Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Big girl you are beautiful.

After my first taste of skate fishing last December I was keen to do it again and land one this time! The MV North Star, the same boat we chartered last time, was booked earlier this year for Monday the 20th of May with myself and Ad, who landed his first skate on the December trip hoping to fill a few more spaces on board. This wasn't to be however with a couple of people saying they'd like to go only to pull out and other people not being able to make it on that date. With a weekend in Oban and the surrounding area proceeding the boat trip my girlfriend Lillian managed to get the Monday off work and came along with us keen to do some fishing this time instead of just her usual ghillie duties. Just the three of us going out on the boat would make the day on the boat quite an expensive one but I wasn't bothered as long as I landed a skate!

Ad came down from Aberdeen early on Friday evening. I was working so he met up with Jake and they went fishing down at St Abbs and Jake will do a short report on their session soon. On Saturday morning we were planning on heading off early but a quick look at the weather forecast forced a change of plan. The east coast was wet and the west coast was very windy but there seemed to be a small window of better conditions half way across the country so we decided to stop off at the Forth & Clyde Canal for a few hours in the afternoon. Well as is often the case the weather forecast was not very accurate and from the moment we arrived it rained non stop, quite heavily at times and we all got thoroughly soaked. Also when we arrived we realised we didn't have a net with us which would prove making landing fish tricky. After only ten minutes or so I hooked a small jack on a Savage Gear Reel Eel. After a short scrap I thought the fish was beaten only for it to thrash and come off when I was lifting it up onto the bank. Ad then hooked a larger jack. With a small crowd watching it put on quite a show, tailwalking several times before coming to the edge. I went down the bank and slipped a finger under its jaw before carefully unhooking it with my forceps. Like my fish however it escaped my grasp with a powerful thrash and got away before I could grab it so we didn't get a picture of it. We continued heading along the canal but there wasn't any further action. Lillian was getting the occasional wind knot in her line. About halfway along she got another wind knot in her braid and Ad sorted it out. Whilst he was doing this her small diving crankbait sank to the bottom. When Ad finished unpicking the knot and handed the rod back to her there was a fish on the end which she quickly reeled in and lifted out.

Soaked but smiling. Lillian with her first pike.

We continued working our way along to the end of the pontoon but with no reward for our efforts until my bright yellow Kopyto Shad found the gaping mouth of something big at the far side of the canal that soon had by rod bent right over. A bit of a battle ensued with my tackle being really tested to its limit. After a lengthy and tiring fight I eventually landed the culprit.

Easily over a double (yellow line at some point).

After this we headed back towards our starting point and Ad hooked another jack on the way but it managed to threw the hooks whilst he was trying to land it. So after about five soggy and frustrating netless hours we called it a day, jumped in Ad's car, put the heaters on to try and dry off a bit, made the drive to Oban and booked into a hostel. With the wind blowing very strongly but forecast to drop off almost completely in the morning we grabbed something to eat and had an early night.

Getting up on Sunday morning we were relieved to find that the weather was indeed much nicer. We popped along to Ganavan Sands as I wanted to see if there were any mini species around specifically with sand gobies in mind as it normally holds lots of them. Sadly there were no sign of any sand gobies but I thought that was perhaps due to the water being very low. Ad and I both managed to catch a tiny long spined sea scorpion each before we left.

Tiny long spined sea scorpions took our tiny Power Isome sections that were meant for tiny sand gobies.

We then headed south down the coast to fish along Gallanach Road. We soon arrived at a nice easily accessible rock mark. Both Ad and I set up two rods. I was fishing with pulley rigs using 5/0 Mustad Demon fine wire circle hooks on them as I'm keen to use circles whenever possible in my bait fishing. Baits used were mackerel, sandeel and squid. Casting out there wasn't much tide running past us and our 6oz leads held in the clean bottom no problem. Having fished a bit further north back in December where we had a busy session catching lesser spotted dogfish and thornback rays we were disappointed to find that the fishing was very slow. Whilst waiting for bites we both fished close in with lures to try and tempt any pollock that may have been in amongst the kelp on the ledges in front of us  but had no luck doing so. After a couple of hours and a few bait changes one of my rods finally started nodding. I let the bite develop for a moment or two before picking it up and steadily reeling in. You don't strike when using circle hooks as due to there design they set themselves in the fishes lip against the weight of the fish. I'm finding this quite hard to get used to as the urge to strike is quite a strong one. I could tell it was a ray as after a head shake or two it felt like a dead weight when it was coming up and it was soon cranked up over the ledge in front of us and lifted out by Ad.

Perfectly hooked in the corner of the mouth. The beauty of circle hooks.
My first thornback ray of 2013.
Sulking in the shallow water in front of us for a while before heading off over the ledge into deeper water.

Another hour or so passed and we had no further bites until I re-baited with squid for a last cast. The baits weren't on the bottom long when one rod started nodding away again and I wound into a second ray.

Fish on.
Another nicely marked thornback ray.

After this we packed up and popped back to Ganavan Sands as it was just after high water and I hoped the sand gobies would hopefully be there. The lack of fish was still apparent however although I did spot two large sand gobies. They weren't interested in my tiny lure though so a return trip in the summer will be required I think when they should be there in greater numbers. At this point we headed back into Oban and dropped Lillian off at the hostel as she wanted to relax and take a break from watching us fishing. Ad and I went up to Loch Etive to the mouth of the River Awe in search of a trout or two. Using our ultra light gear and a selection of small metals we soon had a few knocks casting them across the current and letting them swing around in it before slowly reeling them back towards us. Ad hooked and landed his first ever sea trout after a short scrap. He followed this with a nice little brownie. Both took a copper Hansen Pilgrim spoon. I then hooked a brownie on a pink 4g Prime Area Tiebo Jig but after going aerial for the forth time in quick succession it threw the hooks.

