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(10) Fishing [[48-51]]

[[48]] Those who are fond of fishing may sometimes derive much amusement from the possession of a stock of tackle suited to the occasion. In warm weather, especially towards the Line, when moderate weather and calms prevail, many sharks may be taken. The hook should be about a foot long in the shank (the other parts bearing a just proportion), which should be firmly attached to a stout piece of chain, from two to four feet in length, having at its other extremity a loop and swivel, to which the rope (such as is called inch and half rope, and ought to be full a hundred yards long) is tied; the bait, a piece of fat pork, of about three or four pounds weight.

The weight of the chain and hook will suffice to sink the bait to about thirty feet below the surface, where it will soon be discerned by the sharks, which generally keep under the vessel's bottom, or play around behind her at a considerable depth; though they will occasionally range along the ship's side, or bask under the stern, so as to be easily shot with a musquet-ball, or struck with a harpoon.

Even at the depth of fifty feet the shark may be distinguished as he approaches the bait, by a luminous appearance, extending in an oval form, in that direction in which he swims. He generally seizes the bait with avidity, turning on his side at the moment; without which he could not get it into his mouth, owing to the excessive length of his upper jaw. Soon as the bait is in his mouth, the fish, on feeling the resistance of the rope, makes a sudden plunge downward; at the same moment recovering his former position. The hook, being extremely sharp, rarely fails to pierce the jaw, when in an instant the whole length of line will be run out.

As no [[49]] human force could properly be relied on to check the fish's course, the end of the rope is either fastened to some timber-head, or to a tackle fall. The latter is preferable, because it adds to the length of the line, and does not check the fish so suddenly; otherwise the rope may be snapped, or the hook torn away from the shark's jaw. The quantity of heavy line, added to the weight of the hooks and chain, soon brings the fish under command, when he is towed up to the gang-way, and there, by means of a slip knot passed over his fins, hoisted into the waist.

Few persons will taste of a blue shark, it being considered as unwholesome; but of the brown shark, which rarely exceeds five feet in length (while the former has been known to measure near thirty), most of the seamen will solicit a steak. The average sizes of sharks may be from six to twelve feet in length. It is very common to collect a pailful of young ones, each about a foot long, that take refuge in the parent's jaw.

Behind the fins are usually several sucking-fishes, adhering to the shark's sides. These are supposed to live upon its blood; but some doubts may be entertained, at least whether that is their sole subsistence, since by means of a hook and line put out for ground fishes, sucking-fish have at times been caught, measuring rather more than two feet.

Sharks are in general attended by what are called pilot-fishes. These are beautifully striped blue and white, in form much resembling the chub, and from ten to fifteen inches in length. When the shark displays himself, the pilot-fishes are seen playing about his head and sides; but when the ship is going fast, and the shark keeps under the bottom, or stern, at a considerable depth, the pilot-fishes often rise to the surface, assembling in the eddy [[50]] about the stem-post; but they are seldom, if ever, enticed to touch a bait.

In the higher latitudes, the albacore, boneta, dolphin, &c. are often seen playing about a ship, in great numbers; sometimes for scores of miles, as though intent on keeping company. Porpoises are yet more familiar, and delight in preceding the ship, at a few yards distance; affording to the expert excellent opportunities for striking them with harpoons. The liver of a porpoise is esteemed by many to be as good as that of a pig; to which it bears some resemblance. The body of the fish is unpalatable.

The flesh of the dolphin is extremely dry, as is that of the boneta, which is commonly replete with small white animalculae, not unlike short fat maggots. The albacore is inconceivably rapacious; often springing several yards, out of the water after the flying-fishes, as they skim above the surface, sometimes for full two hundred yards. Their great enemy darts along under their course with incredible velocity, and rarely fails to make a prey of one or more, as they fall into the water in an exhausted state.

While bonetas and dolphins may be taken by almost any bait, the albacore can be rarely attracted by any device wherein there is not some resemblance to the flying-fish. Numbers are taken when the ship is going fast through the water, by securing a three-inch hook to a slip of bacon fat cut into the form of a fish, and further disguised by a long white feather taken from a goose's wing, and stuck on each side.

The line for such a purpose should be stout laid-cord; for though bonetas rarely exceed twenty, and dolphins forty, pounds, albacores have been often found to weigh from one to two hundred: nay, to three hundred weight. Their flesh may be compared to carrion; being coarse, tough, and very strong-tasted; [[51]] but though not pleasing to the human palate, it is a very choice bait, attracting all fishes of prey.

Albacores sometimes snap at the log, a small piece of triangular board loaded at one corner with lead, and fastened to a long line wound on a reel. The log, being lowered into the sea, will remain stationary; drawing the line off the reel in proportion to the velocity with which the ship is then passing through the water: the number of yards run off, while a minute glass is emptying, shows the number of knots (miles) sailed within the hour.

It is not uncommon, in the vicinity of islands, to see turtles lying on the surface of the sea, fast asleep. These may sometimes be taken by two or three careful men, in the jolly-boat, paddling her along with an oar out at her stern. The turtle should be secured by one of the crew dropping gently into the water, and swimming very cautiously till he can pass a slip-knot over the hind fin, generally called the fipper; the other end of the line being fast to some part of the boat. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((58)) Touching at Ascension on our way from India, for the express purpose of obtaining a supply of turtles, I had an opportunity of witnessing the facility with which they may be taken at certain seasons, when in the act of copulation; as happened while we were there, in January. The turtles floated in pairs, in a state approaching to lethargy; allowing our whale boats to run along-side of them, without, in general, being alarmed. The first object was to pass a boat- ((59)) hook over each shoulder of the male, to prevent his escape; for, on being touched, these invariably quitted their mates, and endeavored to strike downwards. The instant the boat-hooks were placed, their inverted points acting as curbs, a third hand dexterously passed the noose over the fipper, and left the turtle in [the] charge of a second or third boat, to which the other end of the noose line was fastened.

In that manner we took about a dozen one morning, in less than two hours; but were not equally successful in our operations on shore. There we hid ourselves, about night-fall, behind the masses of rock everywhere scattered on the beach, and, allowing the females to pass us, with the intention of depositing their eggs in the dry sand beyond the reach of the surf, endeavored to intercept them in their way back to the water. Not a doubt was entertained that we should turn them over by scores; but with the exception of one unfortunate female, which by chance ran headlong against a crag, our hopes proved to be visionary.

The awkward gait of these unwieldy animals, added to the clouds of light sand they threw up, completely defeated our most zealous exertions. We had recourse to our oars, placing them in the way of the turtle, and using them as levers wherewith to overturn the shuffling animals; but in every attempt the turtle only slipped a little to one side: therefore, ((60)) after breaking several oars, we found it expedient to desist.

While we were on shore, the gulls hovered about us like so many gnats; absolutely darkening the air, and perching familiarly on our heads and shoulders. These subsist chiefly on the shoals of mackerel cast ashore by every surf. I am confident that many a heave of the sea threw up a cart load of those fishes; some of which were drawn off by the next heave, but thousands lay along the beach [for] time enough to be carried off by the gulls. Sharks were to be seen in every direction, and of all sizes; the large ones generally swimming near the surface, with their bark-fins exposed to view, and the lesser ones at about two or three fathoms deep, on every side of the ship.


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