A book on sea fishing hardly seems complete without some mention of the remarkably ugly, voracious and nasty-looking creature termed by ichthyologists Lophius piscatorius, which consists mainly of an enormous head with a wide gaping mouth. Behind the head is a body of no consequence and a little tail. From the top of its head project waving filaments which, if naturalists err not, play an important part in providing it with food. Needless to say, a fish of this build is unable to give chase to any other fish that swims in the sea. As it must eat to live, it has a way of making for itself a depression in the sandy or muddy bottom by vigorous movements of its two powerful pectoral fins. There it rests as if dead, those tendrils from the top of its head, which are really elongated separated spines of the dorsal fin, playing backwards and forwards loosely with each movement of the water, and apparently dead and harmless. Various parts of the rugged and curiously marked body closely resemble common objects not exactly of the seashore, but of the marine pavement, and assist in the deception. On the end of each filament, which it waves with diligence on the approach of its prey, is a piece of fatally attractive shining skin. Sooner or later, little fish swim up to inspect the attractive bait, then wide opes the gaping mouth and the unfortunate ones disappear into that great maw.
I imagine, however, that the Anglerówhom I will rather call Monkfish to avoid confusionódoes not get a very satisfying meal by the both natural and artful means described. According to Couch, these fish sometimes come near to the surface. One laid hold of a hooked codfish which was being drawn up, and only released it on being struck by the fisherman. Sometimes they will endeavour to swallow cormorants and gulls, and one graceful sea bird succeeded in choking a monkfish three feet in length. Another fish absorbed a widgeon, but the bird was actually rescued alive. It would seem indeed, from the stories fishermen tell of these strange creatures, that monkfish are not particular. For instance, one swallowed the corks of a crab-pot line, which buoyed it up and led to its being captured. Another monkfish seized hold of the head of a mop which was being stirred about in the sea by some fishermen near Queensferry, and, getting its teeth entangled in the wool, was brought into the boat. There is another beautiful story told by a Mr. Todhunter. Seeing a monkfish in shallow water near Youghal, he placed the butt of a whip he was carrying near its mouth. The fish grabbed it, held on like a bulldog, and allowed itself to be pulled ashore.
Among other names which have been given to these monsters are frog-fish, toad-fish, sea-devil, nass-fish, wide-gab, friar, and briabot. It is surprising that there are not more of them in the sea, for they seem to be most prolific. From a female fish, 4 ft. 6 in. in length, were taken over a million and a half eggs. Devil-fish are fairly common off Cornwall and in the North Sea, and a few are caught every year on most parts of our coasts. I have accounted for one only, of no great size.
No one is likely to fish specially for a sea-devil, and I know of no special tackle or bait which I can conscientiously recommend. If experience should be our guide, we may with advantage use either a mop-head, the butt of a whip, or the corks of a crab-pot. On the whole, however, I should prefer a herring, pilchard, or mackerel on a large hook fished close to the bottom. Having caught your sea-devil, cut him open and see what he contains. This practice with many sea fish leads to most interesting discoveries.
The two Weevers, the Greater and the Viper Weever, respectively called Trachinus draco and Trachinus vipera, are only mentioned here as fish to be avoided rather than sought after, for they are armed with most dangerous spines on the back, which inflict wounds sometimes necessitating the amputation of a limb. At the same time, to give the sting-fish his due, the greater weever is good eating, possessing flesh both firm and sweet. The drawings of these fish will, I hope, serve to identify them. It is the small or viper weever which is the more dangerous. The spines at the corners of the gills and also those in the back fin nearest the head, are grooved and convey poison into wounds which they make. Even after the fish is dead pricks from these spines cause serious injury. The sea fisherman who hooks one of these fish or finds any in his net should have no difficulty in avoiding these spines. The risks run by bathers, and children who paddle without sand shoes, are far greater. According to Couch, the fish are well aware of the weapons they possess, and use them on the slightest provocation. That naturalist described how from time to time he threw salt water over a greater weever which had been caught and was lying at the bottom of the boat, with the object of keeping it alive, and irritated it by touching it with a stick. Whichever part of the body the stick touched, the weever unerringly struck it with its spine by bending the body and throwing its head back with a rapid jerk. One of the best remedies for the bites of these fish is the application of sweet oil, to which opium may be added to allay the pain. In Whitechapel the greater weevers are sold as food, and are there punningly called Spitalfields weavers. In France they are valued as food, for their flesh remains without taint for a considerable time after they have been killed.