Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

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" Have the goodness to accompany me ho me ! " he said, coldly.

♦ ♦ ♦ * ♦

" A preposterous proposal ! " said Mr. Lyncargo, an hour later.
The scene was his smoking-room. The company his professional.

** Preposterous! " Halbeigh repeated the word with scornful
rancour. "Permit me to remind you of your own frequently
expressed opinions that all social grades stand — in your estimation —
upon an equality. I'm honest, hardworking, and — in my special
line — successful. If your daughter returns my love, why should I
not confidently ask you for her hand ?'*

A grim smile curved Mr. Lyncargo's lips.

** Honest, did you say ? *' he asked. " Have you been honest
with me. Lord Halbeigh ? "

The other started and winced.

" Who told you ? '* he cried.

" My daughter," said the old man. " She decided to deceive
me no longer. Do you understand me now ? "

" No ! " said Halbeigh, valiantly. " I can't help my title. You
can't get over the fact that I've made myself a working man. I
persist in my request."

Lyncargo looked at him meditatively.

** If I consent, then, you remain here as my professional ? " he
said, suddenly.

Halbeigh started. This was an unconsidered point of view.
He remembered his lodgings — his food — many things. And how
people would grin ! Then the other and most important side of the
question came to him with a rush. His face cleared.

** With Hilda as my wife? Why, certainly," he agreed.

Lyncargo gave him a piercing stare.

** You swear that ?" he demanded.

Halbeigh laughed cheerily.

'* My word has generally been considered as good as my oath,"
he said, " but I'll swear — if you make a point of it."

The old man rose, wearing a curious and rather inscrutable

''Then we call that settled, I suppose," he said, slowly.
** By the way, I was thinking of combining the post with that
of my agency, which will be worth two thousand a year. In that
case I should have to give you an assistant on the links. Are
you agreeable ? "

Halbeigh seized his would-be father-in-law's hand.

** I say," he said, heartily and ingenuously, ** you're no end of a
good chap — really,''

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We were anchored in the middle of what looked like a huge lake,
five miles from the Capiva Pass, and four miles from the famous
Boca Grande Pass, but we could in no direction see the open sea.
Attached to our stern were four row-boats and a small motor
launch, which served to fetch our letters and food — though fortu-
nately it was not our only source of supply — and to tow us and our
small boats out to the Boca Grande Pass. This time, profiting by
former experience, I was well set up as regards tackle. I had two
good stout greenhart rods, each six feet long, without a joint, and
about i^ in. in diameter near the reel, plenty of hooks and traces,
two 27-ply tarpon lines, each 200 yards long, and a wonderful Vom
Hofe reel, with three separate brakes. The first was not very strong,
and was applied by sliding a small button half an inch on the outside
of the reel ; the second, by raising a catch which stopped the revo-
lution of the handle when the line was flowing out. With the
aid of a small key this brake could in a few seconds be made so
powerful as to break the line before permitting it to revolve the
drum. At the same time it did not in the least delay the winding in
of a fish, as in that direction the handle slid over the catch, causing
no friction at all. The third brake consisted of a piece of leather
secured to one of the cross pins in the circumference of the reel,
which could be pressed by the thumbs on to the line in the reel.
During the playing of a fish one had no time to alter the power
of the second, so the special merit of the last was that its resis-

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tance could be instantaneously adjusted to suit any circumstances
that might arise, and its defect that its application tended to wear
the line. One revolution of the handle caused two of the drum,
which spun like a gyroscope when all three brakes were taken off.
I r^ret to say that this reel is an American production, and made
by Mr. Vom Hofe, of 96, Fulton Street, New York. There is at
present no English-made tarpon reel that I can recommend.

With regard to lines, I strongly recommend the sportsman to
use nothing lighter than 30-ply,even though a 27-ply line will support
a weight of 25 lb. when new. A 30-ply line is not so thick or so heavy
as an average salmon line; it gives a greater sense of security,
saves time and many hooks, and lasts longer.


