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Title: The Giant Fish of Florida
Author: Turner-Turner, J.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           THE GIANT FISH OF
                                FLORIDA

                  [Illustration: A WHIP RAY LEAPING.]



                            THE GIANT FISH

                                  OF

                                FLORIDA


                                  BY
                           J. TURNER-TURNER


                         WITH 48 ILLUSTRATIONS


                                LONDON
                       C. ARTHUR PEARSON LIMITED
                PHILADELPHIA: J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
                                 1902



PREFACE


The sea has its big game as well as the land, and there are some of
us--the name of Mr. W. H. Grenfell, M.P., at once occurs in this
connection--who have derived much sport from its pursuit. Whether, as
Mr. Grenfell and others would seem to indicate, the tunny of the
Mediterranean, which is identical with the tuna of American waters, may
yet be recognised as a sporting fish by British anglers has to be seen;
meanwhile the coast of America, and more particularly that of Florida
and Mexico, is the recognised resort of those who angle for the biggest
that the sea has to give.

In this volume I have endeavoured to lay before fellow sportsmen at home
some of the charms of fishing for tarpon and the other rangers of the
Gulf. The tarpon, of course, stands first; indeed, there are many
visitors to those parts who will fish for nothing else, thus losing many
excellent opportunities of sport on days that are too rough for them to
get out on the tarpon grounds. No attempt has been made at anything in
the nature of an exhaustive list of the sea fish of Florida, which might
easily have been gathered from one or other of the American standard
works on the subject, such as the invaluable volumes by Jordan and
Evermann, published under the auspices of the United States National
Museum. Only fish that are likely to attract the notice of the angler
have been figured and briefly described, and this from the sporting
rather than from the natural-history point of view. Nor have I devoted
much space to the remaining fauna of the coast and islands; although a
few conspicuous birds like the cormorant and pelican, and an occasional
reptile, such as the turtle and alligator, the pursuit of which may pass
an otherwise wasted hour, have claimed a place in these notes.

Much interest attaches to the realistic photographs with which these
pages are illustrated. One of the first anglers in this country to
inspect them was Mr. F. G. Aflalo, a fishing enthusiast to whom I am
indebted in no small measure for the final arrangement of my notes, and
he at once pronounced them to be certainly the most remarkable in their
own way that had ever passed through his hands. They are all from the
natural (not mounted) fish, and the effects were obtained by a simple,
though careful, arrangement of pegs and sheeting. I think that I may
claim for them a correctness that, while combining the impressions of
both, could never have been obtained by either the brush or camera
unaided. My thanks are also due to Professor George A. Boulenger, who,
with Mr. Aflalo, identified as far as possible the subjects of my
photographs.

There are but one or two really successful photographers of living fish
under water, and these artists must obviously confine their efforts to
comparatively small fish in the confinement of aquarium tanks. Now, a
considerable observation of fish at home and abroad under every variety
of conditions has persuaded me (though I hardly expect the statement to
pass unchallenged) that the narrow confines of the aquarium tank tend to
cramped and unnatural attitudes in the subjects; and this contention
seems to me abundantly substantiated by a careful comparison of the
otherwise excellent photographs from time to time published, and the
best studies of the best fish painters. My own system of illustration
combines the two, and in great measure, I venture to think, obviates
many of the faults of both. Constant observation of the fish in their
natural habitat impresses on me their every attitude, and, while
unfortunately not possessed of the necessary talent to transfer these
groups to canvas, there is no insuperable difficulty in the way of
pegging the various subjects in just the positions they assumed before
my eyes an hour or two earlier. The camera does the rest.

Tarpon fishing is still in its infancy. New methods and grounds will be
discovered. Meanwhile, it is a congenial task to tell the story of the
big fish of Florida seas, not from hearsay or printed reports, but from
personal and vivid experience.

J. T. T.

_Cavalry Club, Christmas, 1901._



CONTENTS


PREFACE.

CHAPTER I.--THE GIANT TARPON.

 “     II.--AMONG THE ALLIGATORS.

 “    III.--HOW TO CATCH TARPON.

 “     IV.--A LIVELY MORNING IN THE PASS.

 “      V.--LADIES WHO LOVE THE SPORT.

 “     VI.--ENORMOUS RAYS OR DEVIL-FISH.

 “    VII.--HARPOONING A MONSTER.

 “   VIII.--THE LOGGERHEAD TURTLE.

 “     IX.--CATFISH AS SCAVENGERS.

 “      X.--BONY FISH--JACK--GARFISH--JEWFISH--SQUEATEAGUE--AND
            BASS.

 “     XI.--SPOTTED EELS--CRAB-EATERS--SURF-WHITING--MOONFISH--LEATHER
            JACKETS--TRIGGER-FISH--AND MULLET.

 “    XII.--STRIPED MULLET--SHARKS--BIRD LIFE.

INDEX.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                   PAGE.

1. A WHIP RAY LEAPING                                      _Frontispiece_

2. THE TARPON                                                         23

3. THE FLOATING HOTEL                                                 27

4. INTERIOR OF AN ALLIGATOR ISLAND                                    31

5. THE ALLIGATOR MADE STRAIGHT FOR THE OPEN SEA                       37

6. A TARPON GUIDE                                                     45

7. A GOOD CATCH OF TARPON FOR A LADY                                  56

8. A HOOKED PIECE OF CORAL WHICH WAS MISTAKEN FOR A JEWFISH           57

9. KINGFISH ACCIDENTALLY FOUL-HOOKED                                  62

10. WITH LIGHTNING SPEED THE KINGFISH CHASED THE LIVELY
SKIPJACK                                                              63

11. THE KINGFISH LEAPT SOME TWENTY FEET INTO THE AIR                  67

12. A BIG JEWFISH FOR A WOMAN TO LAND                                 76

13. JEWFISH WITH SUCKER CLINGING TO IT                                77

14. A VANQUISHED WHIP RAY                                             82

15. THE WHIP RAY TURNED HELPLESSLY ON ITS BACK                        83

16. THE HOOKED TARPON FOLLOWED THE BOAT TOWARDS SHORE                 83

17. THE CREWS OF SIX BOATS TOWING A HARPOONED WHIP RAY                83

18. A STRANDED WHIP RAY                                               95

19. HARPOONED DEVIL-FISH IN SHALLOW WATER                            102

20. HARPOONED DEVIL-FISH WITH JAWS PROPPED OPEN                      103

21. A TURTLE SWIMMING                                                109

22. HARPOONING A TURTLE                                              114

23. PLAYING A TURTLE                                                 115

24. HOISTING A TURTLE ON BOARD                                       119

25. DEAD GROUPER BEING DEVOURED BY CATFISH AND BREAM                 127

26. GAFF TOPSAIL CATFISH AND YOUNG HAMMERHEAD SHARK                  131

27. THE SHEEPSHEAD                                                   135

28. TOAD FISH WATCHING BONY FISH AS THEY LEAP                        139

29. GARFISH PURSUED BY A KINGFISH                                    143

30. A MARMORATUS LYING MOTIONLESS                                    146

31. A CARANX HIPPOS                                                  147

32. THE MIGHTY PERCH AND HIS DEEP-WATER COMPANION, THE
RED GROUPER                                                          149

33. PIECE OF SNAKE-LIKE CONCH SPAWN, AND SEA TROUT                   156

34. CHANNEL BASS AND RED GROUPER                                     157

35. CURIOUS, SNAKE-LIKE EEL                                          163

36. THE COBIA, OR CRAB EATER                                         168

37. SURF WHITING AND MANGO SNAPPER                                   169

38. A MOON FISH                                                      174

39. A LEATHER JACKET                                                 175

40. THE TRIGGER FISH AND THE ANGEL FISH                              180

41. SILVER MULLET                                                    181

42. MULLET LEAPING                                                   187

43. CAPTURED SAWFISH WITH SUCKER                                     192

44. HAMMERHEAD SHARK                                                 193

45. HOOKED SHARK SEIZED BY ANOTHER                                   193

46. EXTRACTING A FIRMLY EMBEDDED HOOK FROM A SHARK                   198

47. ALL HANDS GIVE THE SHARK A MIGHTY HEAVE ASHORE                   199

48. LEOPARD SHARK                                                    203



CHAPTER I

The Giant Tarpon



CHAPTER I

THE GIANT TARPON


In the old country the sport of sea-fishing, though yearly more popular
with its own votaries, can never oust the sport on inland waters, until
at any rate these are fished out. Always excepting sharks as vermin,
there is no British sea fish so mighty as the salmon, or so game as the
trout. American waters, however, provide more than one salt-water giant
calculated to test, if not, perhaps, the finest skill, yet certainly the
greatest endurance that man is likely to bring to its capture. Of these,
the big game of the Atlantic, the tarpon stands easily first.

Better than any detailed description of the fish and dentition, with
measurements, is its picture to be found in this volume. Suffice it to
say that the tarpon is to all outward appearance, bar the long dorsal
fin ray, a gigantic herring, with scales four inches in diameter. It
may weigh over two hundred pounds, and the length of such a monster
would be about seven feet. The qualities that recommend the tarpon to
the sportsman are--first, its power of leaping clear of the water, which
lends excitement to its pursuit, since it may, and not infrequently
does, land in your boat; and further, its mighty strength, endurance,
and cunning, which combine to render it a worthy antagonist. It will,
very often, indeed, completely tire out an angler, who then hands the
rod to his guide, leaving him to finish off the half-exhausted fish, an
alliance that, however unsporting it may seem to the hypercritical, may
be absolutely necessary if the fish, or, indeed, the tackle, is to be
saved. Not that the fish, except as a trophy, is of much use when
gaffed. As food it is of little worth, and it is quite a pity that the
pioneers in tarpon fishing should have thought it necessary to gaff
through the gills and kill every fish, and leave it dead on the
foreshore. Nowadays a more economic and sporting spirit prevails, and
fish are often landed without being gaffed at all, and then allowed to
go free.

Attempts have from time to time been made to compare tarpon and salmon
fishing, to the advantage of one or the other, but the fact is that no
such comparison is possible. As well compare shooting trap pigeons and
rocketing pheasants. The salmon calls for skill, experience, and light
tackle; the

[Illustration: A TARPON SEIZING A BAIT OF MULLET.]

tarpon requires no skill and no experience, but the very strongest of
tackle. It also taxes the angler’s strength and staying power to an
extent that would, save in very exceptional circumstances, be out of the
question in salmon fishing. And why, after all, any call for these
eternal comparisons? To every country and season and income their fish;
and those who have the opportunities may without difficulty kill their
Florida tarpon and their Highland salmon in the same summer. Nor is the
tarpon, though first, the only fish worth catching in those waters, and
I have purposely devoted a page here and there to the sport obtainable
with smaller species, and even with the harpoon.

