There are some fishing trips that start as a one off event to target a single species, but then end up as an annual thing with good friends.
One such for me is an annual trip to Crinan in Scotland targeting the Common Skate. Despite its name there is nothing common about this fish it being something of a rarity in UK waters, and once you have located it, catching it is also no mean feat.
If we spend a week at the venue, then we would usually be lucky to spend two days on the marks because the weather and tides have to be spot on. Once on the marks we then have to set permanent anchors in 450ft of water from which to attach ourselves.
The gear needed consists of 50lb rods, with a minimum of 60lb braid. Usually 1kg of lead is used to take the baits to the bottom, but if there is any reasonable tide running you may need 2kg. The hook is a 14/0 and the actual bait itself can often weigh more that two kg consisting of a mixture of fish and octopus. It doesn’t really matter what type of bait you are dropping down, as long as it is big enough to get the fish’s attention.
This year we sat through several days of unsuitable weather waiting for our chance. This came on the Wednesday when we woke to a flat sea, and soon enough everyone in the group was at anchor full of anticipation. It didn’t take long for the fish to appear, and after a couple of tell tale nods my rod buckled as a large fish began to move with the bait. In a tide there is no way you can play these fish to the yak, so it is a case of unclipping from the anchor and following the fish wherever it wants to take you, this may end up being over a mile from your starting point, or may only be a few hundred meters.
Once hooked it is simply a question of brute force. Being a massive flatfish the skate can simply vacuum itself to the bottom – you have to put everything you have got into trying to heave it that few foot off the mud so that you can try to make some ground. The first 30 minutes is usually you gaining 6 inches, then the fish taking them straight back and hugging the bottom again, this being repeated until you think you will never get it moving. Eventually as long as you keep the pressure on you will start to get it moving and then it is simply a process of pumping and winding as you slowly get the fish up from 450ft.
If you stop at any time in this process you will allow the fish to get its head down and it will dive for the bottom again. Once it dives you cant stop it and you are back at square one. Time to start all over again….you will begin to wonder why you ever wanted to try and catch this fish.
This trip the first fish I hooked, I had spent 30 minutes hauling and actually had it 150 ft off the bottom when the hook pulled out. Disaster.. I was exhausted, and seriously contemplating not trying for another, but in the end was glad I did.
It was second time lucky – after watching a couple of the other guys land fish I got another run, and this time no mistakes. Forty minutes later I had a good sized skate by the yak, no monster but well over 100lb and enough to make me happy.
A few pictures, quickly unhooked and I watched this beast glide back to the depths. That was definitely it though – there was no way I was dropping a bait back down for another… my arms simply wouldn’t take going through that again.
There is something seriously masochistic about catching this fish. The whole process is extreme, the depths, the tides, the baits and the fight. There are many times during the process that you seriously wonder why you are bothering and question your sanity, but once you have caught one, you will definitely want to go back and suffer the pain and anguish all over again.