Nice Loch Etive sea trout.
Ad and I wondered if the fish had ever actually been to sea or just in the loch. We'll never know I guess.
This trout whilst quite silver still had a few faint river markings.

Before heading back to the hostel we drove north up the loch and checked out a couple of new marks that we think will be worth trying in the future. They require a bit of a hike though so a couple of days will have to be put aside to make visiting them worthwhile.

On Monday morning we were up early and drove down to Crinan. It was a lovely day and the water in the sea lochs as we drove was like a mirror. It was quite misty too but that would soon lift. We were soon at Crinan Harbour and aboard the boat. Skipper Archie soon had us out and tied up on one of his moorings and several whole mackerel and squid baits were making their way to the sea floor several hundred feet below.

Flat calm sea, a hazy sky and near silence created a strange atmosphere.

After the tide dropped off and our baits settled down it wasn't long before the action started and I was first up to be attached to a skate.

A great start and surely I would land this one right?

Unbelievably, after about forty-five minutes, and just when I had managed to get it up of the bottom and was gaining line, I felt a sudden but sadly familiar release of pressure as the fish came off. Reeling up the trace was still attached so it was a simple case of the hook pulling. This was the second time this had happened to me in two trips, I was absolutely gutted and had a horrible feeling it wasn't going to be my day again but Archie reassured me I'd get another chance. Shortly afterwards another rod started going and Ad was soon into a fish. It was a bit further out from the boat though and he was struggling to get it up off the bottom. Whilst he maintained pressure to get it moving another rod started going and I was soon attached to my second fish of the day. Surely this would be third time lucky?

Ad battling to get his skate off the bottom.
Keeping the pressure on, my second fish of the day came off the bottom fairly quickly.

I'm relived to say that after about thirty minutes, a lot of pumping and winding later and with Ad still locked in a tug of war with his fish, my first skate came into sight and was soon expertly brought on board by Archie much to my relief.

My first skate and it's a cracker. Needless to say I was over the moon.
Skate have almost human like eyes that can also be used to correctly identify specific species.*
Slipped back and off she goes. What a truly majestic sight and probably the best part of the whole experience.

Ad was now steadily gaining line, his fish was slowly coming up and it finally appeared a fair distance away from the boat. The skipper thought it was going to dive again and it looked like it was for a moment or two but Ad managed to put some final pressure on and prevent it doing so.

After quite a battle Ad eventually got the better of this skate.
Again Archie soon had the fish in the boat and Ad was a very happy man!

This was Ad's second skate and this time he managed to win the battle standing up which is just as well as he took a bit of stick for having a seat last time. With us both landing fish next up was Lillian, who having witnessed the physical nature and length of the fight, was slightly reluctant to have a go but I put the harness and butt pad on her and talked her into it. It would be several hours before she would get her chance however as all the action stopped completely.

Watching the rod tips, anticipating them springing into life at any moment.
Skipper Archie hand feeds some of the local sea gulls with mackerel tails which they quickly snatch and fly off with.
The next bird patiently waits to be fed.

The wind had started to pick up by this point making bite detection more difficult but with thirty minutes to go one of the rods started going and Lillian had her chance to experience the awesome power of a skate.

Let battle commence. A bit bigger than the last fish she caught Lillian wasn't smiling for long!

Just as she was starting to regret letting me talk her into it when it became apparent that a tangle had occurred. It would turn out that this had been caused by a dogfish picking up one of the baits and swimming around some of the other lines. This caused problems boating the skate and required a team effort so when it was finally brought on board it was quickly unhooked and put straight back to minimise the stress it was put under. This meant Lillian didn't get a photo with the fish unfortunately, but it was still great that we had all landed one skate each and I think Lillian was quite relieved to get a bit of help landing hers. It was then time to head back to port but due to an electrical fault the engine wouldn't start so Archie rang the boat's owner Sandy and after a short wait he came to the rescue in his rib.

Help arrives.

Whilst being towed back the short distance to the harbour we were lucky to spot a sea eagle. Archie had mentioned earlier in the trip seeing them the day before at very close range and tossed in a whole mackerel which the bird swooped down and grabbed in a rather impressive display. A very nice way to end the trip indeed.

Hovering above the coast line before coming down to get a free meal.
What a fantastic sight!

We headed back to Edinburgh and after dropping us off Ad drove up the road to Aberdeen. Whilst the fishing leading up to the boat trip wasn't great the three of us had a good laugh and still managed to catch some fish. With all three of us landing a skate the boat trip worked out perfectly especially considering I managed to drop a second consecutive fish, a feat that Archie tells me is pretty rare! Skate fishing is definitely a bit different to other styles of fishing and is more of a waiting game followed by a physical battle than anything else and certainly isn't for everyone. The banter on the boat was first class though and I personally think it's a real privilege to catch such rare and beautiful creatures, to briefly admire them and best of all to watch them glide back down to the depths from which they came. It's certainly a sight I hope to be seeing again!

Tight lines, Scott.

*As an interesting side note to this report I recently read a few articles online that highlighted an important discovery. A few years ago through genetic analysis it was discovered that the species that has been known for almost ninty years as common skate (Dipturus Batis) is in fact two distinct species. These have been named Dipturus Intermedia and Dipturus Flossada with common names flapper skate and blue skate respectively. These are the names that were being used up until the 1920's when a study of the time incorrectly grouped both together as only one single species and this went unchallenged until the recent genetic study brought the error to light. From the reading I've done it would seem that whilst both are very similar there are a few ways to distinguish between the two species with iris colour being the simplest method. In flapper skate the iris is dark green/olive, in blue skate it is pale yellow.

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