The best time of tide for sea-fishing at Boca Grand is slack water, and
the interval immediately before and after it. A good deal depends on the
quarter of the moon and direction of the wind, for it is these that
regulate the duration of a fishing-tide. The tides are erratic in those
seas; at times it is possible to fish for three hours on end, while on
other days no sooner are you fairly under way than the tide becomes too
strong, and there is nothing for it but to reel up and go ashore. Much
the same difference is, of course, discernible in sea-fishing at home
during a week of spring or neap tides, but there is much greater
irregularity on the Florida coast.

Tarpon fishing by night is exciting work, somewhat too exciting for many
people. The fish, however, bite with far more certainty than by day,
particularly when the moon is shining. There is an element of danger
about this night-fishing, and more than one nervous system has been
shattered by a porpoise jumping into a boat; indeed, Mr. Otis Mygatt,
one of the most celebrated of tarpon-fishermen, suffered severely from
this startling intrusion.

It is impossible to know how far one is drifting towards the open sea,
and on all sides are heard the plunges of mighty fish, which are far
more likely to land in the boat than during the day. A great tarpon may
seize the bait and get round behind the angler, to his utter confusion.
Even if the shore is reached in time, there is considerable difficulty
and excitement in landing a tarpon on a dark night. Towards the end of
May those who are not strong enough to land their tarpon without delay
lose them to the sharks. As many as five of these monsters will attack a
hooked tarpon at once, and on one occasion I remember four of them while
thus engaged attacking a fifth, and in a few moments not a shred of that
fifth shark remained. The angler recovered only the head of the tarpon.
It is remarkable, seeing the position of the shark’s mouth, what rapid
bites he can take at a struggling tarpon, just as we should take the
first bite of a sandwich. It is no bad plan to carry a rifle in the boat
so late in the season. It will often keep off sharks and save a good
fish.

A few words must now be said as to the means of reaching Boca Grand
Pass, the most fashionable tarpon

[Illustration: THE FLOATING HOTEL.]

ground of to-day, and as to the accommodation to be had there. There
seems to be a mistaken idea that tarpon fishing is an inordinately
costly recreation; but this cannot be upheld when it is remembered that
the total expenses on the spot amount to little more than thirty
shillings a day, including hotel, board and lodging, guide, boat, bait,
and guide’s keep, while the return fare, with forty hours train and four
hours boat after reaching New York, is not more than £32 out and home.

The Boca Grand Pass was not always the headquarters of tarpon trolling,
for this modern method of fishing was first successfully practised some
few years ago in the Captiva Pass. There is also good tarpon fishing in
Aransas Pass, Mexico, where living and other expenses are much less than
at Boca Grand, but the fish run smaller. In 1901 Hughes’ Floating Hotel
was the only accommodation available, with the exception of hired
yachts, and, though most comfortable in every way, had certain
disadvantages arising out of the spot in which it was moored. There was
also, however, to be shortly completed on Museppa Island, about three
miles from Boca Grand Pass, a well-appointed hotel, with every modern
comfort, including a steamer and launches to convey fishers to and from
the Pass. Guides, bait, a photographing room, and shark-proof bathing
establishment were among the attractions to be anticipated at this hotel
for the next fishing season.

Tackle for tarpon fishing should, for the present at any rate, be bought
of Vom Hofe, of New York. English tackle makers have the matter in view,
but it is to be questioned whether the lower prices at which they will
one of these days be able to turn out equally good stuff will not be
more than neutralised by the excessive duties. The rods cost about £3
each, and the reels about £7. Money for use during the trip should be
sent to the bank at Punta Gorda, a little town with few resources beyond
its fashionable hotel.

[Illustration: INTERIOR OF AN ALLIGATOR ISLAND. THE HAUNT OF THE
RATTLESNAKE, GOPHER, TORTOISE, AND RACCOON.]



CHAPTER II

Among the Alligators



CHAPTER II

AMONG THE ALLIGATORS


The scenery of that coast will not be found prepossessing; but some of
the islands, though almost repellent from without, with their unvarying
fringe of oyster-covered mangrove growth depending in the water, are
really beautiful in the interior, where their vegetation presents a
luxuriant medley of palms, yucca, cactus, indiarubber trees, and all the
wealth of festooned creepers so characteristic of the sub-tropical
forest. There are long avenues of cabbage palm, that curious proof of
human patience, which leads men willingly to fell a plant fourteen
inches thick for the sake of a nut-like heart measuring six inches by
three. Many of the pools and swamps in the interior are still the haunts
of alligators, though the ranks of those hideous reptiles have been
greatly thinned by the professional skin hunters.

A ’gator hunt is not bad fun on an off day, even though the twelve-foot
veterans are now few and far between. If pursued on the shore, the
alligator will almost certainly make good its escape into the sea,
though how it fares with the ever-attendant sharks has not yet been
determined. The first requisite for an alligator hunt inland is to
enlist the services of a professional hunter, which your guide can
easily do, though the only obvious qualification of that official seems
to lie in the sanguine but unrealisable assurance that he gives, that
every submerged cave contains a quarry. The only equipment for this
“sport” is a strong gaff and a fourteen-foot sprit from the boat. You
then pick your way through tangled undergrowth, disturbing many a
moccasin snake that glides away on your approach.

At every likely puddle the professional one holds his nose and emits a
series of fearful grunts, with the object of attracting the wayward
reptile. As this expert trick usually fails, the only plan is to make
fast the gaff to the sprit, and carefully probe every hole and cave,
exploring crevices in the dry earth that look no bigger than large
rabbit earths. At length, if success is to be yours, the gaff will be
seized in the jaws of the infuriated sleeper, which may then be gaffed
anywhere near the head and hauled from his lair. On being brought forth
into the daylight, he opens his jaws to their full extent and grunts
loudly, but seems a harmless, torpid creature enough, though it is
prudent to keep clear of his tail, which

[Illustration: THE ALLIGATOR MADE STRAIGHT FOR THE OPEN SEA.]

can, with little apparent effort, whisk a man off his legs; and of the
jaws, which then snap round unpleasantly near the other end.

It would be folly to class this pastime as sport, for it is merely a
novel experience; but a somewhat more sporting method, where alligators
are sufficiently plentiful, is to shoot them with a rifle at night.
Professional hunters take only the underside of the skin, which is worth
just twenty-five cents to them. There is one alligator story that every
visitor to Boca Grand is sure to hear. A professional hunter was on one
occasion engaged to find sport for a man who wanted an easy kill without
adventuring his person among the parasites of the bush, and they
returned with a dead alligator within half an hour. It afterwards
transpired from an unknown source that the hunter had walked with his
employer to a small pond a few hundred yards distant, and there made
strange noises through his nose, and told the other to fire in a certain
direction. The sportsman fired at quite another spot, being somewhat
excited; but that made no difference, for the hunter rushed in knee-deep
and dragged forth a fine dead alligator. There was no mark of any wound
on its hide, but the man told us that it had been killed by the
concussion. No one else said anything. Such recreation, however, is
appropriate only to days on which sea-fishing is impracticable, and I
now come to the main business of my notes, the capture of tarpon by the
modern method of trolling.



CHAPTER III

How to Catch Tarpon



CHAPTER III

HOW TO CATCH TARPON


Have I sufficiently introduced the tarpon itself? I hope so. The fish
shown in the frontispiece was caught in March, and was therefore in poor
condition. They improve rapidly towards the end of April, and are heavy
with spawn late in May. Strips of mullet--four cut from the white belly
of each--are the orthodox bait for tarpon, yet an autopsy will reveal
only an occasional fish, small crabs being by far the more usual food.
When a tarpon is seen rising slowly, head and tail like a salmon, it may
be regarded as on its way to the bottom to feed, its movements when
routing among the rocks and weeds being notified by the string of
bubbles that rise to the surface, much like the otter’s chain.

In Boca Grand the tarpon is fished for close to the bottom, but
elsewhere it is sometimes caught near the surface. When actually
rolling and playing on the waters the fish are rarely caught, and where
they congregate in a strong tide and in shallows they are most difficult
to hook--not more than one fish being on the average caught out of four
or more strikes. When a hooked tarpon does not break water, a
comparatively rare occurrence, he may be regarded as a heavy fish. Once
the life is out of the tarpon, he is of little use, unless it be to
furnish a trophy for exhibition to admiring friends at home, who may
like to see what America can raise in the herring line. Yet probably
this universal neglect is due to the abundance of other more excellent
food-fish in those waters rather than to inherent unfitness, for its
flesh is dark, firm, and meaty.

Not the least important factor in success is a good guide. These men are
quite characters in their way, and never speak of their master as having
caught or lost a fish: with them it is always “I did this or that,” and
in truth their experience and skill mean so very much that this egotism
is not altogether unpardonable. They are for the most part civil and
obliging fellows, particularly the niggers, but there are, of course,
exceptions, and these the sportsman should, for the public good, never
hesitate to get rid of.

At the same time a little consideration is due to the guides themselves,
and if they are worked all day, they should be allowed to rest at night.
Quite apart from their carefully acquired knowledge, their duties are by
no means light.

[Illustration: A TARPON GUIDE.]

They have to be at their employers’ beck and call at all hours of the
day and night, and to help him get sport in a willing and efficient
manner. During the fishing they have to exercise great care in
manœuvring the boat, so as to keep a tight line when it is impossible to
reel in fast enough. They must also be always on the lookout for moving
tarpon, and they must, above all, have an unfailing supply of fresh and
well-cut baits. All said and done, the daily wage of less than a
sovereign for the guide and boat is well earned.

Tarpon fishing has one feature unique in angling annals; it is a social
gathering, and not by any means a solitary sport. Whether the undoubted
charm of this distinction lies in the inherent gregariousness, often
undiscovered, in the angler’s bosom, or rather perhaps in the rare
pleasure of seeing one’s friends in all manner of difficulties, it is
quite certain that tarpon fishing would be far less popular under other
conditions. As it is, where the fish are seen on the move, there must
every one go, and twenty or thirty boats will soon be clustered with no
more than twenty yards between each.

An element of excitement is also imported by the continual apparition of
great fish leaping high in the air, falling into boats and jeopardising
life and limb, for it is a poor choice whether you will have 150 lb. of
lively fish dropped on the top of your skull, or whether you will rather
have it fair in the side, with the risk of being knocked overboard to
the sharks.

There will no doubt be disparaging anglers who despair of tarpon fishing
as a sport when they read my frank admission that it calls for little
special knowledge beyond a useful husbanding of one’s strength that can
be acquired only with practice. At the same time, attention to the
business in hand will often save many little inconveniences, such as
getting your finger broken by the reel handle, or cut through by
quick-running slack line.

