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M. alburnun and M. littoralis, the latter being the surf-loving species first mentioned.



378 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

The Whiting is a delicious pan-fish, sweet and hard, though soon losing its delicate flavor.
In Charleston it is regarded as a special dainty. According to Colonel Lymau, when Charleston
was closely blockaded and fishing was a hazardous occupation, the commandant of the garrison,
who was a bon vivant, gave $100 of Confederate money for a string of Whiting.

Some of the early writers called this fish the " Bermuda Whiting," for what reason it is
difficult to understand, for the Whiting of Bermuda at the present day is a fish very unlike that
of our Southern coast

The " Surf Whiting," according to Jordan, is uot rare at Charleston, and in the Gulf of Mexico
is as common as the other species, but is chiefly found in the surf, aud hence is less frequently
brought into the markets.

126. THE CROAKER MICROPOGON UNDULATUS.

The Croaker, Micropogon undulatus, ranges from New York at least to. the Gulf of Mexico,
although rarely seen north of Delaware. It occurs also in some of the West Indian islands and
south of Brazil. Its name refers to the peculiar grunting sound which it utters, but in the
Chesapeake this name has been corrupted into "Crocus." In Texas it is called "Ronco."

At Beaufort, North Carolina, according to Jordan, it is very abundant, and, next to the mullet
and the Spot, is the commonest food-fish of the region. Holbrook states that the Croaker
makes its appearance off Charleston in the month of May, but becomes common in shallow water
in June and July, and is most abundant and attains its largest size in October and November. It
is not much esteemed as food, and is only used as a pan fish.

It is abundant and highly esteemed at Brunswick, Georgia, and everywhere in Eastern
Florida, in company with the Spot, ascending the Saint John's as far as Jacksonville.

Stearns writes: "In the Gulf of Mexico it is very common. Is found everywhere in the bays
and bayous throughout the year. Lives mostly in shoal water or grassy bottoms. Feeds upon
crustaceous animals. Breeds in the bays in November and December. The young are seen in the
spring, having grown to a size of two and three inches in length. Is caught with hook and line
and seine. Sells with other pan-fish for a low price. It is an excellent food-fish; average length
ten inches. At Sarasota Bay, December 8, 1879, I caught two specimens of "spawning Croakers
that were each fully eighteen inches long the largest that I have ever seen."

An allied species is Larimus fasciatus, which is called "Chub" in Charleston.

127. THE CORVIWAS AND RONCADORS OF THE PACIFIC COAST.

By DAVID S. JORDAN.
THE WHITE SEA BASS CYNOSCION NOBILE.

This species is everywhere known as the "Sea Bass" ("Sea Trout"), sometimes as "White
Sea Bass," to distinguish it from the Black Sea Bass, or Jew-fish. The young, while yet banded,
are known as " Sea Trout," and generally considered a distinct species, and both are frequently
called "Corvina" and "Caravina."

It reaches a length of four to six feet and a weight of fifty to seventy -five pounds, perhaps
more. Those usually seen in market average about fifteen.

It ranges from Cape Mendocino southward to below San Diego, being especially abundant
from Santa Barbara to Monterey in spring and summer. It is not often seen in winter. Only
adults are taken in spring, and it probably comes to the shore from deeper water for the purpose
of spawning. It goes in small schools, and its movements are irregular. Its food consists of
crustaceans and fishes. It spawns in June or July. It is one of the most important food-fishes



TOE CALIFORNIA \VI1ITK SEA BASS. 379

of the coast. Its llcsh is excellent, firm and well flavored, and its great size reuders it a very
valuable species. In tlie lirmnes.s of its flesh it differs strikingly from most of the other species of
t lie gi-nns.

THE CORVINA CYNOSOION PABVIPINNE.

This species is usually known as the "Corviua" or "Caravina." It is also occasionally called
Bliu'fish. It reaches a length of about two feet, and a weight of eight pounds. It is found from
San Pedro southward to the Gulf of California, rarely straying to the north. In San Diego Bay
it is abundant. It feeds on Crustacea, and especially on small fishes, as anchovies and sardines,
and is very voracious. It spawns in July or August. Its flesh is tender, being very similar to
that of the weak-fish (C. regale). It softens soon, but when fresh is of a flue, delicate quality, and
scarcely surpassed by any fish on the coast. Several other species of this genus occur southward
alonj,' the Mexican coast, where they are among the most important of the food-fishes.

