Our guest blogger’s are providing some aspirational reading material of late and Chris Kennedy’s piece on targeting common skate on the Scottish coastline is no exception. Thanks also to Chris and the team at Black Tide Fishing for the stunning selection of images that really capture the action. If the pursuit of true monsters is your way of fishing and you fancy getting away for a few days, then read on…
Common Skate are a dream fish for many anglers, mainly because they are the largest potential catch from the shore in UK waters that can be effectively targeted. That’s not the only reason though, Scotland is dramatically beautiful, the skies and light are ever changing and visually the place often resembles an oil painting, you see these vivid images that can’t help but leave an impression on you. Then there is the whole planning/excitement that surrounds a trip with your best pals, the dreaming of what you may catch or encounter, the way the spool on your reel will spin and the feeling of recoil as the fish thumps and your rod flexes like you have never felt before. Whether you succeed or fail in your pursuit, you’ll come home feeling you need to go back and do it all again, the place will leave you with profound memories, it’s wonderful and a very cost effective trip for those who can’t afford the time or money to travel to Norway or further afield for adventure.
I have done a few trips now and I’ve been very fortunate in regard to the fish we have caught. There are some fantastic skate fishermen in Scotland, guys with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the species who consistently catch time and time again, I was fortunate enough to be invited and shown the ropes by one, for that I am eternally grateful and in the spirit of anglers, I will pass on some useful information that will really help any anglers making the journey north to target this marvellous species.
• Finding a spot that this species frequent is as important as anything, you’re looking for deep water, 40 metres deep upwards. If you use a website like Navionics, it maps depths of the sea bed and you’ll quickly be able to identify potential marks that drop off very close to the shore.
• Next, you’ll need to identify if this is a viable place to fish, is there access to the spot?
• Can you get your gear back or are there underwater obstacles that prevent this?
• Will the mark be fishable on a spring tide or will the tide pull too hard?
• If you’re thinking of crossing private land, ask the landowners permission, keep noise to a minimum if it’s somewhere quiet and always leave the mark tidy and litter free.
I’ve heard of anglers using standard pulley rigs whilst others use pulley dropper rigs, but personally what has worked for my brother Mike and I are up and over rigs. The following you’ll find useful concerning rigs.
• Most anglers use 200lb mono as a rig body and hook length. The fish don’t have razor sharp teeth, their mouths are just like a huge ray, the heavy mono is to give you some protection against rubbing on rock or other abrasive materials on the sea bed. I have gone as low as 110lb fluorocarbon as a rig body and hook length and that landed a 180lb fish.
• Hooks – Choose the Mustad O’Shaughnessy 10/0 Bronzed Hook (3407). The hooks themselves come pretty blunt out of the box, however, I feel they do represent value for money and you must use a bronzed hook for common skate rather than a stainless pattern, the reason being is that the barbs on a bronzed hook will corrode much faster in saltwater. So, if a hook is left in a fish, it will drop out significantly faster than other materials that may take longer to break down. Take a diamond sharpening file like an Eze-Lap (red, £6) and sharpen the Mustad O’Shaughnessy hooks until they are razor sharp, test the points on the back of your finger nail by scraping gently or with your finger lightly touching the point, if the point feels very rough, it means they are sharp.
• I use the Varivas Power Crane Swivels in the 1/0 250lb variety.
• Braid or Mono? This subject causes much discussion, many guys use 30lb mono (traditional) and claim this is better for the fish in terms of if the line parts, however, mono has some abrasion resistance and braid has almost zero. If you use a heavier braid, you can haul a fish up quite quickly, 5-30mins, if you use a weaker mono you may take 1-3 hours with the fish on. After discussing this with various Skate Trusts, their preference is a fish quickly caught and released. Another consideration is that you’ll be fishing deep water, you’ll get more braid on your multiplier or fixed spool, it will also catch less in tide. Mono in contrast will feel more springy and comfortable during the battle.
• Rotten bottom link your leads, so that if they catch the bottom during the fight, they will be lost quickly.
• For the up and over clip, I do something a little differently to other anglers. I refuse to rely on an upside down bait clip as an integral part of the rig, as they usually bend open at significantly less pressure than the swivels. So, use the Power Crane Swivels to take all pressure when fighting the fish. Take a bait clip and bend the eye of the clip at 90 degrees. Then hang the clip on the top swivel of the rig, making sure it is not pressing on the knot which attaches rig body to the swivel. This is pretty complicated to explain so please view the below picture and it will make sense. Rigging this way means that the upside down bait clip only takes pressure whilst making the cast and it’s not involved while fighting a fish.
• Casting big baits you’ll quickly notice they come unclipped during the cast. Use a Gemini release system and run a loop of mono from the hook and clip the loop into the release system as opposed to the hook. This works very well and gets around the issue of big hooks not fitting in release systems.