In thus discounting the skill at present necessary to the killing of
tarpon, I do not overlook the fact that this state of things will not in
all probability continue indefinitely, since there are already signs
that the tarpon may become both scarcer and better educated as the sport
gains more adherents; nor is it other than probable that we do not yet
know the best methods of catching this splendid fish. In Boca Grand
Pass, for instance, we fish for tarpon with a strip of mullet used close
to the bottom. In other places where the sport is followed they use a
whole mullet near the surface. The probability is that we know no more
of the life history and habits of the tarpon than our fathers knew of
the salmon forty years ago. It is when greater art is called for in the
capture of the scarcer and more wary fish that the more intelligent
guides and sportsmen will inevitably score in a measure that, it must be
confessed, is not always the reward of superior intelligence to-day.

As to season, the most agreeable time for tarpon fishing is undoubtedly
from the second week in April until the end of May, or as much longer,
for the matter of that, as the mosquitoes are graciously pleased to let
you bide in peace. Still-fishing, the old-fashioned method of angling,
is practised under the lea of some islands only on days that do not
permit of your getting out into the Pass. It bears considerable
resemblance to some ways of sea-fishing at home, and consists in
anchoring the boat, baiting and throwing out a gorge-hook, and then
sitting down to wait for a bite. As often as not the bite never comes;
as often as not, when it does, the fish proves to be a shore-haunting
shark.



CHAPTER IV

A Lively Morning in the Pass



CHAPTER IV

A LIVELY MORNING IN THE PASS


I will now endeavour to describe a typical morning’s tarpon fishing in
the Pass, and one such morning will, with varying results, be found much
as another. The tides of Boca Grand are erratic, yet the guides must
have an accurate knowledge of their vagaries, since on them depends the
duration of the fishing-time. Only in slack water can tarpon be fished
for with any comfort. The tide is, in fact, slacking, as four and twenty
boats drift rapidly down through the Pass and out towards the Gulf, to
row back close in shore and out of the current, and repeat the process.

Presently, as the tide is all but done, some one gets a strike; up comes
a hundred-pounder a second or two later, eight feet in the air, shaking
his head in fury until his gills rattle loudly, then, with a plainly
audible grunt, shaking free first the leads, then the bait, and finally
the hook, all in about a second of time. This performance, however
disturbing to the novice, barely attracts the notice of the old hand,
for he is well accustomed to such treatment, and does not regard his
hook as fast until the fish has made its second jump in vain. Still, the
sight of the fish acts like a magnet on the other boats, which are now
being rowed towards the favoured spot with all the strength of their
guides, who well know that, like most of the herring tribe, tarpon feed
in shoals.

And now I see that the lady-angler who yesterday landed four tarpon, is
fast into another. Up it comes and dashes straight into old “Orange
Blossom’s” boat, all but knocking the old man overboard, and wetting him
through and leaving abundance of slime and scales on his coat; then,
with a couple of kicks that break an oar and knock a crack in the boat,
the tarpon flounders over the side. She must have lost it! No; it is
still on, and there is no doubt about its being well hooked. The guide
is now making frantic efforts to get his boat out of the press and
towards the shore.

Meanwhile there have been two other strikes; one of the fish got away at
the first jump, the other is playing the deuce all round, and now it is
steering straight for “Dibbler’s” boat. “Reel up!” yells the guide, but
that is more than “Dibbler” can do, for is he not fast in his customary
jewfish? About three of these great fish “Dibbler” hooks every day, and
always in the same spot, losing them all with unfailing regularity
through

[Illustration: A GOOD CATCH OF TARPON FOR A LADY.]

[Illustration: A HOOKED PIECE OF CORAL WHICH WAS MISTAKEN FOR A
JEWFISH.]

breakage. It is futile to try and persuade him that just at that spot
the rock rises about fifteen feet higher than on the rest of the reef:
nothing will induce him to keep clear of the rock, and he has his daily
exciting struggles with his impassive and unmoved antagonists.

“Keep away!” he shouts, now “I am going to land this jewfish, whatever
happens!” Yet who can keep a hooked tarpon clear of a given spot?
Already the lady’s tarpon has fouled poor “Dibbler’s” line, and he, all
unconscious, and with a radiant face that beams with anticipation,
shouts out to us the inspiring intelligence that he is moving it at
last, and will certainly land the record jewfish very shortly. Alas! the
tarpon soon cuts through his frayed line, leaving him to float
disconsolately onward and reel in, bemoaning the loss of yet another
jewfish, and just as he was getting the best of it too!

Sometimes one of the lumps of coral is detached, and the novice, and on
occasion even the old hand, will play it for the best part of an hour,
for it may easily be mistaken for a jewfish, a sulky monster that may
weigh up to 300 lb. The deceptive effect is heightened by the drifting
of the boat, and altogether there is much excuse for the error.

It is wonderful, too, how deceptive some of the bolder biting fishes
are. I recollect on one occasion seeing a novice strike, as he thought,
a tarpon, throw himself backwards and play it as he supposed right; his
guide, who also seemed to think it was a tarpon, manœuvred in the
orthodox way, and presently a pound-grouper flew into the boat!

There have now been some seven strikes, with only two tarpon landed, and
sport is somewhat slack. A fair angler carelessly trailing her bait over
the side is suddenly startled by the magnificent leap of a thirty-pound
kingfish, a mighty mackerel, which all but wrenches the rod from her
hands. Away it dashes, taking out line at an appalling pace, foul-hooked
in the eye, but unable to free itself, and at last duly brought to gaff.
What a handsome fish! Particularly noticeable are the knife-edged,
conical teeth, that can cut baits just below the hook as with scissors,
and the small proportion of its fin to its swimming power.

The kingfish is one of the swiftest swimmers in those seas, and the
Spaniards recognise this by calling it “cavalla,” or the horse. I have
shown two figures of kingfish, the one chasing a skipjack, its favourite
food, below the surface, the other leaping in the air and throwing up a
newly-hunted skipjack, an almost invariable habit. Indeed, a kingfish
breaking water always appears to have a skipjack in readiness to throw
up, and this, its next meal, accompanies it for about a third of its
flight. Although the skipjack appears to be knocked out of the water by
the kingfish, and sometimes shows bleeding rents in its sides, it may be
that the leap is a voluntary one to avoid capture, for it is

[Illustration: A KING ACCIDENTALLY FOUL-HOOKED.]

[Illustration: WITH LIGHTNING SPEED THE KING FISH CHASED THE LIVELY
SKIPJACK.]

difficult to imagine the object of the kingfish in throwing its prey
into the air. These skipjacks often skip into boats, and exceedingly
beautiful little fish they are, with the steely blue sheen on their
burnished silver coats, and their amber fins and sharply-forked tail.
The damaged tail-fin of the swimming kingfish figured opposite struck me
the moment I caught it, and I came to the conclusion at the time that
the tail-fin had been bitten by a prowling shark that the kingfish was,
thanks to its lightning speed, able to baulk of a more substantial meal.
Of the sharks that infest this coast I shall have something to say later
on. They are numerous and ravenous, and spare nothing, great or small.

And now the tarpon are biting again. There are two, three, four strikes;
three fish have jumped, two are fairly hooked. The excitement grows.

“Hi, you, sir! reel up there. Can’t you see you have fouled that lady’s
line? Cut your line--tell you you have no fish on at all--just cut your
line!”

“Pull like hell!” shouts some one to his guide, as his tarpon rushes in
towards him.

“Pick up that chair, Bill,” cries the guide, a minute later. “My gent’s
fallen out--got to tow him ashore. There goes a rod broken at the butt.”

“Lend us an oar, Sam; mine’s smashed.”

“Come and get it yourself,” sings out the courteous Sam.

“Can’t; got a fish on.”

“Look out! There’s a shark after your tarpon. Where’s your gun?”

“Now, then, you there; where are you shooting?”

And so on, and so on. Six mad tarpon, six mad fishers, six mad guides,
and six quite unmanageable boats dashing about in confusion among near a
score of others. This it is that makes tarpon fishing so fascinating
once you get the true spirit of the thing. In those two hours that we
have been out just nineteen fish were landed out of fifty or sixty
strikes, and more than one boat never got a touch.

As soon as the tide runs too strong boat after boat is pulled ashore,
and every one seeks a shady nook for luncheon, generally under the
lighthouse. Here in the cool we munch our sandwiches and talk tarpon,
every other subject being tabooed at Boca Grand. And how wonderfully has
that big fish of yesterday increased in the night! It was really a fine
fish, scaling, as a matter of fact, 171 lb., and needed no editing. Yet
the man who weighed it called 181 lb. The fortunate angler added a
matter of 10 lb. for loss of weight in transport to the scales. This
somewhat generous allowance for wear and tear brought its already
respectable weight up to 191 lb. That was last night. To-day he speaks
of it as “close on 200 lb.,” and we can infer what that will mean as
soon as he gets back home.

Then, as to its measurements, he left it hanging out last night, and
measured it alone this morning. It hung by one

[Illustration: THE KING FISH LEAPT SOME 20 FEET INTO THE AIR, AND UP
WITH HIM CAME A SKIPJACK DEEPLY GASHED ALONG THE SIDE.]

jaw, and its own weight must have stretched it by at least three inches.
He is not, however, content with measuring it with the mouth open; he
must needs add another four inches “for luck.” This is only a fair
example of the manufacture of long and heavy fish, and a little study of
such cases will go far to explain not merely the extraordinary shrinkage
in the hands of the taxidermist, but also the otherwise incomprehensible
fact of some sportsmen getting so large a percentage of the heavy fish,
while others score only the average.



CHAPTER V

Ladies Who Love the Sport



CHAPTER V

LADIES WHO LOVE THE SPORT


There are generally some ladies in the company, indeed the gentler sex
seems to have taken to tarpon fishing to an extent quite unforeseen when
first men introduced the sport. It is wonderful, too, how ladies manage
to hold on to these mighty fish, and to husband their strength, the
department in which, in their excitement, they might reasonably be
expected to fail. I have already mentioned the feat of the lady who
killed her four tarpon in one morning. Considering that these fish
weighed close on 100 lb. apiece, this was no mean achievement. This same
woman, while beaching one of her first heavy fish early in the season,
fell backwards over a few straws. She was too exhausted to stand upright
again for some moments, but so excited was her imagination that she was
firmly persuaded, until convinced by the evidence of her own eyes, that
she had fallen over a log.

There were many other successful lady anglers. One of these caught and
landed a jewfish scaling 137 lb., and this must have called for all her
strength, for these jewfish have enormous power of resistance so long as
they sulk at the bottom, which they do as if they were rocks. I have
watched a man fighting with a 350-lb. jewfish, which he eventually
succeeded in killing, though not without a severe tussle, which taxed
his patience and his tackle in no small degree.

