The Garfish, often found swimming with the mackerel shoals, is one of the most curious fish of the sea. It is long, eel-shaped, with a beak almost like a snipe ; the lower jaw, if jaw it can be called, projecting ; the back a beautiful bluish-green, and the sides glistening with silver. This savage little fish, Belone vulgaris, is classed by naturalists in the same family (Scombresocidae) as the flying fish. Of names it has enough and to spare : long-nose, gorebill, sea-needle, mackerel-guide, needlefish, gar-pipe, horn-fish, guard-fish, green-back, and- green-bone. In Scotland they call it the sword-fish, the green-ben, and green-bane. On the east coast of Ireland it is called the horn-eel, mackerel scout, and spear ling.
Garfish favour cold and temperate rather than tropical waters, and are found all round the British and Irish coasts, being particularly abundant off Kent, Essex, and Cornwall. They are a fish of moderate size, occasionally but very rarely reaching a length of three feet. In some places they swim in shoals, but in others are found singly. A few are nearly always mixed up with the mackerel, whose advent they are supposed to herald. Through the cold weather they live in deep water, appearing on our coasts in spring.
There are many curious instances on record of these fish having so savagely darted at their prey as to transfix them on their long snout. Several mackerel have been picked up pierced by the upper jaw of a garfish, which in some cases had broken off. In the ' Zoologist' is an account of a salmon peal (by which, I take it, is meant the sea trout of Devonshire) having been attacked by a garfish. The long snout had passed completely through the thickest portion of the trout, which weighed nearly four pounds.
But sometimes the garfish itself is hunted. Mr. Dunn, of Mevagissey, tells a story of seeing one chased by a porpoise. For a hundred yards the fish and its pursuer rushed through the sea, the former continually throwing itself out of the water. When the garfish was almost overtaken, a projecting rock was providentially arrived at over which it leaped. The porpoise, on the other hand, ran its head against the stone, was more or less stunned, and gave up the pursuit. Garfish are great leapers, often springing high into the air ; and I have heard of their being caught by means of a net floated on the surface of the water. In the autumn large quantities are taken in the mackerel seines. As a rule these peculiar creatures are not specially fished for by sportsmen, but numbers are caught when whiffing for mackerel, and angling with drift lines for pollack, bass, etc. They sometimes give off a very peculiar smell when first brought into the boat, and their flesh does not the more commend itself to the epicure by reason of the peculiar green bones. I have heard people say they were better than mackerel, but that is a matter of opinion. Certainly they make very good baits cut up into strips.