Magical Skate

Shane Munford United Kingdom
Shane Munford
26. 02. 2020

The greatest thing about angling is that there are so many disciplines to captivate and infuse anglers, be it match fishing with light line and perfect baits to catch as many fish as often as possible, LRF fishing with tiny lures, feathers or sections of bait for nippy critters, lure fishing and the thrill of working the gullies and water columns to find that monster, or sitting on a big bait for an hour at a time and trying to catch a specimen sized fish and get your name amongst the British record holders. There really is an array of things to do and we are very fortunate that as anglers that enjoy catching fish of all shapes and sizes, we can never get bored and throughout the year always have something to chase down.

February for me is the least productive month of the year, the temperatures are normally off putting and collectively in comparison to other months the fishing just doesn’t seem to be as productive, don’t get me wrong there are some great fish to be had, but in my favored venues the cod thin out the rays stay further ashore and I am in eager anticipation of the spring species coming on to the beaches.

This year I decided to do something a little different, I decided to plan a trip away to the highlands of Scotland and chase down the magical common flapper skate. A fish that can grow in excess of 230lbs and can be targeted and caught from the shore! Why the hell not!  The plans were set and we were to be fishing between 21st and 24th February for the skate, the Friday and Monday had been booked off work, groups chats made with daily countdowns until the big event and the planning started. Prior to this trip I had no experience of fishing for a creature of this size, I am fairly competent at catching rays local to home so all I had to go one was, it’s the same sort of thing just 10x larger. I am fortunate that I was able to speak with some friends who had undertaken the feat of travelling to Scotland and have been rewarded with remarkable fish, there is also a plethora of information online of hints and tips of preparing for these beasts.

The Rods I took up were a pair of Century Kompressor SS ‘s the rods I use for my ray fishing close to home, I know they have the backbone to be able to deal with the fish and the have an excellent tip and mid-section which I knew would be tested. The rods were paired with some Daiwa Saltist 8000 fixed spool reels, the reels themselves had been loaded with 80lb Spiderwire braid, this is not the cheapest line to use and cost me around £30 for 300yards however I knew with the potential of hooking a fish this size I wanted to be confident in landing it and getting It to the rocks, I don’t think I would have felt this confident with its Chinese alternative. My braid was then attached via an FG Knot to a 30ft section of 100lb monofilament leader (Rovex 10x). I would strongly advise to anyone if you are not familiar with the FG knot then practice it 50x at home before you venture up there[, it took me a while to get and you need to test this knot to the maximum pressure you can pull on it as that’s exactly what the fish will do and more. Its not ideal having to tie on new leader at 2am in -1 on a rocky outcrop in Scotland. Rig wise I made a selection of pulleys and up and overs from 150lb rig body and 200lb snood, I used some heavy swivels and a 10/0 meat hook on the business end however in hindsight I should have used some bronze O’Shaunessys in a 12/0 or 14/0 as if for some reason we were unable to remove the hook the fish would have the best chance of survival and fish safety is paramount. Lead wise I took a range of 7oz 8oz 10oz and 12oz and depending on tide used accordingly, generally found it easier using the 7oz or 8oz for the majority of the trip.