For a long time we thought he was playing a rock, after the manner dear
to “Dibbler,” so little did the object in which the hook was fast seem
to yield to his persuasions, and it was only the fact of his being too
old a hand to be taken in by any such makebelieve that convinced us that
big game was really in question. For a good twenty minutes hard pulling
he cannot have moved that jewfish through more than fourteen feet of
water, and all his labour would seem to be undone next moment, for the
monster simply sinks to the bottom again and is doubtless trying to cut
his line against some sharp coral edge. Yet his skill and patience have
not in fact been thrown away, for the great fish is tiring. The next
steady strain brings it appreciably nearer to the surface, and at last,
after a giant’s contest lasting fully two hours, the three hundred and
odd pounds of fish float blown and helpless on the top of the water, the
vanquished monster looking more like a barrel than a fish.

[Illustration: A BIG JEWFISH FOR A WOMAN TO LAND.]

[Illustration: THE JEWFISH, WITH SUCKER CLINGING TO IT.]

Like most ground-hugging species, the jewfish, once brought to the top,
is inflated and helpless. His one hope is in the razor-edges of the
coral, and well he knows how to turn these, where available, to account.
If he is caught, it is because he has inadvertently wandered far from
his natural defences, and cannot risk a sudden haul from above by an
attempt to regain them. A ponderous perch-like fish, he is known in many
southern and sub-tropical seas, and is a favourite object of sport, like
his ally, the grouper, all round the Australian coasts.

It is just possible, of course, to reckon too securely on this
helplessness of jewfish when hauled to the surface, for an occasional
captive may put forth exceptional efforts to regain its liberty. Thus, I
recollect a case in which one of 300 lb. was lost by a lady through too
great reliance on this usual collapse, for the fish was made fast by the
line close alongside the boat, and was being towed ashore, when it made
a sudden dash for freedom and went down like a stone.

Like most of the other great fish of those waters, the jewfish is
troubled with suckers, and in the photograph facing this page may be
seen a sucker of about 1 lb. adhering to the side of a 400-lb. jewfish.
So close do these uninvited guests cling by means of their sucking
apparatus on the head, that only a quick leap (which the jewfish, by the
way, cannot manage) and a sudden twist in the air dislodges them. I have
seen sharks leap out of water and throw them off in showers. The only
thing that will tempt a sucker from its comfortable position is a small
and suitable bait dangled near it. Thus lured, it will frequently swim
away from its host, and allow itself to be caught.

The scales of the jewfish are somewhat curiously formed, and those of
sufficiently active imagination profess to see in the centre of each an
accurate and unmistakable full length portrait of the Virgin Mary. Many,
however, will, I venture to predict, look for this in vain.

Before quitting the subject of the many successes achieved by women on
those hunting grounds, I may mention one in which an enormous whip ray
was foul-hooked, and the lady obligingly stood on her victim that the
camera might do its share. On the whole, fishing in Florida seas may be
said to offer thrilling sport to such ladies as are venturesome enough
to give it a trial. There is just that spice of danger which sportswomen
never resent, without the need of prolonged roughing it, that tries them
far more than sudden calls on their endurance. As long experience and
angling skill are not required, at any rate at present, a lady has on
her first outing as good a chance as any one of hooking the record fish
of the season, tarpon, jewfish, or shark, as the case may be; nor is the
ordinary work of tarpon fishing, though beyond doubt arduous, such as to
alarm any woman of average aptitude for outdoor sport. When you have
fairly hooked your tarpon, you sit comfortably back in the armchair,
your rod resting in a socket screwed on the thwart or suspended round
the waist, and thus you pit your

[Illustration: THE VANQUISHED WHIP RAY.]

[Illustration: THE WHIP RAY FIRMLY HARPOONED TURNED HELPLESSLY ON ITS
BACK.]

[Illustration: STEADILY THE HOOKED TARPON FOLLOWED THE BOAT TOWARDS
SHORE.]

[Illustration: THE CREWS OF SIX BOATS TOWING A HARPOONED WHIP RAY.]

strength against that of the fish. Your reel carries 200 yards of line,
but it is rarely that half of that length is required. Most tarpon
fishers bring their fish to the gaff from the boat, but it is far more
sportsmanlike to beach them, as they need not then be destroyed.

When this lady foul-hooked the whip ray, it towed her boat about for
quite half an hour. She then got rather tired and handed her rod to her
husband, who, in the course of another hour’s hard fight, could do no
more than raise the brute to the top of the water fully thirty yards
away from his boat. He then sent along to the man with the harpoon to
help him, and next time the ray came to the surface the harpooner had it
fast, and it was triumphantly towed ashore by a remarkable procession of
boats. Its estimated weight was 500 lb., and this I should regard as not
far wide of the mark.



CHAPTER VI

Enormous Rays, or Devil-Fish



CHAPTER VI

ENORMOUS RAYS, OR DEVIL-FISH


Rays, which are somewhat closely related to the sharks, though so
different to the casual observer, are characteristic of all seas, but
especially perhaps of the tropical waters of America, where some of them
attain to enormous weight. The stingrays, of which the one depicted in
this volume is a variety, armed with formidable serrated spikes at the
base of the tail, are in some cases fearsome creatures, while many of
the family are provided with the means of numbing their victims with an
electric discharge. The whip ray, however, though carrying spikes above
the tail, is a harmless and indeed beautiful creature. At the same time,
its frantic leaps when driven wild by the suckers that adhere to its
disc are sufficiently alarming to those unaccustomed to its ways.

To see a kite-shaped creature with a long and whip-like tail leaping
high in the air, then merely touching the water again like a ricocheting
shell and again soaring aloft, a series of such leaps taking it quite a
hundred yards over the surface, is, to say the least of it, a novel
spectacle to those just out from Europe, the seas of which do not afford
these apparitions. It is as if the monster fish were suddenly tenanted
by the wandering spirit of a defunct kangaroo, and when it is added that
its aerial leaps often bring it quite close to the boats--though I do
not remember hearing of a single case in which it actually jumped into
one--it will be seen that there is some excuse for the occasional signs
of alarm evoked by its sudden appearance. The splash with which it
regains the water can, on still days, be heard quite a mile away.

The swimming action of these great rays is very beautiful, displaying
all the graceful undulating movements so characteristic of the shark
tribe, which go so far towards mitigating the repulsive appearance of
some of them. There is always this striking contrast between the live
and dead shark; the one, though endowed with instincts that can never
commend it to our goodwill, is yet a very lithe and graceful robber; the
other, deprived of all life and movement, shows only the vices with none
of the redeeming beauty.

A more characteristic pose of the rays, however, is that of lying
motionless, or, at most, with its disc slightly undulating with
respiration, on the sand just under water. Sometimes, indeed, they are
found lying a yard or so above low-water mark in pits of their own
making, and it is in such positions that they may be particularly
dangerous, through no fault of their own, to the too eager
surf-fisherman who wades bare-footed in the muddy water, careless of
such risks. The whip rays seem of wide distribution under a variety of
names, and a striped species has been taken on the Irish coasts. It
would be difficult to know what use the delicate tail--usually stripped
bare of its skin an inch from the tip--can be to this fish. The armament
of spikes at the base can be erected at will, and the fish is able to
bend up its back, much after the fashion of the scorpion, so as to bring
them to bear on enemies attacking it in front. Each spike is serrated,
its innumerable small points setting inwards, and the whole is enveloped
in a skin so thin as to be ruptured by the mere act of withdrawing it
from some body into which the fearful weapon has been thrust. My own
impression is that portions of this skin remain in the wound, and set up
that local poisoning that gives to such an act of aggression the popular
name of “stinging.”

There are even larger rays on that coast than the whip ray. The giant
ray, for instance, is one of the largest of existing fishes, and
specimens have been captured measuring as much as twenty feet across the
“wings.” Indeed, the Spanish and half-caste pearl divers call this
ghoulish monster the “blanket,” from a fixed belief (though no one can
have survived to tell the tale) that it envelops its victims as in a
blanket, and then devours them at leisure. This sobriquet survives in
the adopted scientific name of Manta. It appears to me that such a diet
is against all probability, if we may judge by the food of most of the
order, but these men are firmly convinced that the giant ray, or, as it
is also not inappropriately called, devil-fish, is an inveterate enemy
to man, and they at least earn the right to an opinion on dangers to
which they alone are constantly exposed.

The proper way to capture these creatures, if any one cares about an
occasional hour’s excitement, is with the harpoon. As for catching them
on the rod, it is only done by foul hooking, and it merely strains the
arms and tackle in what cannot be described as a very good cause.
Harpooning, however, may be really exciting, and I will try to describe
such an adventure to the best of my recollection.

You take the harpoon and get your guide to row you along the shore
northwards. Standing in the bows, behind the neatly coiled harpoon line,
you keep a sharp lookout for game, and very soon you see a mighty disc
lying on the sand at no great depth. Poising the harpoon in the air, you
let drive at the object of your desires; it vanishes in a trailing cloud
of sand, and you have an opportunity of seeing how poor a shot you made
by insufficient allowance for refraction, which, of course, distorts the
size, shape, and position of objects under water; and, as you assure
yourself that in this case the harpoon went a good five feet ahead of
the fish, you resolve to study the position of the next more
accurately.

Look out! Here is a long, dark object coming straight at you. It is a
shark. Let him have it right in the neck. That is better. The harpoon
has struck this time. Habet! Only the weapon has entered near the tail,
not within four feet of the spot you thought to reach. You have to keep
the rope close to the bow, or the brute may capsize you. But the harpoon
has come away, and you coil the rope for the next comer. There is a
sting ray right under your boat. No calculation necessary this time. You
strike it fair in the centre. Be careful how you handle it, for should
it get its spike into you, you will remember the wrenching out of the
barbs.

All ready again! See that dark patch a hundred yards ahead! It is a whip
ray, weighing perhaps 400 lb. How gracefully it flies beneath the water!
You take careful note of its bearings, and reckon that it lies about
seven feet deep and perhaps seventeen feet ahead. This means that the
centre of the fish is some nine feet nearer to you than appears to be
the case. Good! You threw too far again, but the ray is struck near the
head, and you will get some sport anyhow.

The infuriated fish tows the boat in all directions. It is too heavy to
haul in, and must be got ashore. This is not very difficult, for you let
it run free when heading in that direction, and check it when making a
move for deeper water. At last it is beached. There is no occasion to
cut out the harpoon, for all you need do is to thrust in your finger and
press up the barb on either side, and it comes away at once.

