part of the world in which the weather alters more rapidly than in Southern Florida. The wind was sighing in the mangrove trees, and, though the sun shone as brightly as ever, the air grew strangely chilly. By the time we had gone back the mile we had lost Hart was despondent. There were no tarpon rising. All we could see was a great porpoise, which rose within a few yards of us, blowing as emphatically as a steam engine.
' I am afraid we shall get no more sport to-day,' remarked Hart.
And he was right. We fished for another hour until the storm had come upon us, and then we turned back to Marco. On our way we met a small sailing boat in which there were the very young Englishmen for whom we had brought our informal introduction in the shape of bottles of beer. They had not tasted Bass's ale for some years, and were delighted.
It is obvious that one of the most important things in tarpon fishing is a good guide and boatman. Just as a bad gaffer can and does lose any number of salmon, so does a bad boatman who does not know how to gaff bring about endless disappointment to a tarpon fisher. A good many of the Florida fishing guides are coloured men ; but with one exception, Fulton Ma-guire at Punta Gorda, I would not recommend them. Maguire looks to me like a negro with a good deal of Indian blood in him. I found him an excellent and most intelligent companion and most anxious to kill. The ordinary niggers seemed to me to be very lazy, inclined to be extremely impertinent if one treated them with the same familiarity one would adopt with an ordinary gillie, and altogether without presence of mind.
A special kind of boat is used in some places, the peculiarity of which is that it has a revolving seat in the centre, with a small cup in front, in which to place the rod when playing a fish. In the course of a long fight it might be necessary to sit down, but the ordinary boats seem quite suitable. In case anyone thinks of taking a folding boat to Florida, I would say that it must be flat-bottomed, for in travelling one had to pass over many shoals. I do not fancy an ordinary canvas collapsible boat would be much use. The shoals are, as a rule, covered with oysters, which, though excellent to eat, have extremely sharp shells. They play havoc with even a stout canoe.
Capturing a tarpon—though only a ten-pounder—on one of Farlow's light greenheart trout rods is a feat upon which I pride myself. According to Colonel Haldeman, of Louisville, Kentucky—whose contribution on tarpon fishing to the well-known volume, ' American Game Fish,' is most admirably done—small tarpon are but rarely taken. One day I had been for some hours trying with a phantom minnow in the Gordon River. Neither rod nor line was suitable for the task, and I had been cheerfully informed that spinning for young tarpon was hopeless work ; that one American gentleman, indeed, had been steadily essaying the feat for three seasons without result. However, I was weary of killing the various fish described at the end of this paper, and thirsted for something difficult.