Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

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or roll over like a porpoise. It is then, I suppose, that they get a

great deal of air into their mouths, and this circumstance has given

rise to the absurd theory that they breathe like one. True, we often

see lines of bubbles rising to the surface, and we know well that they

come from the tarpon passing underneath ; but I have often seen

goldfish and others emit bubbles from their mouths, and the silver

king is as far removed from a mammal as any other fish. We row


to cut these processions, but the fish do not seem over hungry, or
our baits are far below them. Some of the keener guides try fishing
at different depths, in the hope of finding the level at which the fish
are travelling, but still this prejudice against trying the surface.

There is a lively rod, and within a few seconds out rushes the
tarpon. Now L, is a mighty fisherman, his tackle is mighty too, and
within ten minutes he is making for the shore with his fish in tow. I
follow, and take a snapshot of the last episode in that tarpon's life.
The darky is just about to catch hold of the piano wire, and haul the
fish high and dry on the shore. It is surprising how quickly a tarpon
changes his world, as the Japanese would say, when once out of the
water. This is, perhaps, largely due to his tremendous exertions before
admitting defeat. Besides the scales, the spherical lenses of the eye
of a tarpon make interesting trophies. They can be easily removed by
NO. cxix. VOL xxii — May 1906 N N

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cutting about half way round the membrane near the outside edge of
the eye, and just inside the cartilage which protects the sides, the
knife being held perpendicular to the surface of the eye. The cut
should be as shallow as possible, in order to avoid all chance of
damaging the lens, which can then be easily extracted with the
finger. Thus the tiresome operation of removing the whole eye is
avoided. The lens when it first comes out looks like a flawlesscnstal
sphere, and is about the size of a marble. It should be pinned by
its thin black attachment to some projecting piece of wood, and left
to dry in contact with nothing more solid than air. Unfortunately
it loses its transparency while drying ; it contracts ; and creases, like
mountain ranges, appear on its surface ; it remains translucent, and
becomes quite hard. The lens then has a sort of spherical cleavage,
and broken hollow spheres can be stripped off, but the nucleus is
always cracked.

We are soon back in our places among the processions. Now
one or other of the boats has a fish on an average of one every fifteen
minutes, and my camera is kept busy.- On one pccasion two tarpon
are six or eight feet clear of the water, within five yards of each
other : but the camera is only a single-barrelled instrument, and I
have just shot at the first leap of one of them. The tarpon, however,
are not the only objects of interest. Here and there great brown
turtles, sometimes three feet across, come up and bask on the surface
for a few minutes. I learn that they are not difficult to harpoon, as
their shell is of such a texture that, if the iron penetrates but half an
inch, it will hold until its purpose is accomplished. I am very keen
to add a large turtle shell to my mementos, so we stalk every one
we see; but they are too wary, and I was never able to get to sufB-
ciently close quarters, though the sportsmen from the yacht managed
to gaff a large one. It would be easy enough to shoot them, but
short of exploding a pound or two of dynamite in contact with
them it is impossible to kill them instantaneously, and they never
remain on the surface, however good the shot.

At last a good strong pull at my rod ; the bait is far and deep,
and the line I presume sagging, so the blow given by a tarpon taking
the bait near the surface is much modified. A few seconds and out he
dashes, splashing the spray in all directions. But now it is a very
different story. There is fixed on the seat a leather bucket in which
I place the butt of the rod, and it is unnecessary to touch reel or line
at all when the fish is rushing away. The brakes are quite sufficiently
powerful, so I have a splendid hold on the rod with both hands until
the strain is relaxed, and I begin to reel up. The odds now seem all
in the fisherman's favour, so I hand the rod to my guide and prepare
to photograph. But the fish sounds, my darky plays the miser with

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the line, the rod consequently comes in contact with the side of the
boat, and snaps like a straw a foot above the reel. I keep my
opinions to myself ^ro tern., and after an half an hour's terrific exer-
cise manage to tire out the fish from the reel. By this time my
wrath, too, has somewhat subsided, so the tarpon is gaffed through
the lower jaw and the hook recovered. I return to the houseboat,
to the accompaniment of a babel of explanations from my guide.