As a trophy, the back of this ray, with its black ground and small white
rings within larger ones, characteristic of old fish, makes a handsome
table cover. The tail is about six feet in length, and less in thickness
than a cedar pencil, and at its base are three or four barbed spears. It
feeds entirely on crustacea, never taking a fish bait, and is caught
only by foul hooking. In the roof of the whip ray’s mouth will be seen a
series of processes like corrugated grinding stones, and there is a
corresponding series on the lower jaw. It is between these that the
shell fish are thoroughly triturated. I have somewhere read that the
male rays have sharper teeth and no grinding arrangement, but I am not
sufficiently acquainted with the sex distinctions to bear this out.

[Illustration: A STRANDED WHIP RAY.]



CHAPTER VII

Harpooning a Monster



CHAPTER VII

HARPOONING A MONSTER


I remember another exciting adventure, which resulted in the capture of
a giant ray, weighing many hundred pounds. The wind had just gone to the
south after many days of cold northers, and, whereas it would require
several days of such wind to bring the tarpon back to a feeding humour,
this first breath from the south was sufficient to stir up a long line
of foam and slush that means food to the devil-fish. Twenty feet and
upwards across these monsters may measure, and they have been taken
weighing over 4,000 lb. In the corners of the mouth, which gapes like a
letter-box, are coiled fans that are used in waving the food into the
throat. Three of these devil-fish we saw on the day in question, coming
along and raising breakers as if they were steam-propelled rafts. With
the tips of their great wings occasionally showing, and their huge
shining black backs continually appearing above the surface, they looked
very terrible.

In full pursuit was the man with the harpoon, who had been waiting such
a chance for weeks. And now, as we can plainly see, he is close to this
moving line of flesh. Whiz goes the harpoon, hurled by a strong and
practised arm; not only the metal head, but also the shaft is deeply
buried in that three-feet slab of flesh, and the maddened monster bounds
off with lightning speed. The next moment the man changes places with
his guide, no easy proceeding in a slender 14ft. craft, but it is
necessary that he should do so, for he killed a devil-fish alone not a
month since, and the skin has not yet grown again on his raw hands. Ere
the boat has got properly under way a loose bight of rope catches the
guide round the leg, and flings him into the gunwale; there is plenty of
way on now, and a dangerous list into the bargain as the bow dips under
water. The man rushes, knife in hand, to his guide’s assistance, but the
latter succeeds with great dexterity in freeing himself from the coils,
and there is no need to cut loose.

And now the pace grows fast and furious. Eighty feet of line are out,
waves are flying from the bow, and the boat speeds so that no launch in
Florida could catch her. The great fish is close to the bottom, and
suddenly shifts its course. This manœuvre is like to cost it dear, for
it enables six

[Illustration: A HARPOONED DEVIL-FISH IN SHALLOW WATER.]

[Illustration: A HARPOONED DEVIL-FISH, WEIGHING ABOUT 2000 POUNDS, WITH
THE JAWS PROPPED OPEN.]

other boats, which had already stopped fishing, to join in the chase, to
cut off a corner and hitch on to the circling harpoon boat. A seventh
boat from the fishing grounds has failed to make connection, and, before
the day is over, others will wish they had done likewise.

On, and ever on, speeds this extraordinary procession, the like of which
was surely never seen under other circumstances, propelled by an unseen
power to an unknown destination with a force so great that it makes no
account so far of the additional strain on its resources. Some have
tried to back water as a check on the runaway, and have for their pains
been almost thrown out of the boats and had the oars torn from, their
hands. Onward they tear, the great fish keeping carefully in the deep
channel-way, and avoiding treacherous shallows on its unrestrained
course to the open sea. When the ray has thus run for five miles, it
quite suddenly doubles on its course, with the surprising and
discomforting result that the seven boats are tied in a knot. Quickly
they will have to extricate themselves, else, as it is impossible to go
full speed ahead in that formation, over they must go.

The pace gradually slackens during the next three miles, and at last all
oars are shipped and the guides back water. This is not without its
effect on the “devil,” who promptly heads again for the open sea, and
moves on until the shore is but a streak on the horizon. Anxious eyes
are now seeking for the smoke of the steamer that they hope will have
been sent to their assistance. It is two hours or more since the giant
was first harpooned, and it is tiring sufficiently to allow of its being
brought now and again to the surface to receive a Winchester bullet or
two in its spine. Its mighty wings still flap, however, and it is like
some great unwieldy water bird for ever struggling onwards. And now the
welcome smoke can just be seen in the distance, though it will take the
steamer a good hour to reach the ground, and goodness knows how many
hours to tow such a flotilla home.

Only two hours of daylight remain, and one of these is well nigh gone
ere the steamer comes along, and promptly crashes into the somewhat
erratic harpoon boat, striking her fair amidships, almost the worst
disaster of the day. Fortunately she was a nice limp boat with scarce a
sound rib in her, and she gave so freely to the sudden blow that little
fresh damage was done and she leaked but slightly more than usual. The
rest of the day’s sport, the slaying and towing ashore of the giant ray,
was a matter of time only, yet, curiously enough, when that man went
harpooning devil-fish again he went alone. The rest of the company had
somehow lost all taste for such weird recreation.



CHAPTER VIII

The Loggerhead Turtle

[Illustration: A TURTLE SWIMMING.]



CHAPTER VIII

THE LOGGERHEAD TURTLE


One of the favourite objects of the harpoon in those waters is the
loggerhead turtle, and as the procedure differs in some respects from
that followed in the pursuit of the unprofitable ray, I will attempt to
give some account of the way in which amateurs spear their turtle. If
you must catch your turtle before you cook him, you must as surely find
one before you can spear him. Turtles are in the habit of coming up for
a breather somewhere about slack water, and at such times they may be
seen basking lazily at the surface.

A small and sharp harpoon is necessary to penetrate the turtle’s shell,
and it is important to make this change in your equipment if you go from
rays to turtles. All being ready, your guide paddles you as quietly as
possible into the pass, and you must get in the way of standing
motionless in the bow in a slight lop, for roughish weather is
undoubtedly the best for turtle-spearing.

At length you see a great loggerhead some three hundred yards ahead on
the port bow. The loggerhead turtle is the most common on this coast;
the more delicate green turtle is the rarest; and between them in point
of numbers comes the leathery species. It is most important, when you
have sighted a turtle, to creep up as close and as quickly as possible,
without making the slightest noise. You must even stand quite steady and
crouch without kicking the boat, as the least disturbance may send the
turtle to the bottom. The great thing is to restrain yourself from
letting drive with the harpoon until the most favourable moment, and the
most favourable moment is that at which you are closest to your quarry,
so that it may feel the full force of the harpoon.

If, when you are within reach, the turtle shows signs of diving, in with
the harpoon; otherwise, get a little nearer. Now put all your back into
the cast, and the barbed point goes clipping through the shell. You
think that it did not penetrate very far? Well, your instinct is
probably correct, so it will be as well to fix another dart ready and,
playing him gently the while, strike again the moment he comes up to
breathe. He may remain beneath the surface fully twenty minutes, on the
move the whole while, but he will soon want air after that time has
elapsed. If you were sure of having struck the barb well home, the more
usual course

[Illustration: HARPOONING A TURTLE.]

[Illustration: PLAYING A TURTLE.]

would be to haul in at once; but it is sometimes safe to give the case
the benefit of the doubt, and to handle the captive gingerly at first,
until a second blow has made things doubly sure.

Up he comes at last; a second barb is driven into shell and flesh; and
now, being quite sure that there is a firm hold, you alter your tactics
and haul boldly. As he comes floundering to the surface you seize one
flipper (careful! that beak, which is fashioned to crush the strongest
shells, could easily nip your hand off at the wrist!) while the guide
lays hold of the other. You both keep well on the opposite side of the
boat to prevent her collapsing, and the turtle, weighing 200 lb., is
finally lifted in tail first and laid on his back. You are very careful
to keep your legs out of his way, for the flippers hit hard and the
male’s nails tear deep. Blindly in his impotent wrath he flounders,
striking out in all directions and chipping away planks like matchwood
if he gets the chance.

Before hoisting in a turtle, see that your oars are properly stowed
away. We once landed a heavy loggerhead upon an oar half drawn into the
boat, with the result that it was driven through the bottom, and the
accident discovered only when the boat was a third full of water. In
spite of hard bailing, by the time the turtle had been shifted, and the
guide had whipped off his shirt and stuffed it into the hole, the boat
was in a sinking condition, and the turtle had most of the fun to
itself.

Though its reputation is deservedly less than that of its green
relative, the loggerhead nevertheless makes excellent soup, but you have
to dress your own turtle if you want to utilise it in this way. The
first thing is to kill it, and killing a turtle is easier to write than
to do. Its head must be cut off at any cost, and the particular cost to
avoid is having your fingers nipped off. Always bear in mind that the
shell is a very important part of the skeleton; the ribs and neck are
firmly joined to it. The big bones fore and aft, as well as the shoulder
blades and pelvis, are separate; otherwise all the solid parts and the
shell are one. I am not desiring to discourse on the anatomy of the
turtle, but this unity with the shell is worth remembering by any one
attempting to remove the head.

To get at the turtle’s best meat you have to cut round the margin of the
under plates and lift up the lid. Even then, unless you have some
experience of the composition of the animal, it is by no means easy to
be sure that you have struck the liver, and not some other part that you
do not want. A turtle is one of those creatures that do not seem nearly
dead when you have killed them. When the turtles are pairing, by the
way, nothing will drive them from each other’s company, and there can
under the circumstances be no possible sport or advantage in killing
them, particularly as the male is then unfit for food.

Such are some of the fruits of harpooning. It will be found a pleasant
change, exercising a new combination of the senses

[Illustration: HOISTING A TURTLE ON BOARD.]

and muscles, and requiring some skill; but it is, of course, only a
bastard form of sport, and is usually resorted to on days when the
tarpon will not feed, or the tide is too strong for fishing. The turtle
is the only useful animal taken on that coast by such means, and there
is this excuse for harpooning your turtle that you cannot get them in
any other way. The turtle’s cousin on land, the gopher tortoise, which
is common enough in those parts, is said to be taken in a very curious
way, though, as the animal is useless, few put it to the test. This
tortoise lives in underground burrows, not unlike rabbit earths, and its
abundance may be judged by the number of such burrows. Into these the
natives say they drop a ball attached to a string, a sudden intrusion
that infuriates the occupant of the burrow, who, in his slow and sure
fashion, pursues it into daylight, and is then easily secured. I hand on
the story for what the cautious reader may think it worth. Personally, I
am not much inclined, from my limited knowledge of reptile habits, to
credit it.