THE RED RONCADOB CORVINA SATUBNA.

This fish is known where found as the "Red Roncador," less commonly as "Black Roncador"
or "Croaker." It reaches a length of sixteen inches and a weight of three or four pounds. It is
found from Point Concepciou southward in moderate abundance. It feeds largely on crustaceans
and spawns in July. It is a food-fish of good quality.

THE RONCADOII RONCADOB STEABNSI.

This species is generally known as the "Roncador" (snorer, from the Spanish roncar, to snore),
and is always considered as the genuine Roncador, the other Sciaenoids being to the fishermen
bastards. The name "Croaker" is often applied to it. It makes a very distinct grunting noise,
probably with its air-bladder, on being taken from the water. It reaches a length of over two
feet, and a weight of six to eight pounds. It is found from Santa Barbara southward, usually in
abundance. It feeds on crnstacea and spawns in July. It is a food-fish of excellent quality.

THE LITTLE ROMOADOB GENYONEMUS LINEATUS.

This species is known about San Francisco as the Little Bass. Southward it is called the
Little Roncador. The name "Cognard," said by Dr. Ayers to be given to it in San Francisco, is
unknown to us. It reaches a weight of little over a pound, and a length of one foot; it is found
from Tomales to San Diego, being most abundant from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. It often
comes into the markets in large numbers; it feeds chiefly on Crustacea and spawns in July. It is a
food-fish of good quality when fresh, but its flesh becomes soft in the market sooner than that of
most species. Many are dried by the Chinese.

THE YELLOW-PINNED RONOADOR UMBRINA RONOADOR.

This fish is generally known as the " Yellow-tailed" or " Yellow-finned Roncador." It reaches a
length of more than a foot, and a weight of two or three pounds. It is found from Santa Barbara
southward, and is generally abundant, especially in summer. It feeds on Crustacea and spawns in
July. It is a food-fish of good quality. Many are split and salted.

THE BAGRE MENTICIRRUS UNDULATUS.

This fish is known as the "Bagre" or "Sucker." It reaches a length of twenty inches, and a
weight of four or live pounds. It is found close to shore from Point Concepcion southward to
Cerros Island, and is generally abundant. It feeds on crnstacea, spawns in July, and is a food-fieh



380 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

of fair quality. In appearance and in value it approaches closely to the Surf Whiting of the
Atlantic, M. littoralis.

THE QUEEN-FISH SERIPHUS POLITUS.

This species is known as "King-fish" or "Queen fish." It reaches a length of eight inche.s, and
a weight of half a pound. It ranges from Tomales Bay southward, and is abundant in summer,
when it is found in great numbers in the surf along sandy shores. Enormous numbers of them
are sometimes taken in seines, especially at Santa Barbara and Soquel. It is not often brought
into the San Francisco market. It feeds on small fishes, crustaceans, etc. It spawns in summer.
It is a food-fish of excellent quality, but it is too small to possess much economic value.



nir: siii:i:i'siii:.\i) FAMILY. 381



0. SHEEPSHEAD, BASS, BREAM, PERCH, ETC.

THE SHEEPSHEAD FAMILY SPARID^J.

The members of this family are especially characterized by their heavy, rather compressed
bodies, and by their large heads, strong jaws and teeth, for cutting or crushing the hard-shelled
marine animals upon which they feed. They are usually sedentary in their habits, living close to
the bottom and browsing among the rocks and piles. Their colors are usually inconspicuous and
their motions sluggish. Representatives of this family are found throughout the world in temperate
and tropical waters.

128. THE SHEEPSHEAD DIPLODUS PROBATOCEPHALUS.

The Sheepshead is one of the choicest fishes of our coast. It derives its name from the
resemblance of its profile and teeth to those of a sheep, and also from its browsing habits. Unlike
most of those fishes which are widely distributed along our seaboard, it has only this one name
by which it is known from Cape Cod to the Mexican border. The negroes of the South, however,
frequently drop the "s" out of the middle of the word and call it " Sheephead."

