Many ocean fishers favour some such ' fly ' as that described by Captain Howell, the size being chosen according to the weather and fish. Another excellent bait is a strip of parchment six or seven inches long, cut half an inch wide, one end being tightly fastened to the head of the hook, about a quarter of its length projecting beyond the bend. Parchment is a capital substance for the purpose ; very much akin to sole-skin, it gets soft and gelatinous after being used, and being tough will last for several days. Pork-skin is a favourite bait (see p. 91). It should be cut with a swallow tail.
Another essential is a very long handled gaff, for many a fish is lost in lifting it over the side. The gaff is for fish of medium size, and up to about sixty pounds. If much larger than this a single hook will tear away, unless it can be fixed just under the gills of the fish. Better is a very large double gaff, the hooks set rather close together. If the fish are very large, or if a gaff is wanting, they may be noosed after the fashion in which the Red Sea coryphene was treated at the opening of the chapter. But it is almost impossible to use a running bowline when going at any speed, say over seven knots, for the fish is very apt to spin round, causing the noose to foul the fishing line. With a gaff the fish are secured more speedily and surely.
The following measurements for a double-hook gaff are useful : Shank twelve inches long, flattened out to lie closely against the bamboo pole to which it is whipped. Points of hook three and a half inches apart, and distant from the shank three inches.
The dolphin's favourite food seems to be the curious, so called, flying fish, and it cannot be doubted that the closer these eccentric creatures can be imitated, the more fish will be caught.
No doubt any of the ordinary spinning baits would attract ocean fish, but they would have to be made enormously strong to bear the strain, particularly of albicore, which is the most sporting of ocean fishes.
Again and again beginners in this branch of sport get broken and are apt to attribute their loss of gear to sharks ; but it is generally believed that sharks will not take a bait passing through the water at a high rate of speed. The question of speed is, of course, of some importance. Occasionally fish are caught when the vessel is only going three and a half miles an hour. Lieutenant Harston Eagles, of H.M.S. Tyne, had some excellent fishing under sail off the east coast of Africa while sailing at that rate, catching tunny up to 45 lbs., large barracuda, and a purple-finned sailor swordfish of 125 lbs.
But to revert to the question of speed. From eight to twelve knots appears to be the most useful pace for our purpose. Certainly, these large sea fish have no difficulty in seizing the bait even should the vessel be going faster, for every one who has made a voyage will remember how the dolphins, at any rate, may be seen playing round the vessel, keeping up with her without any apparent effort. Often large fish fifty or sixty yards away will come dashing after the fragment of white bunting and lay hold. Captain Howell's largest fish, an albicore of 148 lbs., was caught while the vessel was steaming fourteen knots an hour through the Indian Ocean.
With regard to the weather, calms and storms are almost equally bad ; though fish may be sometimes taken in half a gale. Best of all is dull, showery weather with a lumpy sea ; but good sport is often enjoyed on fine days when there are a few clouds about and a nice breeze. The best season for ocean fishing depends in a great measure on the locality. Between Gibraltar and Port Said, where dolphins and bonito are fairly abundant, the fishing is indifferent during the winter months, and is at its best from the middle of July to the end of September, provided the weather is suitable ; but in warmer latitudes there is plenty of fishing all through the winter. The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are full of fish from October to June.
It is so unlikely that anybody would charter a vessel for the express purpose of carrying on this branch of sea fishing, that it seems hardly necessary to mention any particular fishing grounds. The sport is rather one of the incidental amusements of a voyage. Fish are found anywhere. Between Gibraltar and India or China, in the Pacific, off the western coast of North and South America, from San Francisco to Chili ; and near La Plata Isle, off Jamaica, the fishing is particularly good. Sport has also been obtained on the east coast of Africa, and very large tunny are caught near the Cape de Verde Islands. In fact, in nearly all the warmer portions of the watery world, between 250 N. and 250 S., great surface-feeding fish are to be found.
Records of sport enjoyed by ocean sea-fishers are very interesting, and a few may be quoted to give a more or less accurate idea of the success attending the use of the methods described. One of the best baskets of fish ever made in this way consisted of fourteen dolphins weighing 186 lbs., which were caught north of Socotra by Brigade-Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel Smith. The same gentleman, when in a vessel four days off Colombo, was hauling in a fish which appeared to be seven feet long, when the hook broke. Lieutenant Harston Eagles, whom I have already mentioned, hooked nineteen fish on a voyage from England to Bombay without bringing one on board ; but on the homeward journey caught tunny, barracuda, and other fish, weighing 54 lbs., 33 lbs., 23 lbs., 18 lbs., 13 lbs., 11 lbs., and 10 lbs. respectively, giving an average of 23 lbs. On another voyage he did far better than this, catching sixty-six fish, which weighed 2,084 lbs., or an average of 31.5 lbs., the largest being a tunny of 150 lbs.
Very often two out of three fish hooked were lost. Mr. G. G. Borrett, Surgeon R.N., who was fishing with Lieutenant-Commander E. Hunter-Blair, soon after crossing the equator in the Atlantic, lat. 7 N., long. 7 W., caught a tunny of 180 lbs., and an hour or two later another nearly as large. Off the Cape de Verde Islands he secured tunny of 100 lbs., and an albicore of 43 lbs. Among the many notable fish caught by Captain Howell was the large albicore already mentioned, and another of 110 lbs. He often secured two hundredweight of fish in a day. Most of his largest specimens were taken between Aden and Zanzibar.