A somewhat meagre lunch, and we start again at 4.45. The
fish are now striking freely, but they are also getting rid of the hook
freely. Our sinkers are tied on with very weak wire, the idea being
that they might assist the tarpon in his attempts to jerk the hook
out of his mouth in the air. Consequently, for every strike one loses
a sinker. My stock of five is soon exhausted, and willy-nilly I have
to fish on the top of the water. The fish are disporting themselves


all round us, and I cannot believe that they leave their appetites
behind them the moment they rise above a certain depth. Sure
enough I soon have another. He gives excellent sport, but it is
almost too dark for such rapid exposures as are here necessary.
The other boats foUow^my lead, and try fishing on the surface with
considerable success. Suddenly there is a noise as if some extra-
ordinarily heavy rain was striking a patch of water about fifty yards
away ; and there over an area of ten yards square the surface of the
sea is wildly torn in all directions, little jets of water ten inches high
being thrown up from every square foot, and travelling with consider-
able velocity. This troubled patch soon begins to move, at the same
time expanding, so that it assumes something the shape of a fan. The
jets of water travel a foot or two at a great pace and disappear, as
their causes, the various members of the attacking shoal, seize their

N N 2

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prey. Of course as the area of this conflict, or rather massacre,
increases, the pursuers become less crowded, and the water forequal
areas less agitated, till finally, after a minute or so, there is only an
isolated splash here and there as the few remaining survivors are
snapped up. Not a fish has left the water the whole time, and now
the smaller shoal has been annihilated, or a remnant has sought
safety in the depths, and the water is calm as before. The number
of fish has been reduced to increase the size of others. Each victim
has doubtless devoured many smaller ones, and may now be regarded
as a sort of food collector for his captor ; this captor in turn merely
collecting his victims to render possible the existence of some larger
fish, which could not collect the enormous number of smaller fish
which would be necessary to satisfy his needs. We often witnessed
these encounters where all ideas save that of ruthless ferocity are
unknown. In fact the pursuit was sometimes going on all round
the boat. The size of the attackers was, I should say, from three to
four pounds, and the victims weighed a quarter to half pound. On
our way back I pick up a nice channel bass of ten pounds. He is
very lively, or rather would be on any other than tarpon tackle;
anyhow a most welcome addition to our commissariat department.

After dinner we sit down to a cheap game of poker, while our
guides are outside watching the flats and listening for the splash of a
tarpon. It is not long before Washington comes in and reports the
presence of the fish. They seem to pass fairly rapidly over those
grounds towards the Boca Grande in one large shoal, and this fishing
never lasts more than two hours. It is, too, by far the best sport off
the coast of Florida, so the game comes to an abrupt conclusion and
we dash for our boats. The moon is full, the sky cloudless. The ripples
which form a brilliant and ever-changing silver road stretching to-
wards the moon force even a Vandal such as the writer to forget for
a moment the tarpon beneath them. The only sounds are those caused
by the oars, the water lapping against the side of the boat, and the oc-
casional splash of a tarpon, for which we steer. But I am inaccurate.
There is not a breath of wind, and so the mosquitos from the shore
are making merry all over the fishing grounds. These mosquitos
possess a greater power of penetrating clothing than any others I
have come across, but a piece of newspaper will, of course, absolutely
defeat them.

This fishing is more like that at Tampico, as the fish take
freely, and in this shallow water we dispense with our sinkers
and let out a long line. I soon have a strike, and the leaps and
dashes of the tarpon are wonderful in the moonlight. We part com-
pany, but it is not long before I am playing another. This one has
a great idea of reaching the deep water. He does not waste much

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time or energy in leaping, but makes for the pass in a most deter-
mined manner, so much so that at one time he has out over a hundred
yards of Hne. But this sort of thing soon tires him. I follow, and
get him within three or four yards of the boat. He is now very tired,
and flopping about spasmodically on the surface. I have already