This fish has never been known to pass to the north of the sandy arm of Cape Cod, and its
northern range is at present somewhat more limited than it was eighty years ago. In the records
of Wareham, Massachusetts, they are referred to as being somewhat abundant in 1803, and in
Narragausett Bay there is a tradition that they began to disappear in 1793, when the scuppaug
commenced to increase in abundance. In 1871, Mr. E. Taylor, of Newport, testified before Professor
Baird that his father caught Sheepshead in abundance forty-five or fifty years previous. In 1870
and 1871 the species was again coming into notice in this region, though not at that time nor since
has it appeared abundantly. On the south shore of Long Island it is quite abundant, and in New
York Harbor and its various approaches, at times, may be taken in considerable numbers. On the
coast of New Jersey it is also abundant, and between Cape May and Montauk Point the species is
said to attain its greatest perfection as a food-fish. Lugger states that it frequents the oyster
localities of all parts of the Chesapeake Bay, but is now more common among the southeastern
counties of Virginia, where it comes in considerable numbers to feed upon the animals which live
on the oyster bars. It is found about wrecks of old vessels, on which barnacles and shells abound.
About Bedford, North Carolina, it is also abundant, and also along the entire coast of the Atlantic
and Gulf States, where it frequently ascends, especially in Florida, high up the fresh-water rivers.
In the Gulf, according to Stearns, it is abundant on the coast from Southern Florida to Mexico.

The Sheepshead is a bottom-loving species, quiet in its habits, and little given to wandering.
North of Charleston it is absent from the inshore waters during the winter season, but it is probable
that its wanderings do not extend very far. Holbrook records that it has been taken in Port Royal
Sound as early as January, while in Charleston it makes it appearance in April and continues
until November. Dr. Mitchill, whose observations of this species in the vicinity of New York,
made sixty years ago, are perhaps as satisfactory as any which have been made, remarked that
its term of continuance was from the beginning of June to the middle of September. He
had, however, known it to stay later, for one of the most numerous collections of Sheeps-



382 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

head he ever saw was on the 4th of October, 1814; he had observed it as late as the 17th of
October.

In Florida the Sheepshead is abundant along the shores throughout the entire year, and this
is also the case throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

It is curious to see how much at variance were the statements of early observers concerning
its habit of entering fresh water streams. Mitchill states explicitly: "He confines himself strictly
to the salt water, never having been seen in the fresh rivers." Holbrook, speaking of the vicinity
of Charleston, says: "It enters shallow inlets and mouths of rivers, but never leaves the salt for
fresh water." In the Saint John's and other rivers of Florida the Sheepshead becomes almost a
fresh-water species, the young especially being constantly taken in seines in company with Bass,
Perch, and suckers, far above the limits of perceptibly brackish water. It is not yet possible, to
infer with any certainty what the temperature limits of this species may be, but it would seem
probable that they never willingly encounter water colder than 60, except perhaps in fall, when
they are reluctant to leave their feeding grounds.

The statement just made, however, requires "k certain qualification. No one knows whether
the Sheepshead of our Northern waters go south in winter or whether they simply become torpid
and remain through the season in deep holes near their summer haunts, their presence unsus-
pected. Perhaps it would be wiser to say that they are not actually engaged in feeding when the
temperature is lower than 60, and that their winter habits arc entirely unknown. Where the
water is throughout the year warmer than 60 they are constantly active. The Sheepshead feeds
almost exclusively upon hard-shelled animals, mollusks and barnacles, and particularly on young
oysters as they grow attached to stones and sticks of wood. With its strong cutting and grinding
teeth and powerful jaws it can easily rip otf thick bunches of shells and grind them to pieces.
The ordinary bait for it in the North is the soft-shelled clam, while in the South it is caught
frequently by the use of shrimps and crabs.

In discussing the habits of this species I cannot do better than to quote quite fully the obser-
vations of several writers on fish and angling, many of whom have taken a special interest in the
study of its haunts and movements.

Mitchill wrote in 1814: "This noble fish visits the neighborhood of Long Island annually,
emerging from the depths of the ocean. He feeds in the recesses and inlets upon the clams and
mussels, which are abundant, and on which he loves to feed. He confines himself strictly to the
salt water, never having been seen in the fresh rivers. His term of continuance is only during the
warmest season; that is, from the beginning of June to the middle of September. He then
disappears to the unknown depths of the Atlantic, and is seen no more until the ensuing summer.
The Sheepshead swims in shoals, and is sometimes surrounded in great numbers by the seine;
several hundreds have often been taken at a single haul with the long sweeping nets in use near
Rayner Town, Babylon, and Fire Island. They even tell of a thousand brought to land at a
draught. He also bites at the hook, and several are not unfrequenrly thus caught in succession.
The outfitting of a Sheepshead party is always an occasion of considerable excitement and high
expectation, as I have often experienced. Whenever a Sheepshead is brought on board the boat
more joy is manifested than by the possession of any other kind of fish. The sportsmen view the
exercises so much above common fishing that the capture of the Sheepshead is the most desirable
combination of luck and skill; and the feats of hooking and landing him safely in the boat furnish
abundant materials for the most pleasing and hyperbolical stories. The Sheepshead is a very
stout fish, and the hooks and lines arc strong in proportion; yet he frequently breaks them and
makes his escape. Sheepshead have been caught with such fishing-tackle fastened to their jaws.



