Monthly Archives: March 2018

Common skate escape

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.

Over two hundred pounds of common skate- well worth some travelling!

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.

The graceful common skate

Location
• 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.

Rigs
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.

Will your rigs take the strain?

• 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.

Problem solved

• 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.

Bait
• 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.

A perfectly presented skate bait

Essentials
• 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.

Measure your fish so its weight can be calculated when you return home

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.

The release of a majestic common skate

 

Tackle
• 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.

High Sticking
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.

Watch the angle of your rod when fighting a fish

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.

A 100lb+ common skate admired by its captor, Mike Kennedy

 

Spring plaice fishing afloat

Today, we thank Scott Smy for his thoughts on how to set up shop for spring plaice when fishing afloat. These beautifully pattered flatfish can offer exceptional sport on light tackle and are viewed by many as a gateway species in to the summer months of angling action to come…

Having just endured some of the coldest weather we have seen in March for many a year it is strange to think that we are actually in Spring now with snow on the ground, but in Spring we are and that means the arrival of the plaice from both boat and shore.

As water temperatures start to climb large numbers of plaice start to move into UK inshore waters to start to fatten-up having spent the last few months spawning. This means that many plaice caught this time of year are in relatively poor condition and you’ll often hear the expression of them being ‘wafer thin’. However what they lack in condition they can make-up for in sheer numbers particularly if you are targeting them from a boat.

Scott’s pal, Adrian Kruger, with a colourful boat caught brace

Many charter boats running out of ports such as Dartmouth, West Bay and Weymouth specifically target plaice at this time of year as these ports are just a short steam from the two most famous plaice fishing areas on the south coast, those being the Skerries Bank off South Devon and the Shambles off Dorset. Both of these areas produce excellent plaice fishing from the boat and on the right day have the ability to produce large numbers of plaice.

Whilst the Shambles generally produces the larger specimen plaice (particularly later in the year) the Skerries often produces greater catches in terms of numbers, with catches of 100+ fish in one day being a distinct possibility. However both venues share the same characteristics in terms of the perfect conditions needed to be successful and that is generally bright conditions with plenty of sunlight and crystal-clear water as plaice feed by sight. Any sort of east in the wind seems to put the curse on plaice fishing from the boat. One of the benefits of a boat plaice fishing trip is the fact that you don’t need to steam over the horizon like you would do when going wreck fishing so you really do get a full day’s fishing and in many ports the trip is cheaper than a day’s offshore wrecking. Something worth bearing in mind.

Tackle

Whilst most plaice fishing from the boat involves drifting over relatively clean ground using long flowing traces with beads and attractors, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Most of the more productive plaice fishing off Weymouth for instance is on an area of mussel beds located just inside the Shambles Bank itself. This means you are dragging your baited trace over a snaggier bottom made up of small pea mussels which is what the plaice are feeding hard on. Drifting over this ground means keeping your trace much shorter (no more than 4ft in length) and a trace line of a higher breaking strain than that which you would use on clean ground. I usually use 25lb Varivas Sea Bass Shock Leader fluorocarbon trace with an Abu Rauto Spoon (or similar) and black and green beads above the hook which is a 1/0 or 2/0 (depending on bait size) Varivas Saltwater Super Match which will bend out of the snags.

Author Scott with a ‘spoon fed’ plaice

 

This is important when fishing the Weymouth mussel beds as hooks that are too stiff will result in lost gear. It is also essential to check your hook point after every drift as any hook can quickly become blunted. Although you can use 2 hooks I prefer to use just 1 in order to reduce the chance of snagging up. Weights vary depending on the strength of tide but watch style leads work very well – I would take a variety of them between 4 and 8 oz’s.

Fishing the cleaner ground on the banks of the Skerries means a much more refined approach in terms of end tackle. Traces should be 10-12ft in length made up using 15lb fluorocarbon and hook sizes between size 1 and 1/0 (again I use the Varivas Saltwater Super Match or Kamasan B940. A second hook off a 3-way swivel half way along the trace doubles your chances and I always use a large attractor spoon within 4-5” of the hook. If using beads and attractors (which most people do) a good tip is to tie the hook to the end of the trace by a short length of line (with a swivel at one end). This means if you have to cut your hook off due to the plaice swallowing the hook down, which often happens when they are feeding hard, then you don’t end up with beads all over the deck! A watch lead of 4-6oz is all you need on the Skerries. Sometimes it also pays to put a small egg-shaped sinker of 0.5oz above the beads if not using a spoon to ensure your bait is hard on the bottom.

A simple yet highly effective rig for catching plaice on the drift

As far as rods and reels go, an 8-12lb class boat rod with a soft tip which is light enough to hold all day is perfect for plaice fishing. This should be coupled with a small multiplier reel such as a Penn Fathom 12 loaded with 20lb braid and a rubbing leader of 10ft of 30lb mono is perfect for both the Shambles and Skerries. The lack of stretch you get from using braid means you can easily identify bites compared to mono and I have found results in a better ratio of bites to fish landed.

The type of tackle you’ll need for plaice fishing afloat

As most boat fishing for plaice is done on the drift it is essential to let out line as soon as you get that first bite – if not you will simply be dragging your bait away from your intended prize. However using braid over the mussel beds off Weymouth takes some getting used to as every time the lead falls down over a ridge you’ll think you have a bite. Only once you’ve caught a fish can you start to tell the difference between what is bottom and what is a fish.

Bait

By far the most consistent bait for plaice from the boat is ragworm (I prefer large locally dug, not farmed) tipped-off with a long thin strip of squid. Lugworm and blacks in particular will also work but it’s not as good as rag. I also find that on the Weymouth mussel beds peeler crab can be deadly along with the rag/squid and seems to find-out the bigger fish. If using crab then it is worth increasing your hook size to a 2/0 or 3/0. A 4lb+ plaice will swallow a 3/0 hook no bother. On the Skerries bank over the past few years some anglers have been using frozen cooked prawns with great success. Some have even been using garlic flavourings on their prawns and have reported great catches! I have to say I’m a bit sceptical but if it works then go for it.

Ragworm – a killer plaice bait

Hopefully this gives those of you who haven’t fished for plaice from the boat a bit of information to put to use – all you need to do now is get on the blower and get yourself on a plaice trip!