I do not propose to weary the reader with a detailed account of
ten days' fishing, but I shall endeavour to give some idea of the life,
at the same time noticing any points or incidents which might be of
interest to those who study the sea and its inhabitants.

Time and tide wait for no man, and for the fishing in these
passes off the coast of Florida it is necessary to time the tide
accurately. As our houseboat was so far from the Boca Grande
Pass it was extremely difficult to tell the exact state of the tide
there, so much depending on the strength and direction of the
wind. During the spring tides it is only possible to fish in these
channels from i^ hours before to i^ hours after slack water;

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for, besides the impossibility of rowing against the stream, or of
sinking the bait outside these hours, the tarpon seem to travd 4ip
and down the pass about slack water, and then to amuse themselves
among the islands or in the Gulf till the next tide. Owing to onr
distance we often arrived an hour too late or too early, and conse-
quently we found our position extremely inconvenient.

The authorities told us that the boat had been moved from its
position close to the pass owing to the strength of the currents
and the numbers of the mosquitos near the shore. But, as a large
sum was demanded for the use of the motor launch, which we had
to employ two or three times a day to tow us to the fishing grounds,
we thought the currents and the mosquitos might not be so very
formidable after all.

Fortunately there was an English yacht anchored close to the
pass, and the party on board were bent on the same mission as our-
selves. It is always pleasant to meet an Englishman in a far
country, especially so when one can do something for or get some-
thing done by him. As soon as the owner understood our predica-
ment he lent us his steam launch, which we promptly harnessed a la
tandem with our rickety old motor, and with the aid of the wind
and tide we soon dragged our residence to within half a mile of the
fishing grounds. The mosquitos never broke through our fortifi-
cations in sufficient strength to give us any serious trouble, but the
tides were undeniably strong; and owing to the fact that with the
changing currents we were continually swinging round, we woke one
morning to find that we had dragged our anchor almost a mile, but
luckily away from the pass. None of us had any wish to deprive
the gentleman who went round the world in a canoe of his well-won
laurels, by crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a houseboat ; but had we
travelled a mile in the other direction we should have found our-
selves fairly started on the attempt, and these reminiscences would
not have been remembered, or they would have been considerably
more thrilling, at any rate to the writer. The natural solution of
the difficulty seemed to be to put out an anchor from either end of
the boat, and so prevent any swinging at all. But the authorities
vetoed this, as they feared the upsetting effect of a strong side

We got our boat back on the next tide, and solved the difficulty
by dropping both anchors from the same end of the boat ; and as
we did not intend to have anything to do with weighing them or
disentangling their ropes, we thought no more about the matter. We
were now some 200 yards from the inside or eastern shore of the
island, which forms the north shore of the pass. On this island are
three buildings, a small quarantine station, a lighthouse, and a

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wooden cottage belonging to the assistant lighthouseman. These
houses ^vere objects of no small interest to us, as from them we
obtained our fresh water, which was collected in tanks from
their roofs. The lighthouseman, too, was interesting; an educated
man who had not for many years been ground in the social mill.
He told me he saw almost as little of his assistant as of anyone else.
It was not well to become too familiar with one's subordinates. He
said that at first he used to read four or five books a day, but that
now he scarcely read at all. He had reached a state where the
society of his fellows was no longer a necessity to him, though who
can tell how painful was the path by which he travelled there.
Unlike most Americans, he diverted himself with no golden dreams

of fortune, and it would be a contradiction to suppose that a man
for whom nature was sufficient should care for power to influence
the lives of others ; but this may have resulted from a knowledge
of the hopelessness of the struggle. Anyhow, from him I learnt of
his welcome and unwelcome guests, the three different sorts of
turtles, the logger-head, sometimes weighing 300 lb., the green-back,
and the snapper which crawled up the shore at night and laid
their eggs in the sand in May and June; and the rattlesnakes
which swam across from Florida and the adjacent islands.

But to return to our muttons, or rather our tarpon. There are

four different kinds of tarpon fishing on the west coast of Florida.

