I fancy that most anglers are general practitioners rather than specialists. True, there is an increasing number of specialists—men who with single-minded dedication pursue bass, or tope, or sharks, or cod, or bream, or mullet, or skate, or conger, or the smaller delicious flat fish. This is all very well; once you have done a few years of fairly casual angling, catching whatever comes to hand, you may indeed think how nice it would be to turn your attention to one particular species. You are free to do so. But an article aimed at the needs of the beginner, I think, ought to give you some general indication of how to go about employing certain methods, rather than how to go about catching certain species. You can always specialise later.

So I am going to give you general instructions on how to employ your gear in certain situations. What you will catch, depends on what is there to be caught. If that sounds like the most obvious generalisation you ever read, so be it. The simple fact is that when you hurl your lure out into the sea, any of a number of different species may take hold of it. This is true even of freshwater fishing; it is truer still, and by far, of the salt, the teeming and multitudinous main.

I gave a lot of agonised thought to this question of how I should approach your instruction (and agonised thought is very bad for anyone). You see, you can break it down into species, sorts of fish. Fair enough: but who’s to say that when you present a lure to catch a bass, it won’t be taken by a codling, a whiting, or even a dab? It may well be. You may be fishing for flounders, and catch eels. There isn’t a rigid and mutually exclusive social system among fish, which says, We eat only this bait presented in this way. No fear. In fact, one of the particular joys of sea angling is that you never really know what you are going to catch. When the rod tip knocks sharply down, or the float plunges into the translucent depths, or skitters away along the surface, when the line held so delicately in your fingers jerks and quivers—why, then, it could be almost anything at the other end. True, some methods make it, let us say, likelier that you will hook, if anything, a given species. But that is about as far as I’d like to go, having, like most of us, caught more fish by accident than by fell design.

Therefore I am going to sketch out the appropriate methods to use when fishing in the set of situations which sea angling really does break down into: pier or jetty, shore, rock, and boat, with a considerable sidelong look at estuary fishing, which is quite another thing again and which subsumes certain of the methods common to the freshwater fisher and the rock fisher. I shall also have a bit to say about spinning from time to time in each section, since it is a method which can be used in virtually every situation.

As for the different species, they will appear when it seems appropriate. I hope they appear often enough for you, when you’re actually out there, rod in hand, tingling with anticipation and excitement.