Sea angling is attended by almost as many refinements of tackle and method as fresh-water angling. The chief differences are differences of locality and the habits of the fish. To a certain extent sea angling may also be divided into three classes - fishing on the surface with the fly, at mid-water with spinning or other bait, and on the bottom; but the first method is only practicable at certain times and in certain places, and the others, from the great depths that often have to be sounded and the heavy weights that have to be used in searching them, necessitate shorter and stouter rods, larger reels and stronger tackle than fresh-water anglers employ. Also, of course, the sea-fisherman is liable to come into conflict with very large fish occasionally. In British waters the monster usually takes the form of a skate or halibut. A specimen of the former weighing 194 lb has been landed off the Irish coast with rod and line in recent years. In American waters there is a much greater opportunity of catching fish of this calibre.
There are several giants of the sea which are regularly pursued by American anglers, chief among them being the tarpon (Tarpon atlanticus) and the tuna or tunny (Thunnus thynnus), which have been taken on rod and line up to 223 lb and 251 lb respectively. Jew-fish and black sea-bass of over 400 lb have been taken on rod and line, and there are many other fine sporting fish of large size which give the angler exciting hours on the reefs of Florida, or the coasts of California, Texas or Mexico. Practically all of them are taken with a fish-bait either live or dead, and used stationary on the bottom or in mid-water trailed behind a boat.
On a much smaller scale are the fishes most esteemed in British waters. The bass (Labrax lupus) heads the list as a plucky and rather difficult opponent. A fish of 10 lb is a large one, but fifteen-pounders have been taken. Small or "school" bass up to 3 lb or 4 lb may sometimes be caught with the fly (generally a roughly constructed thing with big wings), and when they are really taking the sport is magnificent. In some few localities it is possible to cast for them from rocks with a salmon rod, but usually a boat is required. In other places bass may be caught from the shore with fish bait used on the bottom in quite shallow water. They may again sometimes be caught in mid-water, and in fact there are few methods and few lures employed in sea angling which will not account for them at times. The pollack (Gadus pollachius) and coal-fish (Gadus virens) come next in esteem. Both in some places reach a weight of 20 lb or more, and both when young will take a fly. Usually, however, the best sport is obtained by trailing some spinning-bait, such as an artificial or natural sand-eel, behind a boat. Sometimes, and especially for pollack, the bait must be kept near the bottom and heavy weights on the line are necessary; the coal-fish are more prone to come to the surface for feeding.
The larger grey mullet (Mugil capito) is a great favourite with many anglers, as it is extremely difficult to hook, and when hooked fights strongly. Fishing for mullet is more akin to fresh-water fishing than any branch of sea-angling, and indeed can be carried on in almost fresh water, for the fish frequent harbours, estuaries and tidal pools. They can be caught close to the surface, at mid-water and at the bottom, and as a rule vegetable baits, such as boiled macaroni, or ragworms are found to answer best. Usually ground-baiting is necessary, and the finer the tackle used the greater is the chance of sport. Not a few anglers fish with a float as if for river fish. The fish runs up to about 8 lb in weight. The cod (Gadus morhua) grows larger and fights less gamely than any of the fish already mentioned. It is generally caught with bait used on the bottom from a boat, but in places codling, or young cod, give some sport to anglers fishing from the shore. The mackerel (Scomber scomber) gives the best sport to a bait, usually a strip of fish skin, trailed behind a boat fairly close to the surface, but it will sometimes feed on the bottom. Mackerel on light tackle are game fighters, though they do not usually much exceed 2 lb.
Whiting and whiting-pout (Gadus merlangus and Gadus luscus) both feed on or near the bottom, do not grow to any great size, and are best sought with fine tackle, usually an arrangement of three or four hooks at intervals above a lead which is called a "paternoster." If one or more of the hooks are on the bottom the tackle will do for different kinds of flat fish as well, flounders and dabs being the two species most often caught by anglers. The bream (Pagellus centrodontus) is another bottom-feeder which resembles the fresh-water bream both in appearance and habits. It is an early morning or rather a nocturnal fish, and grows to a weight of 3 lb or 4 lb. Occasionally it will feed in mid-water or even close to the surface. The conger eel (Conger vulgaris) is another night-feeder, which gives fine sport, as it grows to a great size, and is very powerful. Strong tackle is essential for conger fishing, as so powerful an opponent in the darkness cannot be given any law. The bait must be on or near the bottom. There are, of course, many other fish which come to the angler's rod at times, but the list given is fairly complete as representing the species which are especially sought. Beside them are occasional (in some waters too frequent) captures such as dog-fish and sharks, skates and rays.
Many of them run to a great size and give plenty of sport on a rod, though they are not as a rule welcomed. Lastly, it must be mentioned that certain of the Salmonidae, smelts (Osmerus eperlanus), sea-trout, occasionally brown trout, and still more occasionally salmon can be caught in salt water either in sea-lochs or at the mouths of rivers. Smelts are best fished for with tiny hooks tied on fine gut and baited with fragments of shrimp, ragworm, and other delicacies.