First, there is the still fishing off Fort Myers. This did not sound to

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me particularly lively, as when the fish ignore one's blandishments it
resembles too closely punt fishing on the Thames. Secoodly, there
is the fishing in the Boca Grande, which is the largest and deepest
pass firequented by the tarpon off this coast. It is, I should say,
about three miles wide and one and a half miles long. The methods
here employed closely resemble harling, except that one's bait is
usually thirty feet or more below the surface. Thirdly, there is
the fishing in the shallow passes, such as the Capiva, where the
methods are the same as those in vogue at the Boca Grande, with
the exception that the lead-sinker is discarded, and the bait in
consequence only a foot or two under the surface. Fourthly, there
is the sport on the mud flats just inside the Boca Grande. This
is at its best, according to the native guides, about half tide, but
we found it did not pay to start until we had seen or heard the
fish there, as if they are patrolling this comparatively shallow
water they will show themselves. Then it was by far the best
sport we had. Not only did the tarpon strike more freely, but
their leaps were more vigorous and more frequent, and they got
more excited than they did in the deep water of the pass. There
they were continually travelling backwards and forwards about
slack water, but we never saw anything of them inside the islands
except on these flats, where they found small fish and crabs in
plenty. They never stayed long even here, but always seemed to be
making slowly towards the pass. They undoubtedly did not spend
the whole of their time inside the islands on these feeding grounds,
but they were never seen anywhere else.

One, if not the only, advantage possessed by the tarpon fisher-
man in Florida over his confrere at Tampico lies in the superiority of
his negro boatman over the Peon whom one has to employ in
Mexico, though this latter costs exactly half as much. The only
language spoken by these guides, as they like to call themselves, is
English, or rather American. They are keen sportsmen, and there
is considerable emulation between them. The fish, like some hurri-
canes, seem to travel along a narrow track ; so five or six boats will
often be fishing close together, and the guide whose protege is getting
the greatest number of strikes will be the object of many envious
glances. The depth at which he is fishing (if ascertained), and even
the movements of his boat will be copied. One of our guides, by
name Billy Washington (but blacker than any hat), was universally
recognised as facile princeps. He was watched from the moment
we got on the fishing grounds, as is a particularly brilliant footballer
by the players on the other side. Unlike Launcelot, his title of
•* best guide " was a source of great pleasure to him, but, like that
famous knight, to lose it for one day was gall. Any darky who could

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boast at the nightly indaba, after the day's sport, that he had beaten
Washington was a proud and happy man. All this was, of course,
quite satisfactory to us, for though it caused our guides to set their
faces against anything in the way of an experiment, and to show an
inclination to be autocratic, they tried all they knew, and were
always ready to go on as long as we were. We paid them 3^ dols. a
day and i doL a day for their food, but they were too deeply imbued
with the prevailing idea that a tarpon fisherman must ipso facto
be a gold mine not to attempt to extract a little more. The evening
before we left they deputed one Giles, the Ulysses of the party, to
squeeze if possible an extra dollar a day. He came to the point at
once : " There is something, sar, we thought you did not under-
stand, sar. We get 3^ dol. a day if we do not fish at night, sar.


When we fish at night we get 4^ dol. a day, sar. We thought you
might not understand that, sar."

His manner during the first part of his explanation was full of
reproach, and during the second, when he saw we did not quite catch
on, almost minatory.

We told him we should give him whatever was right, and con-
sulted our two American friends, L. and K., with whom we were
sharing the houseboat, and found that they were paying nothing of
the sort. Now L. had taken no trouble to conceal the fact that he
was a terrible man with a "gun," and that his equanimity had on
two or three occasions become seriously ruffled. It is often convenient
o have a well-established reputation for a Berserker temperament.