• Don’t use pennel rigs, it’s more to get snagged and worse when unhooking.
• We’ve hooked skate on mackerel, squid, herring & fresh coalfish. I hear they don’t mind a dogfish either. I would take a selection, they may not be that fussy but personally I like bait to be the freshest quality as possible. During the recent trip I took a cooler full of Devon Bait’s Joeys and because of the ambient temperature they never actually thawed out.
• Its easy to fall into the trap thinking you need to put out enormous baits, like one or two whole mackerel, however, even a 200lb+ fish will take quite a small bait, the species are regularly hooked and lost by anglers targeting thornback rays (a species you may pick ups as a by-catch). So, how can you put a 10/0 hook out that matches the bait and it not be a huge bait? Well, there is an easy way. Try trimming a long aerodynamic bait, say 6 or 7 inches long, but instead of running the hook in and out and binding it on the same side, what I do is push the hook in from one side of the bait until the hook protrudes through the opposite side. This way a 10/0 can be hidden in a relatively thin bait (see image). At many spots distance will be useful, so you may wish to cut down the bait size and this method will help you enormously.
• Take the most effective insect repellant possible if you attempt Scotland in summer, take a Buff to cover your face and long sleeve shirts are also advisable, dust and dawn can be terrible.
• Waterproofs- some parts of Scotland have the highest rainfall in Europe, you’re rarely more than a couple of hours away from a downpour, especially in winter.
• First aid kit – Always take one when fishing the wilds.
• Supplies and warm clothing in case your vehicle breaks down, you’ll be sometimes visiting some of the most remote parts of Scotland and it’s vital to have provisions.
• You must take a spanner that is a minimum of 2ft long, so that you can remove the hook from the fish. This really does work.
• Also take a tape measure. If you want to know how much your catch weighs, measure from the tip of the tail to the point of the skate’s head and then measure the wing span (see picture).
• Keep camera batteries in warm pockets or they’ll drain in cold temperatures and you’ll have no way of taking an image.
Fish Care & Conservation
• If you are to use a gaff, make sure it is away from the organs of the fish, choose an area close to the edge of the wing and ease the fish to the waters edge, don’t be rough.
• Do not lift the fish upright, the Skate Trusts inform me that this can damage the fish, they are not designed to take their own bodyweight outside of water.
• Handle the fish with care, keep them wet, get them back in the water as soon as humanly possible.
• Once released, the fish may spend quite some time in the shallows before swimming off, don’t worry about this, they’ll glide off when good and ready.
• Remove any obvious parasites stuck on the topside of the fish, if you are not sure what these are, seek information before going.
• Reels – Choose a very robust option, it’s the reel and its drag which will stop the fish and it will be under more pressure that most have experienced. The 201lb Skate I had was on a Daiwa Saltist 30BG, the 180lb’er was on a Daiwa Saltiga 8000, as was my brother’s recent capture. To me, a solid fixed spool will make things much easier when fighting the fish, they are more functional for casting big baits where multipliers can experience over-runs. Another aspect is that you may need a very fast retrieve to get your rigs and leads back over underwater obstacles, a fixed spool is ideal for this. The Daiwa BG8000 represents fantastic value for money, they are the most robust reel in their class, if you have a bit more to spend, have a look at the Daiwa Saltist 6500 or 8000.
• Braid: I have used Diamond Braid, Daiwa J-Braid and Varivas Avani Casting Braid in breaking strains between 80lb and 58lb, all of which are great products and suitable for this work.
• Rods – Century have backed me for a long time now, from their range I would choose the TTR, Excalibur TT, T1000, Kompressor Sport or T900 at a push. All of which bar the T900 are rods which are popular with field casters, they are capable of being used with a high drag pressure set on your reel, they will cast big leads and big baits and they are more than capable of landing any Common Skate from the shore. If you asked me to pick another rod or if you are on a budget, I would pick up a Ron Thompson Axe, which represents great value.
Do not high stick your rods. High sticking is when you lift your rod tip directly above your head whilst fighting a fish. When hauling, the correct way would be to drop the tip horizontal and lift until it is at 45 degrees between you and the sea. Always keep your rod at a natural angle, like the curve you see in casting shots.
Fishing in deep water, your line will enter the sea right below you, almost like fishing on a boat, so if you’re not careful you’ll create a steep angle and this is where many rods have failed, through user error. So keep those tips low and have a pal next to you looking from the side to tell you if you’r putting the rod at an unnatural angle.
Final Tip: Sharpen your hooks between casts
• When using larger sized hooks, its absolutely crucial that you have them sharp, or they’ll be useless. Check the points as part of your bait up ritual and sharpen if and when they need it.
I wish you all of the best of luck in your pursuit of these fantastic creatures, please remember to handle the fish with care and leave the environment as you found it.