This article was taken from our archives. It originally appeared within the January 1935 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
There are hordes of people whose interest and absorption in the ancient sport of fishing are insufficient to entire them several miles out to sea in search of game fish, but who thoroughly enjoys the thrill of striking a fish and seeing and feeling a sizeable catch on the end of a line. In fact, to these the ideal form of the sport might consist in the mere catching of the fish, with all the responsibility of disposing of it left to somebody else. Well, unquestionably there is such a spot in Bermuda, a place where fishing may be limited to just that.
I had heard of The Devil’s Hole but on former visits had never troubled to visit it. I am an indifferent sight-seer, anyway. But this was indeed my loss, one that I made up by spending several hours a day down there for a week.
Not more than a hundred yards or so from the shores of Harrington Sound it lies, a huge circular chasm hewn by nature to form a perfect aquarium. The environment is charming, and the great pit is surrounded by trees draped with Spanish moss. The Hole is fed by subterranean tunnels that connect it with the sea and is about thirty-two feed deep. A century ago the Hole was much the same as it is today, for Man has had little to do with its preservation.
It used to be the barometer of the colony, and it is still considered a fairly reliable weather prophet, for when dirty weather is making up the pool gets murky, and as the velocity of the wind increases thunderous growls and roars issue from the caverns of the great hole, created by the rush of air and water through the underground passages. The colonists, superstitious in the 17th century, believed that it was the devil himself proclaiming a terrible storm, so it came to be known as The Devil’s Hole. You can hear the rumbles and rages more in September than in any other month, for it is then that weather conditions are apt to be menacing.
The only evidence of the hand of Man in the shaping of the pool’s surroundings appears in the little footbridge from which you cast your hookless liners, which lie there already baited for your use. Then there are the steps that surround the Hold. But for these things you might believe you had stumbled upon some amazing phenomenon on a desert island.
But it is the contents of the Hole itself and several smaller pools around it that will take your breath away on first sight. Little wonder that Pliny wrote a couple of thousand years ago “That Nature’s great and wonderful power is more demonstrated in the sea than on land.”
There is no extravagance of fancy in the above you will agree when you contemplate the innumerable shapes, kinds, and colours of the inhabitants of The Devil’s Hole. Nature seems to have gone mad with her paint-pots and drawing pencils. The Hole is literally teeming with huge fishes, weighing from five to thirty-five pounds, fearsome green morays and great turtles that weigh anything up to 144 lbs.
One of the morays, that tiger of the deep, is nine feet long. He is a hideous yet beautiful sea serpent out of a fairy tale, armed with toothed, razor-like jaws. His sinuous progress through the water will send shivers down your spine; the snake-like motion is more blood chilling than the movements of almost any other animal.
The morays lurk in the caves at the bottom of the pool and glide out now and then in search of food. If there is none about, he sometimes gives battle to a big grouper, taking huge bites out of the weaker creature. When this sort of thing takes place, in the words of Daniel Smith, the old guide who has been in attendance of The Devil’s Hole for a quarter of a century, “there is awful corruption about.” When I last saw the pool, I noticed a couple of mutilated groupers, victims of the morays.
It is in the smaller pools that you see the wide-varieties of smaller fishes, bright with every conceivable shade and improper shapes. There is the blue and gold angelfish, ethereal in texture and colour as its fanciful name connotes; the cowfish, dark mottled green with horn-like appendages on its head; the speckled hind, a harlequin with reddish spots on a white background; the salmon rockfish, pink and grey; the parrotfish, a truly gorgeous creature, pale pastel green shot with other shades and a complete rainbow on its tail; there is the Scotch porgy, another handsome fellow with habits regular as a monk. The attendant told me that he often sets his watch when the Scotch porgy goes to bed; it is then, he says, exactly four o’clock p.m. He turns in by wriggling himself into the sand until he is completely concealed and protected.
Then there is the doctor-fish, blue and olive-green; the sheep’s head porgy, raucous-coloured with black and white markings; the butterfly fish with broad wings, it seems, instead of fins; the squirrel fish, pink with dark eyes made up, you’ll think with mascara. There is the octopus, fascinating and repulsive, enormous lobsters, yellow grunts, snappers, bream, cat-fish and a host of others too numerous to recite here.
The big hole, of course is no place for the smaller fishes; they would not survive long among the big groupers, the predatory morays, and the gigantic snapping turtles. As the turtles bite the bait to pieces before swallowing it you have little chance of getting one out of the water even if you are hefty enough to lift him. Now and then one of the turtles, snapping for food, will take a bite out of the head of another who is jostling him. They often have little scraps such as that.
Some years ago, Annette Kellerman, starring in the motion picture “Neptune’s Daughter” which was filmed in Bermuda, wanted to dive into the pool where she was to impersonate a mermaid and feed the fishes. However, the authorities would not allow her to risk it. And if you watch those morays, those snapping turtles, and the big groupers swarming around the pool, you would have to admire the nerve of Miss Kellerman who was willing to risk her fair body in the blue depths.
One day when I was down there a big moray glided up from the depths and charged among the fishes that were battling for a lady’s line toothsomely baited with a large cigar fish. The groupers scattered at once and the moray swallowed the bait. For a moment the hideous olive-green head with jaws agape was out of water, frightening the girl into recoiling and dropping the line. She need not have feared landing the creature for with a single snap of the jaws he had severed the thick line like a bit of cotton and sunk back into the depths. To land a moray, if you ever wish to, it is necessary to use a line reinforced with steel wire.
The groupers which abound in The Devil’s Hole are called such because of their habit of swarming in large schools in the summer months in these waters; if one is caught in the winter, he is generally a straggler from the main tribe, and is then called a hamlet.
The groupers have an astonishing faculty for changing colour rapidly. Just throw a bunch of cigar-fish into the Hole and you will see them turn from a pale grey with faint markings to a deep reddish-brown with brilliantly distinct stripes as they get excited and fight for their food.
Of course, hundreds of people visit Devil’s Hole in a month; on a good day as much as one hundred pounds of dried codfish will be used as bait as well as hundreds of bunches of cigar fish. Eight or nine hundred fishes caught by nets at sea are deposited in the Hole every year. The average number in the pool is around a thousand at all times.
While it is a simple matter to haul a fish out of the water, it is not so easy to land him. It takes practice, like other forms of angling, to land a big fish without a hook on your line. You must allow your bait to be swallowed before you start heaving.
Until a few years back the record catch was eleven large groupers in fifteen minutes! Then a lady came here from Florida and after lots of practice at the game, asked the guide to time her. She actually landed seventeen in ten minutes, according to the guide’s timing. For a skillful angler, it is not a bit difficult to land a thirty-pound grouper when he has swallowed the bait. There is no business of waiting hours for a bite at Devil’s Hole; in truth, all that is required to turn the place into a veritable angler’s dream are hooks on the lines and a large wagon to carry home the day’s catch.