MITCH ILL ON THE SHEEPSHEAD. :',*;{

When tin- lino or hook gives way, the svccident makes a serious impression on the company. As
the possession of the Sheepsbead is a grand prize, so bis escape is felt as a distressing loss. I
know an ancient fisherman who used to record in a book the time, place, and circumstances of
very Shecpshead he had caught. This fish is sometimes speared by torchlight in the wide and
shallow bays of Queens County and Suffolk." Dr. Mitcbill concludes bis naive remarks by the
mournful words: "It is to be regretted that tbe Sbeepshead too often corrupt for want of ice."

Schoepf, writing of the same region forty years before, states that during the period of the
Revolutionary war the Sbeepshead was very abundant in the summer months and was a very
highly prized species. Some unknown writer contributed to Brown's "American Angler," in
I* Hi, the following memorandum:

"These noble fish have become quite scarce in our harbor. The writer has taken them
repeatedly near Governor's Island, opposite tbe Battery, but this was in days long since gone by.
Still, they are still taken, occasionally, at Caving Point and at the Signal Poles, at the Narrows,
:I!.M) at Pelham Bridge and Little Hell Gate." 1

Scott gives the following advice to the Sheepsbead angler: "If a resident of New York, you
will find Cauarsie on tbe Old Mill, near East New York, the most convenient place from which to
take a sail-boat; a boat is generally at baud at eitber place. Sail down tbe channel above the
inli-t toward Near Kockaway, about a mile below Remson's Hotel; feel by sounding for a mussel-
bed (they are numerous for a mile along shore), about two hundred yards from which, when found,
cast anchor far euough away so that, when the boat toles round from the tide toward the feeding-
ground, tbe cast required for dropping your anchor will be about fifty feet. The water should be
about seven feet deep at low tide, and it rises there from four to six feet. The best time is duriHg
tbe period between high and low tides when the water is slack, and until it runs at the rate of five
miles an hour, or one hour after it begins to run; for when the tide runs out it is then considered
that Sbeepshead seek some still- water ground and wait for a moderate motion of the waters. At
the right times of tide the location of the mussel-beds is plainly indicated by a fleet of fifteen to
twenty sail-boats or hand-line fishermen. Many of them are farmers, who, residing near the shore
of Jamaica Bay, employ the interregnum between bay and grass, uniting their profits, and earning
from $3 to $10 a day, by fishing for Sheepshead.

"There are many places along our shores better than Jamaica Bay. The Hand-line Coin-
mitU'c makes it pay at Fire Island, and there are many superior feeding places in the South Bay;
about the wreck of the ' Black Warrior,' near tbe Narrows, is celebrated for great numbers of them ;
in truth, our whole coast south of Long Island is rendered inviting by this delicious fish."

Norris wrote: "In fishing for Sheepsbead it is a common practice in Lower Virginia and
other waters to drive down stout stakes forming an iuclosure; to these different species of mol-
lusks will attach themselves in a few mouths and entice the Sbeepsbead; when they have made
it a place of resort the fisherman ties his boat to a single stake on eitber side at a convenient dis-
tance and throws his bait towards the pen."

Holbrook wrote, in 1860: "At present the best fishing-grounds for tbe Sheepshead in South
Carolina is the breakwater at Sullivan's Island, or the Foundation Rocks at Fort Sumter, at the
entrance to Charleston Harbor.

Tbe Hon. William Elliott, in his "Carolina Sports," gives tbe following account of the
peculiar methods employed in catching Shcepslirud in I'ort Royal Sound, South Carolina:

"They are exceedingly choice in their feeding, taking no other bait but shell-fish. Their
favorite food is the young oyster, which, under the form of barnacle, they crush with their strong

'American Angler's Guide, lil'th edition, p. 198.