Caught on tarpon tackle after two hours' hard work. A shark has taken a piece out of
its tall while being landed

numbered him among my captives, when suddenly, quite close to the
boat, and right in the centre of the moon's reflected light on the
water, up rises the huge dark back of a shark. He is making, calmly
as a snake for a fascinated rabbit, and inexorably as fate, for my

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luckless tarpon. Whew ! but I am not at all prepared to do battle
with that brute. He is considerably longer than my boat, and
would certainly take the whole of my line if not the rod as well ; and,
after all, the boat itself is only half an inch or so thick. I immedi-
ately release all the brakes and give my tarpon as fair a chance as
I can. He summons up energy for another rush. I cannot any
longer see the shark, but as the line flows out I can very vividly
imagine the desperate race going on a few feet beneath the surface,
and am fully prepared for a pull on my line as if I had hitched on to
a runaway locomotive. The tarpon is now forty feet from the boat
— I feel the slightest jerk, and the line is slack; there are two great
swirls in the water, and then the silvery ripples are calm and peaceful
as before. I reel up and find that the piano wire has been cleanly
cut a foot from the hook. The severed end is curled round, much
like a piece of wire that has been snipped by a small-bore bullet. The
edges of the teeth of these large sharks are like fine saws, or the edges
of a large triangular file, and there is not much doubt as to how this
wire was so quickly and so easily severed. Now tarpon hooks are
not particularly wholesome food even for sharks, and I think it more
than probable that my tarpon will be avenged by the instrument that
caused his death.

My guide, however, has not at all appreciated the incident,
especially as we are now some way from the other boats, and none of
our guides cared to go out alone at night on these flats. After all,
they were not entirely unreasonable. Sharks, rays, tarpon, and
porpoises abound, and these latter have a most unpleasant way of
rising to blow within a few feet of the boat. If they happened to
charge it from a flank or to rise underneath it in a blind or playful
moment, the consequences might be such that " the subsequent pro-
ceedings would " very soon " interest us no more." In any case at
the moment nothing seems to me so repulsive as a porpoise with a
penchant for practical jokes. We row back towards the houseboat
and lose one more tarpon on the way. But the shoal now seems to
have passed on to the deep water, so we tie up our bark and exchange
it for the good solid old houseboat. I have only been back a few
minutes when in comes L. covered with slime and filth, and his rod
smashed to splinters at the strongest place near the butt. He is
not long about telling the story of his discomfiture. He had just
put the bait over the side of his boat preparatory to letting out
line when a tarpon seized it. He struck with his usual vigour, and
the tarpon after the manner of his kind leapt, and straight at his
enemy. L. at once took in the situation and attempted to ward off
the shock with the thickest part of his rod. This the tarpon
treated much as an equestrian treats a paper hoop in a circus; he

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then hit L. fair and square on the chest, knocking him back into
the bilge water in the bottom of the boat ; next he came in contact
with the oar, and rejoicing in his victory over his redoubtable
opponent, slithered back into the sea a free fish. L.'s respect for
the power and weight of a tarpon was so enhanced by this inci-
dent that ever afterwards he invariably cast his bait as far as he
could from the boat when fishing at night on the flats. The other
two sportsmen soon arrive. They have each got two or three fish,
and are very pleased with themselves, but their adventures seem
somewhat pale and are only once told.

I must describe another night when Washington summons us
for the flats at nine o'clock. There is a delicious breeze and


not a mosquito in the place, no trace of either moon or cloud ;
Sirius, Aldebaran, the stars of Orion, and their less imposing
brethren are as brilliant as I have ever seen them. But the sea
is as I have never seen it, and hardly believed it possible to
be before. Our boat for some yards leaves behind it a gradu-
ally fading wake of light, and the oars where they touch the
water stir it to a brilliant phosphorescence. I pay out the line, and
watch my luminous bait as it gradually recedes from and then
follows the boat. But here we are on the edge of a shoal of tarpon.
A great fish passes without a sound within three feet of the boat,
leaving behind him a watery comet's tail ; then another and
another passes underneath us and we are in the thick of them.
There is a great luminous column after the bait — bang at the rod,