Sat Nav set to the west of Scotland in amongst all the lochs with an estimated time of 9hrs 37minutes and we set off. Filled with excitement and talking about what may happen, what other species we could encounter, frantically checking the weather tides and wind as it was an ever-changing picture. The journey took somewhat longer than 9.5 hours in fact it was closer to 12 due to traffic, stops etc. We arrived at our first mark in hope for some Spurdogs as one of the lads who was fishing in the group is big into his species hunting and we thought it would be a good one to tick off the list, we got out the car and walked to a point we had researched on Navionics and started fishing. No bites for over an hour and then the in came in, all 50mph of it directly in our face, rods were blowing over, and slowly the excitement was draining from us, we were noticing that the tide was dropping out and the loch was becoming shallower and with only a 6-8 second drop from the bait hitting the water to finding the seabed we were unlikely to find any as they like to cruise the deeper water. With that said we changed venue and got to the skate mark. The downside with skate fishing (if there must be one)is that due to the nature of the hook size there is very little in the way of a by-catch. Its pretty much all or nothing. We arrived at the mark to be met by stiff Westerly winds which at home may be quite nice condition here on the ‘West’ Coast mean right at you, the problem we were finding was that although we could punch a lead what we deemed to be far enough to find a skate, the braid was then flying off the reel and creating all sorts of problems, we tried to counteract this by getting our tips low to the water and running the line through our fingers until we felt it hit the bottom but our confidence was falling. Couple more hours into the session we made the decision that this wasn’t productive and we had no option but to go back to the vans and wait for a break in the weather, at this point we were cold, wet, tired and questioning if this was a waste of time and if we should head home. We sat in the vans and did a few trips to get some food for 26 hours until finally we went back round and started to fish again, the conditions were not a lot better so much of the same, but we had travelled all this way to fish not to sit around. Baiting up Half a large mackerel and half a large herring whipping it on the 10/0 and sending it as far as possible I sat back behind a rock out of the wind and watched the rod tip just hoping and praying something would happen. A Nudge !!! did the rod just move was that the wind? A tiny pull down like that of a small dogfish was at this point welcome my heart started to go, but then nothing for 2 or 3 minutes, I considered winding the rod in as this was the first bit of action we had seen since we got here. And then another small nudge! Somethings there, I was thinking what could this be, maybe a small thornback who cares whatever it was I was going to hook it and bring it up from the depths, I picked up the rod and tightened the drag to almost full and stood in the wind and beanie hat dropping over my face, headlamp hanging off my head with my hood flapping in the wind and I feel a pull I lift the rod slowly up and here the ratchet make a noise by the time this had registered I was hanging on to dear life with line peeling of the reel and me barely able to keep hold of rod and prevent it hitting the floor in front of me! This was a skate and it felt heavy, maximum pressure was applied to this fish to the point that I thought the rod was going to fold in half and I was going to end up on my backside. Once the initial run has stopped, I could feel the fish moving about 1 or 2 inches at a time with all my bodyweight and pressure on the rod. I shouted over for help and my pals came to watch me struggling like hell, the atmosphere had changed, the lads were smiling, I was smiling and the mood had been lifted, I managed to get the fishes nose out of the mud and start gaining on her levering the rod as high as I could and then winding down to the fish. Then all of a sudden the gaining would stop and the fish would have other ideas and crash to the bottom, there was little I could do, I couldn’t set the drag and tighter and it was peeling line, this happened twice during the fight and both time I was thinking in my head. I don’t think I can do this, fortunately my peers were egging me on and shouting at me to keep pressure on and that I was getting the better of her, I got my head down and pumped and wound and pumped and wound and then I heard ‘here’s the leader knot’… please don’t crash again…. Before I knew it, a cheer was let out and the fish had been gaffed in the cheek and was against the rocks. I let out a noise that I couldn’t re call now almost a shouty cry, my hands were shaking my heart was pounding I put the rod down and went to have a look at this magical creature. She was huge I had no concept of size as this is my first skate, but she was wide and so thick, you could see her pursed up and she was in beautiful condition. A few measurements taken and a few pictures later I was keen to get the fish back so myself and Steve went down to release her whilst Dan filmed. Such a magical moment watching this humongous fish glide across the water with her nose in the air, then turned to look directly at me almost like she was saying goodbye and then with one wing flapped around 180degrees and descended to the depths. MAGIC. A few fist bumps, hugs and pleasantries exchanged I had to take a break for 30mins to calm down. I rang my partner and told her the news at 11:30pm and she wasn’t too impressed for the call but happy for me none the less. Had a look on the conversion chart and plotted the sizes wing to wing and nose to tail and she went 182lb, not bad for a first common flapper skate.

The trip ended with all of us catching our target species within the next 24 hours, Jay Hemming with a  fish of 171lb the following morning, Dan Hickey with a  fish of 125lb the next evening before we were going to leave and Steve Perry leaving it right to the end to get his fish of 199lb.

The trip is so special because on the first day our spirits were low and were considering coming home and not wasting our time to on the last day wanting to book another week off work and better our PB’s. It’s a fish that I will never forget catching and I’m glad I got to share this moment with the lads on trip and re tell it to whoever is reading.

Tight Lines

Shane Munford

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