384 NATURAL HISTORY OF AQUATIC ANIMALS.

teeth. Of course they frequent those shores that abound with fallen trees. On the Florida coast
they are taken in great quantities among the mangrove trees, whose roots, growing in the salt
water, are covered with baruacles. Formerly they were taken in considerable numbers among our
various inlets. Wherever there were steep bluffs, from which large trees had fallen in the water,
there they might confidently be sought. But as these lands have been cleared for the culture of
sea-island cotton, the trees have disappeared, and with them the lish; and it has been found
necessary to renew their feeding-grounds by artificial means. Logs of pine or oak are cut and
framed into a sort of hut without a roof. It is floored and built up tive or six feet high, then
floated to the place desired, and sunk in eight feet of water by casting stones or live-oak timber
within. As soon as the barnacles are formed, which will happen in a few weeks, the fish will begin
to resort to the ground. It is sometimes requisite to do more before you can succeed in your
wishes. The greatest enemies of this fish are the sharks and porpoises, which pursue them
incessantly and destroy them, unless they can find secure hiding-places to which to retreat. Two
of these pens, near each other, will furnish this protection; and when that course is not adopted,
piles driven near each other, quite surrounding the pen, will have the same effect. Your work
complete, build a light staging by driving down four upright posts at a distance of fifteen feet
from the pen, and then take your station on it, provided with a light, flexible, and strong cane
reed, of twenty feet length, with fourteen feet of line attached, a strong hook and a light lead.
Instead of dropping your line directly down and poising it occasionally from bottom, I prefer to
throw the line out beyond the perpendicular and let the lead lie on the bottom. The Sheepshead
is a shy fish, and takes the bait more confidently if it lies on the bottom. When he bites you
perceive your rod dipping for the water; give a short, quick jerk, and then play him at your
leisure. If the fish is large, and your jerk too violent, the rod will snap at the fulcrum the grasp
of your left hand. It has happened that, at one of these artificial grounds, I have taken sixteen
Sheepshead at one fishing. What was unusual was, thit they were taken in February, when no
one thinks of fishing for these or any other sea-fish within the inlets. I ascertained, from the
continued experiments of several years, that they could always be taken at this season, and
frequently in January also. The difficulty is to find bait, for neither shrimps nor crabs are then in
season. In the case referred to the difficulty was thus removed: The lines were rigged with two
hooks; upon one was placed an oyster taken fresh from the shell, on the other an oyster boiled.
The scent of the first attracted the fish, but so little tenacity was found in it that, before the fish
had taken hold of the hook, the oyster was detached; but when, encouraged by the taste of the
first, the fish advanced to the second, that having acquired toughness from boiling, would adhere
until the hook was fairly taken into the fish's mouth. They clearly prefer the uncooked to the
cooked oyster, but the latter was more to the fisherman's purpose. Their fondness for this food
suggested the expedient of breaking up the live oysters in the shell and scattering them in the
vicinity of the ground; also that of letting down the broken oysters in a wicker basket. Each
plan is found effectual in attracting the fish.

"The blufts, in their primitive state, in which trees enough are found fallen to give the fish
both food and protection against their enemies, are only to be met with now among the Hunting
Islands, where the barrenness of the land had secured them against cultivation. On two occasions
I have enjoyed excellent sport at such places. On one I took twenty-three to my own rod; on
another, twenty four, and desisted from fatique and satiety. They are never taken in such num-
bers when fishing from a boat with a drop-line on the rocks. It is very rare that as many as
twenty are taken in one boat." 1

1 ELLIOTT, WILLIAM : Carolina Sports by Laud and Water. New York, ia59, pp. 145-149.



IIAT.ITS or TIIK SHKKI'SliKAl). 385

Mr. S. T. Walker writes: "In regard to the coiisuinptiou of moss, etc., by the Sheepshead, I
must say that I can lianlly answer intelligently. At high tide, when the flata are overflowed, I
have often observed tlio Sheepshead standing oil end, tail up and often out of the water, grub-
bing at the roots of a coarse, rough grass that grows on the flats. When engaged in this way it
is easy to capture from two to six at a single throw of the casting-net. I have often observed a
yellowish-green vegetable matter among the broken shell in their intestines, but imagined it was
swallowed accidentally with the shell-fish, or was possibly attachc-d to the shells themselves."

In the Saint John's River Sheepshead are abundant as far up as the lakes, and about
Jacksonville are always associated with the sailor's choice, Lagodon rhomboides. They are never



Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 66 of 146)