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splash, as he raises masses of spray which almost dazzle us, a wild
twenty-foot rush along the top of the water, and up again with a
sound that seems louder in the silence of the night — and he is free.
As I reel in a great white cloud floats under the boat, so I suppose
that, in addition to the tarpon and the porpoises, whose elephantine
p:ambols are causing me some uneasiness, I have found the rays at
home as well. Another bait is ready, and we feel a jar as something
strikes the boat near the bow. I look round in time -to see a glow-
ing splash as the tarpon dives. Whether this was an accident or
curiosity on the part of the tarpon I am not sure, but I am not at
all anxious that the fish should take the least interest in the boat.
My guide tells me how last year a sportsman fishing at night was
struck in the back of the neck by a frisky porpoise, and how he was
still on his back ; but, porpoises or no porpoises, this is not a sight
to be missed. For a moment or two the water seems almost a net-
work of moving light, and I am soon engaged with another tarpon.
He is captured after a most exciting tussle, during a great part of
which his poeition in the water is plainly visible. We take his
measurement on the shore, and his weight is, according to compu-
tation,^ 165 lb. ; but the mosquitos accelerate our movements, and
we are soon back on the fishing grounds. The thickest part of the
shoal now seems to have passed over, but I still see an occasional
fish, and capture one more before a wonderful night's sport comes
to an end.

' The length from tip of tail to tip of chin in inches, multiplied by the square of
the greatest girth in inches and divided by 800, gives a close approximation to the
weight of the tarpon in pounds.

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One of the past generation of cricketers, whose name is still a
household word wherever the game is discussed, observed to me that
in his opinion the question of qualification by residence was the
most thorny problem he ever remembered in connection with cricket.
At one time, as he pointed out, unfair bowling was rampant, but this
was put down by public opinion infusing more courage into the
umpires. In the same way things deleterious to the popularity of
the game visible in the field, such as excessive employment of the
off-ball theory and undue indulgence in leg-play, will be merely
passing episodes, and the solution of the crux of the drawn game
should soon be arrived at. But the question of county qualification
is a far more intangible and less tractable affair.

One grave point is that so much transference which is perfectly
genuine and above-board becomes muddled up in public esteem with
the very few invidious and doubtful transactions which occasionally
mar the harmony of cricket. Those who read my article on ** The
Coming Cricket Season *' in last month's Badminton Magazine
will remember that some attempt is under consideration to render
more drastic the law of transference, and this is no doubt a step in
the right direction. There is a long-standing feeling that unofficially
a certain amount of inducement is offered to promising young pro-
fessionals to migrate to counties which can offer more lucrative
p>osts. Only within the past two years an unfortunate cessation of
the spirited matches between Surrey and Somersetshire has resulted
from Montgomery leaving the ground-staff of the metropolitan
county in order to qualify for the western one. This is a case where
outward and visible results — by which players and spectators suffer —
have revealed secret negotiations.

Another case, probably known to very few, occurred between
Yorkshire and Essex. The executive of the latter were particularly

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pleased with the promise indicated by a ypung Yorkshireman named
Bedford, and informed his county committee that negotiations would
be commenced. After a friendly conversation, Yorkshire expressed
such reluctance to lose the services of the colt that the whole matter
was dropped. So little, however, did he fulfil expectation that now
he is no longer used even for the second eleven, and the Essex
committee congratulate themselves on being saved much expense for
little result.

At one period it seemed as if all the first-class counties were
recruiting from Nottingham, and so wealthy in talent were the Mid-
landers that even when ahead of all rivals they could afford lavishly
to scatter professional skill through the breadth of the land.
To-day, with the inevitable swing of the pendulum, it is another
matter, and after George and John Gunn, Iremonger, Hardstaff,
Gates, Wass, and Hallam, Mr. A. O. Jones is sore put to find
adequate support. Yorkshire, too, gave its quota to swell the
southern and rival strength, whilst latterly a fine example — but one
not always feasible in other cases — has been set of not playing any
born outside the county, with the exception of Lord Hawke. I am
under the impression that to-day Kent keeps to the same unwritten

