Thursday, September 6, 2007

Voices from the Past: Frederic J. Haskin Part II

The final part of the article by Haskin deals mainly with commercial fishing.
Fishing Tackle, Part II

by Frederick J. Haskin

Use of the Gill Net

In the herring fisheries the gill net is used, and some of these are of such remarkable size that they contain dozens of tons of fish when hauled in. It is ascertained in which direction a school of fish is traveling, and the gill net is placed across its path. The meshes of the net are big enough to admit their heads and to pass their gills. But the larger part of the body cannot pass through. In this predicament they figuratively back-pedal until their gills become hopelessly fast in the meshes. When the nets are full as is desired they are drawn up and the fish emptied on the deck. Many other kinds of fish also are caught with the gill net.

Beautiful painting of gill netting by the great Frederick Remington

Long-line fishing is another of the commercial methods by which the world's fish supply is captured. A single line, sometimes as much as 10 miles long, is shot out from the side of the boat. A heavy weight is attached to the end first thrown overboard, and at intervals of a few feet short lines with hooks on them are attached. The long line is then stretched across the tide, and thus the hooks are kept at a proper distance apart. When the big line has remained out long enough it is hauled in and on the thousands of hooks, sometimes 5000 of them, there are nearly every kind of fish one can imagine, a veritable Noah's ark of the deep. In miniature, this line becomes the "trot line" of inland river fishing.

Long line fishing has been tremendously damaging to the environment

Hand Line for Cod

In the great cod fisheries of Newfoundland, the simple hand line in a boat goes out and pulls them in one after the other until he gets a boat load. The long line and the nets are sometimes used. It is said that a fish has more curiosity than any other living creature, and in sport fishing for mackerel the best bait that can be used is simply a piece of scarlet flannel or ribbon, tapering to a point. There is nothing in the sea that this imitates: it is merely intended to take advantage of the mackerel's inquisitiveness.

Perhaps the most dangerous and thrilling calling in the world of marine life is whaling, though the advent of the steam whaler has tended to lessen both the danger and the romance of the chase. That the harpoon used in whaling is of very remote origin, as well as whaling itself, is shown by the fact that in the book of Job it is asked concerning the Leviathan, "Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons?" There is a tradition that the indians of Florida, long before the white man set foot on American soil,w ould jump on the head of a whale, plug up one nostril with a wooden peg, then allow him to go to the bottom, and when he came up again plug up the other nostril, and thus suffocate the monsterl Of course, no one credits this tradition, but there seems to be no room for doubt that the ancient Eskimos would surround a whale, and at a given signal fill it full of harpoons to which were attached inflated sealskins. Thus buoyed to the surface it was only a question of time until the whale would die. The use of the bomb harpoon gun, in which a bomb with fuse attached is hurled with a harpoon into the whale, is comparatively recent. When the bomb explodes it usually inflicts a mortal wound.

Ride on Turtles' Backs

In the South Sea Islands turtle fishing is carried on in the most primitive fashion. The fishermen swim out from the vessel, climb upon a turtle's back, and, like the Old Man of the Sea, ride him to the vicinity of the ship, where a line is passed to him and hooked aournd the turtle's head, halter fashion. Then the captor swims off for another victim. Sometimes they make goiod shark bait, a fate which they doubtless deserve, as they literally burn the turtles alive, in order to get the shell off; some fiend having discovered that when the shell is taken off before the turtle is killed it makes a finer quality of tortoise shell.

For American sport fishing, the deep-sea fishing off the coasts of California and Florida and in the gulf of Mexico, where the tarpon, the black sea bass, and other large fish abound, is said to be the most exciting. Very strong tackle must be used, and the rods, reels, and lines must be of the very highest quality. It requires hours to land one of these big fish, and infinite skill and patience; sometimes it degenerates into an endurance contest. For trout and other inland game fishes, an inexhaustible variety of rods, reels, lines, and artificial bait is to be had. It is said that the Chinese and the Japanese make the finest fish lines in the world. Some of the best are made by the fisherwomen of the Straits of Magellan. They use their own hair for material. The average American angler is satisfied with a kit costing a few dollars. Some of them, however, have kits in which they have spent thousands of dollars. But whether it is the bent pin and the wad of raw cotton used by the small boy or the most expensive rod, reel, and lines that money can buy, skill and patience are the most necessary parts of a complete outfit of fishing tackle, and money cannot buy them.

-- Dr. Todd

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