The turtles come ashore in the warm May nights to lay their eggs, and
the female, as soon as she touches land, raises her head and peers
cautiously around to see that the coast is clear. Satisfied on this
point, she scrambles on to the dry sand and above high-water mark,
scrapes a hole and therein deposits her eggs, covers them up, and
returns to the sea. Three sittings she will lay each season, and many a
banquet is thus provided for raccoons. It is at this laying season that
so many turtles are procured for the market, and many a loggerhead finds
its way into the real green turtle soup.

In their wanderings below the surface they not infrequently get foul of
a line, but, so hard is their skin, that the hook seldom penetrates.
Some idea of the toughness of the skin may be formed when it is
mentioned that even the strongest men can with difficulty pierce it with
a gaff. When they chance to foul a line they are generally played for
about half an hour, after which they show once and then go free. On one
occasion the harpooner of the party slowly and cautiously approached a
basking loggerhead, his right arm poised, his weapon ready to strike.
Then, slowly, it was lowered; the turtle must have been dead at least a
week. Yells of laughter greeted his discovery, for the decaying reptile
had drifted down the whole line of boats, reaching him the last, and had
even deceived one or two of their inmates into fetching out their
gaffs.



CHAPTER IX

Catfish as Scavengers



CHAPTER IX

CATFISH AS SCAVENGERS


With the exception of the sharks, which, vermin as they are, give a
measure of sport under favourable conditions, I have now disposed of
most of the really big game of the Florida coast waters, and it remains
to draw the reader’s and intending visitor’s attention to the number of
other sea-fish that on occasion give excellent sport in those latitudes.
I have often thought that in the all-absorbing ambition for the record
tarpon some of these humbler fish, which would themselves create a
sensation in English waters, are too consistently neglected. The sharks
shall receive notice where their low standing as vermin relegates them,
at the end of the book.

It may be complained, particularly by those who have never been on the
spot, that I have passed too lightly over the real art of tarpon
fishing, made too little of its difficulties, laid too much stress on
the simplicity of success. Well, these are matters of opinion. I never,
in my own tarpon experiences, found a single instance where real skill
and expert knowledge were nearly so important as brute strength and
endurance, and I write only of what I know. Those who like detailed
instructions in the art of tarpon fishing should consult the back files
of _Forest and Stream_, the great American fishing paper, and in these
they will find innumerable excellent articles and letters on the
subject. In a quite recent volume, for instance, I find an admirable
series of tarpon papers from the pen of Mr. J. A. L. Waddell, and I
append, as a specimen of the detail with which some of these writers
lovingly handle their subject, Mr. Waddell’s twelve ways in which a
tarpon may be lost by the careless or ill-starred.

     1. By failure of the hook to penetrate a soft place.

     2. By the cutting of a hole in the mouth, from which the hook drops
     when the line is slackened.

     3. By breaking or corkscrewing the hook.

     4. By breaking the line, owing to:--

         (_a_) its deterioration.

         (_b_) fouling of line by overrunning of the reel.

         (_c_) tangling of something by the reel handle.

         (_d_) too severe application of the brake or reel handle in order
               to stop the fish.

[Illustration: DEAD GROUPER BEING DEVOURED BY CATFISH AND BREAM.]


     5. By breaking of the snell.

     6. By breaking of the rod, generally in the tip, but sometimes in
        the butt.

     7. By carelessness of boatman in gaffing.

     8. By attack of a shark.

It remains to put before the intending visitor to Florida some of the
commoner but yet interesting sea-fish, less game than the tarpon, less
immense than the jewfish, that will under a variety of conditions, and
on days when the tarpon itself is out of reach, afford excellent sport.
These notes are not, of course, addressed to the expert naturalist;
indeed, they are for the most part very brief, and serve chiefly to
introduce my photographs, which may, perhaps, claim to be the most
characteristic series of the kind yet published.


THE COMMON CATFISH (_Galeichthys felis_)

As the turkey buzzards on land, so the catfish in the sea act as
scavengers that we could ill dispense with. The sharks, on the other
hand, with their fiercer and more predatory instincts, may rather be
compared with the eagles among birds. These catfish are, as may be seen
from the photograph, not beautiful to the eye. Neither, for the matter
of that, is the condor, yet it is, perhaps, of more use to South America
than the humming bird.

We here see a trio of catfish busy on the carcase of a monster grouper
that floats dead on the surface; and what would become of such
polluting offal but for services such as are rendered by these useful
scavengers, one shudders to think. These catfish have no scales, their
bodies being shiny, and sleek to the touch, but the fisherman must
beware of insidious spikes hidden behind the fins. Any one familiar with
the salmon will not fail to notice a similar adipose fin on the back of
the catfish, in front of the tail, and the other distinctive feature is
the growth of whiskers, in reality sensitive feelers, on the head. Many
catfish are found only in the rivers of the warmer regions of the globe,
and German and Austrian anglers have their own siluroid in the giant
wels of so many continental rivers and lakes.

In the picture will be seen a couple of sea-bream, apparently hovering
around to pick up the leavings of the larger fish, and, for this or some
other reason, sea-bream are very often caught in company with catfish.

Catfish and buzzards are not the only scavengers of that coast. No
tarpon that is wanted again should be left on the shore, for no sooner
are you out of sight than every hole and cranny in the sand above
high-water mark gives up its ghostly crabs, elfish little body-snatchers
that creep stealthily, and quickly eat their way into the soft parts of
the fish. Ghost-crabs they call them thereabouts, and phantom-like they
look when disturbed and tearing seawards with their attenuated white
legs held on high.

[Illustration: GAFF TOPSAIL CATFISH SO CALLED FROM THEIR FLYAWAY FINS,
AND YOUNG HAMMER HEAD SHARK.]


THE GAFF TOPSAIL CATFISH (_Ælurichthys marinus_)

In the gaff topsail catfish there is not merely an extraordinary
development in the “whiskers,” but the back fin also carries a long
threadlike growth not unlike that in the tarpon. All these catfish
frequent sandy grounds, and are rarely found in the clearer coral
waters. The present species runs to greater weights than the last, and
it is as a rule found both farther from land, and in deeper levels. As
they are all inoffensive scavengers, and by no means the fierce
creatures they look, it is difficult to account for their being so often
hooked by tarpon fishers, except by the probability of their
endeavouring to suck the baits off, and getting foul hooked.

All catfish are active at night, which might be thought to account for
their popular name, only that they are on the feed all day as well. It
is nevertheless a pretty sight on hot nights when the sea is highly
phosphorescent to throw morsels of fish or meat into the water, and
watch the balls of fire darting in all directions as the catfish and
others dash to their repast.

In the picture will be seen a baby hammerhead shark (_Sphyrna zygæna_),
a rather interesting personality, for it had not long been born when
photographed, and had not in fact developed the singular “hammer” of a
later stage, its eyes being still flush with the sides of the head, and
its only distinction from the more typical sharks lying in the
extraordinarily prolonged snout. I give a photograph of an adult
hammerhead later on.


THE SHEEPSHEAD (_Archosargus probatocephalus_)

I mentioned the sea-bream in writing of catfish, and one of the
commonest of the group on that coast is the sheepshead, so-called, I
imagine, from the solid, sheeplike teeth that can even crunch the
mangrove oysters, in the neighbourhood of which these fish are so fond
of foregathering. These growths of oysters on the red mangrove always
attract the notice of visitors unused to the spectacle. The best bait
for these bream is a fiddler crab, a crustacean found in every lagoon
thereabouts, and owing its name to a singular habit of waving its large
claw (only the male has this disproportionate limb) exactly as if it
were drawing a bow across a fiddle. As the sea-bream are fond of
company, playing one is generally the prelude to a good bag of them.
They bear little resemblance to their namesakes of rivers and ponds, for
they are not so slimy or sluggish, but on the contrary more spiny, and
have the dark band markings and game fighting manner of perch. They feed
not far from the bottom, and must be struck sharply the moment they
bite, and for their size they play very well. They can be taken in
immense quantities.

[Illustration: SHEEPSHEAD IN APPEARANCE SOMEWHAT LIKE ENGLISH PERCH,
THEIR FRONT TEETH RESEMBLE THOSE OF A CHILD.]



CHAPTER X

Bony Fish, Jack Fish, Jewfish, Squeateague and Bass

[Illustration: A FAT TOAD FISH SQUATTED AT THE BOTTOM WATCHING THE SLIM
BONY FISH AS THEY LEAP.]



CHAPTER X

BONY FISH, JACK GARFISH, JEWFISH, SQUEATEAGUE AND BASS


BONY FISH (_Elops saurus_) AND TOAD FISH (_Antennarius marmoratus_)

This active and graceful fish, a near relative of the tarpon, which
perhaps derives its name from its leanness, rises freely to the fly
under favourable conditions, and its wild jumps make lively sport. Its
several popular names are puzzling--there is a tendency on the other
side to eccentric naming of fish--and no fish is considered genteel
without at least three or four to choose from.

Under the two bony fish in the photograph will be seen, on a shell, one
of the remarkable toad fish clinging to its support and lying in ambush
for unwary small fry. This particular specimen, of which I give an
enlarged presentment, seems a very primitive creature, with its handlike
fins and tiny eyes and general absence of vitality, yet it is admirably
equipped for satisfying its own greed and escaping that of its enemies.
It is all but invisible clinging to the shell against a deceptive
background of weeds, and its gaping mouth is striped black and white
inside in an attractive manner that proves the doom of many fish endowed
with a fatal curiosity. This particular individual, indeed, had actually
swallowed a young snapper of exactly its own weight and half an inch
longer than itself! I relate this merely as it came under my own notice,
for I took the one from the other, but I hardly expect to be believed.

[Illustration: THE GAR OR NEEDLE FISH. THEY LEAP ASTONISHING DISTANCES
IN THE AIR ESPECIALLY WHEN PURSUED BY A KING FISH.]

[Illustration: A MARMORATUS LYING MOTIONLESS.]

[Illustration: A CARANX HIPPOS, ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFULLY COLOURED
FISH OF THE PASS.]

[Illustration: THE MIGHTY PERCH AND HIS DEEP WATER COMPANION THE RED
GROUPER.]


THE CAVALLY OR “JACK” (_Caranx hippos_)

The scad, or horse-mackerel, are familiar in most seas; even on the
British coasts we have them. In warm latitudes, however, they are
beautiful as well as bold, and the combination of burnished silver and
metallic blues and yellows on the favourite “jack” of Florida waters
make him a very handsome fish. Like all the horse-mackerel, he is
capable of wonderful bursts of speed, and takes all manner of baits,
particularly those not intended for him. He is not much fished for
purposely, but may be regarded as one of the miscellany that one time or
another come to the basket of the sea-fisherman at Boca Grand. There is
no doubt that if fished for with the fly to which he will rise, so
strong a fighter would show very fine sport.