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Whether this was the cause, or whether the feel of the notes was so
pleasant, I do not know ; but when we paid those darkies at the
rate of 3i dols. a day, they forgot even to demand a tip, and departed
as merry as the proverbial sandboy. This incident we afterwards
learnt was due to the fact that a rich yacht owner, who had not
perhaps objected to being regarded as an inexhaustible gold mine,
had been fishing in these waters just before our arrival. Close to us
on the shore were two or three tents, inhabited by some darkies who
used to catch our bait. Here there were none of those little cigar-
shaped fish which made such excellent bait in Mexico. We used a
fish much more like an ordinary mullet, about eight inches long.
The scales were scraped off, and each fish provided us with four baits,
two from his upper and two from his lower half. These were cut
something the shape of a very acute angled isosceles triangle.
Whether the tarpon or some other large fish had discovered their
haunts and habits, or whether the sportsmen were the indirect cause,
I do not know; but we often had considerable difficulty in obtaining
our quota, and on some days we could get no fresh bait at all. The
tarpon is apparently something of a gourmet, or else they found it
difficult in spite of all our skill to believe that a piece of mullet which
had been cut the previous day was a live and succulent fish.

Anyhow, we never had much sport on the days when we had no
fresh bait. Our expenses for this necessary article amounted to
more than $ii a day each. I do not intend to ask the reader to
accompany me in my small boat during the long hours which were
devoid of incident, but I shall try to draw a picture of the sport.

The four of us board our small fishing boats, and are rowed off
by our several darkies at 4 a.m., so as to catch the first of the tide
in the pass at 4.20. My friend F. is armed with a harpoon, and I
with my camera and Mauser pistol, thus we consider ourselves well
prepared for any eventuality. The tide is coming in, so we hug the
coast for fifteen minutes while going up the pass, and then row out
about a mile from the shore at its head. A small shark follows the
boat for some distance, but presumably makes up his mind that we
are but poor fishermen, and gives us up. The sharks in these
waters have had and will have many a splendid meal at the expense
of the tarpon fishermen, and they seem thoroughly to understand
the game. Nevertheless, my hopes are undimmed by the opinion of
this young and impatient scavenger, and we soon commence opera-
tions. Our guides insist on our fishing close to the bottom, so we
tie on a lead sinker at the top of the piano wire and let out twenty
to thirty yards of line, according to the depth of the water.
There are two boats out from the yacht, and all six keep pretty close
together. No tarpon have yet been seen, and all the guides arc

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doing much the same as Washington. Our general policy is to row
backwards and forwards over a strip of water 200 to 300 yards broad,
being at the same time carried up or down the pass by the tide. We
then row back to the other end and repeat the process. As the
tarpon are such rapid movers, no jealousy is occasioned by one boat
fishing in front of another. At this time, on a June morning in
Florida, the cloud effects are often very beautiful, and I am not much
afraid of losing my rod as I lay it down for a moment to take a snap-

Soon one of the boats has a fish which comes rushing at a great
pace out of the water, but there is a convenient interval between


the time when he takes the bait twenty or thirty feet below the sur-
face and his first leap. I snap him off as he emerges, and roll him
up quickly in the hope of getting a shot at his second appearance as
well. In this deep water I saw during my ten days' stay two tarpon
which did not show themselves for ten minutes, and when they did
we were of course more than surprised to find they were neither
sharks nor jew-fish. The rest leapt at once, but this proportion of
two out of about 150 is, I believe, above the average. There is a
curious little crackling noise which sounds rather as if we were float-
ing on a sea of soda-water, and innumerable small bubbles were
continually striking the bottom of the boat. The guides had many
theories as to the cause. They were all agreed that it only occurred

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Si8 T«E BAt)MlNt0K MAGA^flNE

when we were over rocks. Some said it was the noise of shell-fish
feeding, others thought it might be fish or rising bubbles, but there
was no trace whatever of these in the water, and I am quite at a loss
to account for the phenomenon. But what is that large dark brown
object, like the top of a huge water-logged sphere, about loo yards
away ? It is travelling along the surface, and churning the water
into a regular breaker in front of its cavernous mouth, which resem-
bles a horizontal slit two or three feet long between two great per-
pendicular lips. The devil-fish or giant ray is, I presume, enjoying,
or about to enjoy, itself among one of the numerous shoals of small
fish which haunt these waters.

