Hooked on this tackle, the garfish that I captured was able to use every ounce of strength and speed in its lean, wiry body. Muscles unable to contend for long with even the pressure from a medium spinning rod, show to much greater advantage in a lighter and more even competition. Think about it for a moment. What would you say if a featherweight boxer was put into the ring with a heavyweight contemporary? The competition would be a fiasco; the two contestants so unevenly matched that every sportsman, everywhere, would be offended.
But that's exactly what the majority of fishermen do with garfish... I've seen many an angler turn up, for just such a duel, with a rod able to bodily lift the garfish from the water, watch it bouncing up and down as they swing it ashore, then sometimes having the nerve to complain about its lack of any real fighting ability! Truth be told, I probably went through the same phase myself when I was younger, but then, gradually, as I started using lighter and lighter tackle, I began to appreciate exactly what the garfish could offer.
The simple truth of the matter is that is, in fact, a very hard fighting fish. It's just a question of scale. Scale your rod down to a match rod, for example, and see what happens, especially when you bring the breaking strain of your line down to about four pounds. The difference in the sport that results will be tremendous. Nor is getting in contact with them difficult. Garfish enter our waters in the Spring and stay close inshore until well into the Autumn, all the while taking angler's baits with an enthusiasm few other species can match, raiding piers, rocky marks and breakwaters in frenzied attacks upon the shoals of resident baitfish.
Their distinctive beak and long, slender shape make them easy to identify and they are also easy to catch, even though they are far more often caught when fishing for mackerel than as a deliberately targeted species.
Sometimes they are so plentiful that you have got to go out of your way not to catch them, but, for me, this is part of their charm. They are, quite simply, an obliging fish that can enliven otherwise dull days with intense bursts of frantic activity.
Frankly, I think it is quite lucky that they never caught the fancy of the public. Once you get past the green bones and the distinctive smell, they are actually quite tasty, comparing very favourably with mackerel, but with drier, not so oily flesh. They look - and smell - much worse than they taste, but for the species this is all to the good in an age when commercial pressure is driving the stocks of other species into crisis proportions.
In one day, in a junior competition not so long ago at Hopes Nose in Torbay, six of the young anglers attending caught well over fifty fish in an hour, including eight specimens. At one point the garfish were hurtling into baitfish that they had driven against the shore, where they were not only being caught on float tackle, but also on poles and on slivers of mackerel flesh spun slowly behind minuscule weights. In that one day alone I saw well over two hundred fish brought to the shore and, in the majority of cases, released unharmed. Can you bring to mind a single other such incident - recent, not one that happened twenty years ago - concerning another species from the shore?
(Shore, Page 2)