THE GARFISH (_Belone spec._)

The flying fish is by no means common, though probably existent on that
coast, but it has a relative in the garfish; and, though this does not
commonly do much flying, it can on occasion, as when pursued by a swift
and powerful enemy, throw itself clean out of the water with much
energy, and can propel itself for thirty yards in the air by
occasionally tipping the water with its tail. In this case the garfish
are alarmed by a kingfish that is really after a skipjack. A good deal
of prejudice exists against this fish at home, on account of its green
bones (I take this to be the same species that swims in British waters),
but it is first-rate eating. Garfish may be found, as a rule, close in
amid the surf, where they hunt for small, thin-shelled sandhoppers,
about the size of French beans. One of these on a small hook is, in
fact, the best bait if any one wishes to angle specially for garfish,
but the long bill and the presence inside it of innumerable needle-like
teeth do not make the work of extracting the hook particularly
pleasant.


JEWFISH (_Promicrops guttatus_) AND RED GROUPER (_Epinephelus morio_)

Of the jewfish enough has already been said. The lower figure in the
photograph is a red grouper, a large deep-water fish with a good deal of
pale red on the head and throat, and a more vivid red inside the mouth.
It is a vigorous fighter when hooked on deep rocky ground, and makes an
excellent table fish, but it is not so common as the black grouper.


THE SPOTTED SQUEATEAGUE OR “SEA TROUT” (_Cynoscion nebulosus_) AND
GROUND SPEARING (_Scirus myops_)

The subjects of this photograph are not salmonoid fish out of drawing,
as might at first sight appear, but fish, miscalled “trout,” of Gulf
waters that give fine sport when hooked. As if in vindication of its
spots and name, this “trout” will often take a grilse fly when on the
feed. It is a strong fighter and jumps continually. It is usually taken
spinning with reel or artificial bait. Found on the sandy grounds, it is
in some favour as a food fish. Many visitors fail to take with them a
light fly rod; hence these very sporting fish are done to death on a
kind of miniature tarpon rod in a hand-over-hand fashion, whereas they
would otherwise afford nearly as much sport as a four-pound lake trout.
On the sea bed, beneath the squeateagues, will be seen a ground
spearing.

[Illustration: A GREAT PIECE OF SNAKE-LIKE CONCH SPAWN CURLED UPWARDS
WHERE THE SEA TROUT BASKED.]

[Illustration: CHANNEL BASS--A HARD FIGHTER, EASILY MISTAKEN AT FIRST
FOR A TARPON. BLACK GROUPER, BY NATURE MUCH LIKE THE RED GROUPER, BUT
MORE ABUNDANT.]


CHANNEL BASS (_Sciænops ocellatus_) AND BLACK GROUPER (_Garrupa
nigrata_)

The channel bass, or red drum, is a bronze fish that runs up to 40 or 50
lb. weight, and gives good sport on a rod in the surf. So many of the
smaller sporting fish are caught in the surf on the Florida coast, that
I have often wondered whether this is a merely local habit, due to their
dread of the sharks outside, or whether indeed sea-fishermen at home
neglect the more productive surf, in their haste to fish the extreme end
of a long pier or the deeper waters attainable in boats.

The black grouper is a great trouble to the tarpon fisher, for on some
days it seizes bait after bait, and at once darts into some convenient
crevice in the coral. The puzzled angler strikes again and again, and
each time finds himself hitched into the rock, which often entails the
loss of all his tackle with many feet of line. Only the old hand knows
the real source of the trouble and promptly changes his ground, but as
those fish are more or less numerous all through the pass, the real
secret of avoiding them is to fish a few feet higher.



CHAPTER XI

Spotted Eels, Crab Eaters, Surf Whiting, Moon Fish, Leather Jackets,
Trigger Fish, and Mullet.

[Illustration: A CURIOUS SNAKE-LIKE EEL, WITHOUT SLIME, USUALLY FOUND
STRANDED AFTER A STORM.]



CHAPTER XI

SPOTTED EELS, CRAB EATERS, SURF WHITING, MOON FISH, LEATHER JACKETS,
TRIGGER FISH, AND MULLET


SPOTTED EEL (_Mystriophys intertinctus_)

There is something peculiarly snakelike about these yellow,
black-spotted eels, which are only found washed ashore after storms from
a certain quarter, and never, at any rate to my knowledge, take a baited
hook. There are many of these spotted eels in the waters round Florida
Keys, and one of them is known as the “sea-serpent.”

The small upper fish in the photograph is evidently a wrass of some
kind, probably a rock-cook (_Centrolabrus_), but as no one catches the
wrass, save by accident, I never studied them.


COBIA OR CRAB EATER (_Rachycentron canadus_)

This handsome and sporting fish is allied to the mackerel, and in some
parts, indeed, goes by the name of “bonito,” though the true bonito is
more closely related to the tunny. Its specific name is a good instance
of the singular inappropriateness of some such titles, for it does not
occur in Canada. The cobia grows to a length of four or five feet, and
is a dashing fish when hooked, though it is not very common in the
angler’s catch.

[Illustration: THE COBIA, A STRONG AND DASHING FISH.]

[Illustration: THE UPPER FISH IS A SURF WHITING, THE LOWER A MANGO
SNAPPER.]


SURF WHITING (_Menticirrhus littoralis_) AND MANGROVE SNAPPER
(_Neomaenis spec._)

The surf whiting, as its name implies, frequents the surf, where it is
caught like so many others on that coast; it takes mullet as bait.

The snapper, which is one of a very large group, derives its distinctive
name from the fact of the young, and sometimes the grown fish as well,
being found feeding in the neighbourhood of the mangroves.


SILVER MOON FISH OR LOOK DOWN (_Selene vomer_)

This eccentric-looking fish is of a beautiful mother-of-pearl tint, and
the long ray of the dorsal fin shows the subject of the photograph to be
a young fish, for this long growth is shed at a more mature age. The
moon fish makes capital bait for tarpon and other large fish, and the
wonder is, indeed, that such a species can survive at all, for it is to
all appearance both defenceless and slow in its movements.

[Illustration: A MOON FISH.]

[Illustration: A LEATHER JACKET, A QUAINT FISH ROUGH AS SANDPAPER, TOUGH
AS LEATHER, AND AS HARD AND THIN AS HALF-INCH BOARD.]


LEATHER JACKET (_Monacanthus hispidus_)

These leather jackets are found in most tropical seas, and with their
large sheeplike teeth they seize any bait left stationary at the bottom.
They are without true scales, the body being covered with roughnesses
instead. They are thin, tough fish, and of no use for food.


TRIGGER FISH (_Balistes carolinensis_) AND ANGEL FISH (_Angelichthys
isabelita_)

The trigger fish, like the last species figured, also goes by the name
of “leather jacket,” and is, as a glance at its general outline will
show, a similar type of fish. The trigger fish derives the name from the
curious arrangement of its dorsal fin, which lies flat in a socket or
slot. It has, like the last, no true scales, but excrescences, which can
be plainly seen in the photograph. It is not often taken on a hook.

The little angel fish is one of the most gaudy inhabitants of those
seas, where the usual preponderance of gaily coloured fish is hardly,
perhaps, so marked as in some other warm waters. It is found in shoals
round wrecks and sunken piles. Blue and yellow, with reddish and brown
and olive markings and spots, some varieties of the “angel” are
beautiful if somewhat gorgeous fish. If well angled for they can be
taken in quantities. These are among the many accidental arrivals in the
tarpon fisher’s boat, but I have thought it best to give as many
photographs of local fish as possible, so that the visitor with a liking
for natural history may not be at a loss to identify an occasional
strange fish, about which he wants to write to the proper authorities
for further information.

[Illustration: TRIGGER FISH--A LEATHERY DARK FISH WITH ROUGH
DIAMOND-SHAPED EXCRESCENCES INSTEAD OF SCALES.

ANGEL FISH, A DELICATE VERY BEAUTIFUL LITTLE FISH.]

[Illustration: SILVER MULLET, RESTLESS WANDERERS, EVER SKIMMING IN
SHOALS ALONG THE COAST.]


SILVER MULLET (_Mugil brasiliensis_)

This is the less common of the two mullets found in those waters, and is
chiefly noteworthy as being _not_ the one in general use as bait. It is
taken only in nets, and not often in those, as its habit is to skirt the
shore, where shooting a net is attended with difficulties.



CHAPTER XII

Striped Mullet, Sharks, Bird Life

[Illustration: MULLET LEAPING APPARENTLY DEVOID OF OBJECT.]



CHAPTER XII

STRIPED MULLET--SHARKS--BIRD LIFE


STRIPED MULLET (_Mugil cephalus_)

The adventitious interest that attaches to this active fish is that to
it we owe all our tarpon, for the tarpon baits are cut from its white
stomach, four from each fish. It seems identical with the British grey
mullet, a similar slimy fish which feeds by a kind of suction among the
sea herbage. There is, however, this difference that the Florida mullet
is for ever jumping on all sides of your boat in shallow water, and is
surrounded by many enemies, whereas the grey mullet at home has, at any
rate in the grown-up stage, few enemies beyond man, whom it is generally
able to elude. The same fish in Florida seas has so many foes, and is
bait for so many monsters, that the wonder is it survives in such
quantities.

During the tarpon season the one family of fishermen at Boca Grand are
fully occupied in procuring sufficient mullet to provide bait for the
anglers. Thirty fishers would require about 150 mullet a day. It is,
therefore, scarcely surprising to hear that mullet are seriously
decreasing in numbers. I very much doubt whether several other fish
would not produce equally killing baits. I can answer for the moon fish
and its allies, also the devil-fish and rays in general, whose
milky-white under sides were tried with success.


SHARKS AND SHARK-FISHING

I conclude this little book with a few notes on sharks and on bird life
on that coast. Shark-fishing can now and then be very good fun, although
the fish are vermin. After all, we do not eat tarpon, and the saw of the
sawfish makes as good a trophy as the scale of the great herring. I am
not, of course, for one moment comparing the one fish or fishing with
the other, but on days when it is too rough to get afloat, or when the
tide does not serve, it is better to catch great sharks from the beach
or pier than to loaf on shore doing nothing.

Having named the sawfish (_Pristis pectinatus_), I will start off with
the picture of a fine specimen, measuring 18 feet, which was taken on a
night-line set for sharks. It moves slowly and prowls on the bottom,
close in shore, for food. A sucking fish was still adhering to this one
when caught. For all its shark-like appearance, the sawfish is in
reality one of that kindred group, the rays, of which some pictures have
already

[Illustration: A CAPTURED SAWFISH TO WHICH A PERSISTENT SUCKER STILL
CLINGS.]