F. has the harpoon, so I quickly call his attention to our quarry.
The harpoon takes some time to adjust, and I notice that F.'s guide
seems suddenly overcome with fatigue. My own guide explains,


** He no like devil-fish, sar," and goes on to tell me how one of these
monsters recently towed a boat for eight miles before it was hauled up
on the shore. Fortunately the fish took the sportsmen in towards the
land, but it is apparently an even chance whether it makes straight
for the Gulf of Mexico or goes inside the islands, with a shade of
odds in favour of that direction in which the tide is flowing. It has
been recorded that another of these devil fish towed a 14-ft. boat
for eighteen miles in these waters before giving an opportunity for a
shot. It is certainly possible to cut loose, but if the end of the line
is tied on to the boat, the bows may be dragged under water if one
is unprepared. We had, too, neglected to tie on our line an empty
air-tight tin can, which makes a powerful brake when being dragged
at a high velocity through the water. I am now within twenty yards

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of the huge flat fish, which does not alter his course by a fraction of
a degree, but takes two or three dives of about thirty feet just under
the surface, and sinks out of sight.

The fatigue of F.'s boatman at once disappears, and I am given
to understand that, when in a small boat, close quarters with
a freshly harpooned devil-fish are apt to be unpleasant. This was
one, I should say, about twelve feet long, and so by no means a very
large specimen, as they have been caught twenty feet across, and
reported up to thirty feet across. It is surprising what a hard
straight blow it takes to drive home a harpoon into one of these
giant rays, and how easily it slides off the fish's back. During my


stay I saw one of these huge flat fish jump about six feet clear of the
water, and come down again with a loud ungainly flop; but the whip
rays, which have been caught up to 200 lb., and the sting rays often
reached this height. The object of these manoeuvres was, I presume,
to rid themselves of their suckers. A Remora, or ** delayer " (as the
naturalists call him), is a little fish of a muddy blue-black colour all
over, here usually eight or nine inches long, though they have been
caught up to two feet in length. They are approximately circular in
section, and generally about an inch in diameter. They attach
themselves to the back and sides of their unwilling comrades by a
sucker situated on their backs just behind the head.

As far back as 1884 the native fishermen of Zanzibar used to
rear these suckers, which they employed for the purpose of catching

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large fish, such as sharks or turtles. They stuck to the skin or
shell with extraordinary tenacity, and were held by a line attached to
a metal band or wire bound round the thin part of the body just
above the tail. It is recorded that one of these fish held on to its
carrier till this metal band tore through the flesh. There, how-
ever, they ran from two to four and a half feet in length, and
weighed from two to seven pounds.

The other boats altogether have had a dozen strikes or so, and
three or four tarpon ; but this is a spring tide, and the water is soon
running too fast for further fishing, so we row back to an eight o'clock
breakfast. We start again soon after 10.30. The tide is going out,


SO it is not long before we are on the fishing grounds. There is
nothing to be seen, and we fish for half an hour without a strike. I
suggest discarding the lead sinker and fishing nearer the surface, as
I had done at Tampico ; but my guide strongly disapproves, and
prophesies that it will only be waste of time. However, I try it for
a bit, but it makes no difference, so I return to the orthodox

When the tarpon are travelling near the surface in or near these
passes, my experience is that they always show themselves. Sud-
denly they put in an appearance. Processions of them are making
up and down the pass in narrow streaks. The individuals break
water one after another in the same place, much as each sheep of a

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flock ^vill often jump exactly where the one immediately in front did.

So by snapping with my camera at the place in the water where one

or two fish have shown, I manage to hit off some of their followers.

A tarpon does not so often entirely leave the water unless he is

hooked, or rather I will say frightened, as they jumped in Mexico

when they had taken a bait that was merely tied on to the line ;

but they flick their tails up in the air as shown in my photographs,

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 39 of 52)