Though at present dealing more especially with the professional
side of the question, it may be pointed out that many amateurs are
born in London, though their families have head-quarters in various
counties. Were the birth qualification to be rigidly insisted upon
and the residential ignored, a large percentage of cricketers could
never take part in county cricket, and this would be absurd. Bats-
men like Sir T. C. O'Brien, Messrs. P. F. Warner and M. R.
Jardine, to cite only three at random, were born out of Eng-
land, and the list could be largely extended. It is, how-
ever, certain that many of the minor counties are suspicious
of the surreptitious agents of the more wealthy ones in the first
rank. As it deals with a matter of twenty years ago there
can be no harm in citing the following : In my capacity as cricket
editor for ** Victoria History, Counties of England," I invited
Mr. J. P. Kingston to deal with Northamptonshire, and in his
manuscript are these observations : ** The county also brought to
the front the notable fast bowler Bowley, who afterwards found a
better financial harvest in the ranks of Surrey, and the no less
renowned Mold, who was tempted to join Lancashire. It was an
unfortunate thing when Northamptonshire obtained their two soli-
tary trial matches with the County Palatine — they gained no credit
and lost their great bowler."

There can be no doubt that a professional playing for a minor

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county has much to gain if he can effect a successful transference
into a first-class eleven. He enjoys increased pay and an increased
number of engagements, whilst he at once becomes an individual of
public interest, which not one professional to-day playing for a
minor county can for one moment imagine himself. On the other
side, county executives which have large balances may be excused
for going in search of recruits. To preserve the equilibrium, it is
always open to a dissatisfied committee or individual to appeal to
the committee of M.C.C. Three counties have notably benefited by
the exercise of qualification, these being Lancashire, Surrey, and
Middlesex ; Worcestershire, Leicestershire, and Sussex have also
gathered strength by cricketers residing within their borders who
were born elsewhere. The following does not profess to be a com-
plete list of professionals who have since 1878 represented Lancashire
under such qualification, but it certainly reveals a fairly powerful
reinforcement : —

Baker, Yorkshire. Mclntyre, Notts. Sugg, Derbyshire.

Briggs, Notts. Mold, Northants. Tinsley, Yorkshire.

Crossland, Notts. Nash, Berkshire. A. Ward, Yorkshire.

Cuttell, Yorkshire. Oakley, Shropshire. F. Waid, Cumberland.

Hallam, Leicestershire. Paul, Ireland. Watson, Lanarkshire.

Holland, Leicestershire. Pilling, Bedfordshire. Yates, Derbyshire.

Lancaster, Yorkshire. Robinson, Yorkshire.

It will be remembered that in the height of the heated
controversy about the fairness of Crossland's delivery — in which
Lord Harris came forward as the mouthpiece of the dissatisfied —
the whole matter was shelved on the side issue that he had lost his
residential qualification. Some years ago I recollect a very experi-
enced amateur in the Surrey pavilion telling me that a large number
of cricketers innocently participated incounty cricket without having
the least idea they had carelessly forfeited their residential qualifi-
cation. When I expressed surprise he gave me such chapter and
verse that — though these cases are now ancient history — it really
does seem that the committee of M.C.C. would be well advised in
demanding an annual certificate from county committees that all
residential qualifications have been duly kept up.

Middlesex have been singularly unfortunate in finding profes-
sionals born within the county area, as the following list testifies : —

Clarke, Notts. Flanagan, Ireland. Phillips, Australia.

Howitt, Notts. Mantle, Worcestershire. Roche „

T. Hearne, Bucks. Spillman, Sussex. Tarrant ,,

J. T. Hearne, Bucks. Rawlin, Yorkshire. Trott „

Vogler (in 1907), South Africa.

It mu5t be borne in mind that the metropolitan county for a long
while was exclusively amateur in the composition of its eleven, so

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that the large percentage of professional qualifications is the more
curious, seeing that Burton, Dunkley, and West seem to be the only
ones who could be set on the other side of the sheet.

Without exhausting the professional qualifications for Surrey
since 1878 the following presents a tolerably exact list, though it

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 40 of 52)