[Illustration: A HAMMERHEAD SHARK. A SAVAGE AND REPULSIVE FISH.]

[Illustration: THIS SHARK SEIZED ANOTHER ALREADY HOOKED AND WAS ITSELF
CAUGHT.]

been given. It must, of course, be distinguished from the swordfish,
which is more closely allied to the mackerel, and which has a long
pointed weapon without teeth on its edges.

Any one wishing to catch a sawfish on the rod must seek such weird game
in the isolated deep holes in the lagoons and shallows. The average
depth will not be more than three or four feet, but every now and then
the lead will go down into a much deeper hole, and there lie the
sawfish. A well-known American angler caught one weighing 700 lb. in
this way. The chief food of the sawfish is said to consist of horseshoe
crabs, but it also in all probability slashes round with its great saw
and stuns sufficient fish for a meal. I have seen young sawfish out
there with the scales of smaller fish impaled on the teeth of their
saws. Evidently these teeth must grow blunt with age, for piercing a
fish scale is a feat that would certainly be beyond the saw-teeth in all
the larger specimens that have come under my notice.

On an earlier page I have given the portrait of a baby hammerhead shark,
drawing the reader’s attention to the fact that the “hammer” was not yet
developed. This difference in two stages of growth may be appreciated by
a comparison with the subject of the accompanying photograph, in which
the curious hammer, with an eye at either end, is plainly seen. The
hammerhead shark (_Sphyrna zygaena_) is a voracious species, yet when
swimming after a ship it has all the graceful, undulating movement of
the family.

I do not profess to know these vermin severally by name, but two or
three pictures of some that were captured during my stay may be of
interest. The subject of the first was, like most of the tribe, a
cannibal, for it took another shark (though I do not know that it was of
the same species) that had been hooked, and the two were secured by the
coloured “gentleman” in the picture.

This incident of its swallowing a fish already hooked reminds me of
another. An angler had to return to England rather suddenly, but he was
anxious to complete his catch of 100 tarpon for the season. He had
already caught 99, and but half an hour remained before his boat left.
He hooked the hundredth, luckily enough, but it was promptly seized by a
shark, and it still looked as if his century would not be completed,
when he very cleverly landed shark and all, with a few minutes to spare,
and thus made up his total of tarpon.

The end of May is the time when sharks most plague the tarpon fisher,
and is consequently the time for shark fishing. The best way is to bait
a large hook with a whole split fish made fast to a long stout line.
Then you fling this well out from the Lighthouse Jetty, leave a good
coil of slack, and make the end fast. Before very long, the slack line
begins to creep out, then rushes, and you must, if the shark is a large
one, call all the help you can muster, for the fight will be a good one.
All hands play him from the beach, and, with a little give and take, he
generally comes in with a run, a nasty-looking brute perhaps

[Illustration: EXTRACTING A FIRMLY EMBEDDED HOOK FROM A SHARK.]

[Illustration: ALL HANDS GIVE THE SHARK A MIGHTY HEAVE ASHORE.]

fifteen feet long. If you catch a great leopard shark, or man-eater
(_Carcharodon carcharias_), the white belly of which is seen in the
photograph facing the following page, it may be worth while ripping him
up to see whether there are any boots within, or perchance even more
personal signs of human occupation. In one of these a sea-lion weighing
100 lb. was once found on the California coast, but you will be far more
likely to come across a quantity of horseshoe crabs.

From this last shark figured we took three or four young ones, quite
ready to swim away if they had been given the chance. They were not, for
it is no part of humaneness to spare sharks.


BIRD LIFE.

The bird life of Boca Grand is not sufficiently studied by those who
spend their holiday there, so intent is everyone on fishing. Yet it is
most interesting, what the plume hunters have left of it. America is the
great land of waste as well as of production, and the egrets and other
beautiful fowl are surely following the bison. On fine, still days, when
there is great splashing of carangoid and other fish, the pelicans are
soon astir, dashing into the shoals and putting them to rout with heavy
loss. Then, too, may be seen the little kittiwake gulls settling
unmolested on the heads and backs of the great birds, and always
expectant of the scanty leavings that they never seem to get.

Pelicans are nowadays so scarce at Boca Grand that any small peculiarity
is certain to be noticed whenever one puts in an appearance. I recollect
one coming along one day with his pouch slit from side to side and
hanging loose. What dreadful battle had given him such a gash could only
be guessed, but he seemed to grow thinner and tamer and more hungry
every day, for every fish that he caught forthwith dropped out through
the gap. At length, however, he seemed to rise to the occasion, and as
soon as he caught a fish, he would clap his beak close to his breast and
coax his victim down his throat. The process was slow, but sure, and in
a few weeks this pelican was well

[Illustration: LEOPARD SHARK.]

and strong again, and the gap in his pouch had to all appearance healed.

There is an island just off the coast measuring scarce one hundred yards
in any direction, and thereon stands a pelicans’ rookery. There these
great confiding, prehistoric-looking, silly birds used to gather until
they were all but shot out by plume-hunters at 25 cents. the skin. And
here, in the highest trees, some of the great birds still congregate,
their curious webbed feet looking most incongruous as they grasp the
swaying branches. The neighbouring island, somewhat larger in extent, is
the home of innumerable cormorants and herons, both blue and white, all
nesting in the tall black mangroves, and so tame that you may approach
to within six yards of the little blue herons. Yet on all sides are the
tiny corpses of deserted little birds, their parents in the breeding
plumage ruthlessly shot down to deck women’s hats! The thin end of the
wedge of bird protection has, it is true, been inserted, but the law is
almost inoperative in these out-of-the-way regions, and the slaughter
proceeds unchecked. And so the beautiful American woodlands are being
denuded of their unrivalled bird life in order that every mistress and
every maid may dangle “osprey” plumes over their heads.

With my pictures, then, end my notes, and I am only too conscious of
their meagreness. My object, however, was, as I may have said already,
to put before intending visitors to Florida--and tarpon fishing must
gain a wider public before long--some of the chief fish that they are
likely to meet with in those waters.

Two curious facts that I find in my diaries seem worth setting down in
conclusion. One is that dogs cannot live long in that climate. They
succumb within four years to a disease that has hitherto been a complete
mystery. A local doctor has, however, isolated the microbe responsible
for the mischief.

My other hint is for the smoker. I find that a local cigar epicure
always made a practice of storing his weeds in the refrigerator, in
order to keep them in condition, for it is more difficult to keep cigars
green than in a perfectly matured state.


THE END.



INDEX


_Ælurichthys marinus_, 133

_Albula vulpes_, v. _Elops saurus_, 141

Alligator Hunting, 36

Angel Fish, 178

_Angelichthys isabelita_, 178

_Antennarius marmoratus_, 141

Aransas Pass, 29

_Archosargus probatocephalus_, 134


_Batistes carolinensis_, 178

Bass, Channel, 159

Black Grouper, 159

Boca Grande, 25

Bony Fish, 141

“Bonito,” 166

Bream, Sea, 130


Cabbage Palm, 35

Captiva Pass, 29

_Caranx hippos_, 147

_Carcharodon carcharias_, 201

Catfish, Common, 129

Catfish, Gaff Topsail, 133

“Cavalla,” 60

Cavally, 147

_Centrolabrus_, 165

Channel Bass, 159

Cigars, Preserving, 206

Cobia, 166

Coral Fouling Lines, 59

Cost of Tarpon Fishing, 29

Crab-eater, 166

Crabs, Fiddler, 134

Crabs, Horseshoe, 130

_Cynoscion nebulosus_, 154


Devil-fish, 89

Dogs, Mortality of, 206


Eel, Spotted, 165

_Elops saurus_, 141

_Epinephelus morio_, 153


Fiddler Crabs, 134

Florida Keys, 165

“Forest and Stream” (quoted), 126


Gaff, Use of the, 85

_Galeichthys felis_, 129

Garfish, the, 148

_Garrupa nigrita_, 159

Giant Ray, 91

Gopher Tortoise, Method of catching, 121

Green Turtle, 118

Ground Spearing, 154

Groupers, 159

Guide, Duties of a, 44


Hammerhead Shark, 195

Harpooning Rays, 92, 99

Harpooning Sharks, 93

Harpooning Turtles, 112

Horseshoe Crabs, 130

Hotel near Boca Grande, 29

Hughes’ Floating Hotel, 29


Islands, Scenery of the, 35


Jewfish, 79


Kingfish, 60


Ladies as Tarpon Fishers, 73

_Lamua cornubica_, v. _Carcharodon carcharias_, 201

Leather Jacket, 177

Leathery Turtle, 112

Leopard Shark, 201

Lines, American, 30

Loggerhead Turtle, 111

Look Down, 172


Man-eating Shark, 195

Mangroves, 134

Mangrove Snapper, 171

“Manta,” 92

_Menticirrhus littoralis_, 171

_Monacanthus hispidus_, 177

_Mugil brasiliensis_, 183

---- _cephalus_, 189

Mullet Baits for Tarpon, 190

Mullet, Silver, 183

Mullet, Striped, 189

_Mystriophys intertinctus_, 165


_Neomaenis griseus_, 171


Playing a Tarpon, 65

Playing a Shark, 196

_Pristis pectinatus_, 190

_Promicrops guttatus_, 153

Punta Gorda, 30


_Rachycentron canadus_, 166

Rays, 89

Red Grouper, 153

Reels, 30

Rock Cook, 165

Rods, 30


Salmon and Tarpon Fishing compared, 22

Sawfish, 190

Scales of Jewfish, 80

Scales of Tarpon, 22

_Sciænops ocellatus_, 159

_Scirus myops_, 154

“Sea Serpent,” 165

“Sea Trout,” 154

_Selene vomer_, 172

Shallow Water, Tarpon in, 53

Sharks, 190

Sheepshead, the, 134

Silver Moon Fish, 172

Silver Mullet, 183

Skill required in Tarpon Fishing, 48

Skipjack, 60

_Sphyrna zygaena_, 195

Spotted Eel, 165

Spotted Squeateague, 154

Still Fishing, 49

Striped Mullet, 189

Sucking Fish or Suckers, 79

Surf Whiting, 171


Tackle, 30

Tail of Whip Ray, 94

Tarpon, 21

Toad Fish, 141

Tortoise, 121

Trigger Fish, 178

Turtle, Cutting up, 118

Turtle, Harpooning, 112

_Tylosaurus marinus_, v. _Belone spec._, 148


Vegetation, 35

Vom Hofe, 30


Waddell, Mr. J. A. L. (quoted), 126

Ways of Losing a Tarpon, 126

Weight of Tarpon, 22

Whip Ray, Foul-hooked, 85

Whip Ray, Habits of, 89

Whip Ray, Harpooning, 92





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