January 27, 2022 Last Updated 9:30 am

*Big Skate Small Boat #2

Skate fishing on Skua has been an evolution. It has taken a few years of chancing our arm and experimenting in different locations with differing tactics....

Skate were never really on my radar. That was until I captured one while fishing from Tom Collins’s charter boat in west Cork. Even then I was not really consumed; I was very interested though. I had gathered a lot of information from Tom about habitat and began to search out skate within a reasonable distance of my Cork Harbour launch site. I tried to the east and west and eventually began to catch some fish on the western side. There was a lot of effort involved and a good few blank trips.

Each trip was like another leap into the unknown. I had great info to go on tactics from the best of skate anglers. I had a great team of anglers on board who were committed to the cause. Skate fishing can be slow fishing especially when there is experimentation. Those first trips were very exciting despite our poor catch rate.

The battle can be fierce

After a few trips I realised I had a problem with my terminal gear. I had constructed my traces based on the experiences of Scottish anglers. I can only guess that the traces were based on the experience of deep water and strong tides. We were fishing shallow water with not a lot of tide running. My traces were coming back to the boat tangled up. It was so bad on one session that had I caught a skate I would more than likely have lost it due to line wrap, (there was no fear, I blanked!!).

Sitting in my shed I reviewed my session and decided that I would need to start from scratch and retie my traces. My thinking was fairly simple. I would have fished for many years for blonde rays. My tackle for blondes is battled-tried and tested. I would have to construct my skate traces in the same fashion, allowing of course for the difference in size and weight. Out came the 300lb mono, the aluminium crimps and heavy duty swivels. On the business end Owner 12/0 SSW with the barbs crushed would be the weapon of choice.

The question of the best skate bait has vexed skate experts for years. I was leaning towards mackerel baits usually. Rob McClean had caught our biggest skate on SKUA to date on pollack so I decided to bring mackerel along and but to also fish pollack baits and to even experiment with other baits.

Mackerel or Pollack. Which is best?

In the year of Covid, fishing opportunities were less than normal. However, I did have opportunities to make some attempts at skate. In most cases I was fishing with lure fishing buddies and managed to squeeze in a few hours at anchor on each trip.

In October we managed to hit the jackpot. The Dub contingent was county-bound by lockdown and I was doing the usual: fishing some lures and then giving a few hours to skate. On a still day when the tuna were busting nearby we dropped anchor and swung around gently in the tide. Another venue, another experiment, though this time I was more confident after chewing the fat with many good anglers over lockdown.

I busily set about rigging rods and baiting up. My main skate rod is a 30lb class Abu Suveran teamed with a Penn Formula 2-speed. Honestly that reel is like a little winch! I baited with half a decent sized pollack through the head leaving the 12/0 Owner SSW Cutting Point hook exposed. I had tackled a second rod, a Kensaki 20/30, a rod that I had caught a skate on before, this would be the mackerel rod. I used a carbon copy trace on this rod.

A big skate sorts the men from the boys!

We settled in for a wait but within ten minutes there was movement on my rod! It was a tentative pull that I assumed was a huss or a doggie messing around with the bait. I left for a few seconds and then I decided to lift the bait and maybe put the doggie off. As I lifted the rod I could feel the pressure build as the skate began to move off. My drag was set and could feel that the fish was hooked. In the shallower water the skate tends to run away from the boat. There is nothing can stop it. It is just pure raw brutal power. I eventually got a few turns on the reel and a stalemate ensued

for a few minutes. As I gained line the skate would just take it back as fast. The fish was off the bottom but was using the mild tide to keep the pressure on me. As I say it is a rather brutal affair where the skate is largely the boss until it tires a bit. At this stage there’s a good chance that the angler is tired too!!

Paul strikes a fine fish!

It seemed to take an age but I think the fight did not last too long and there was some relief to see colour. Skate tend to be fairly docile at the side of the boat which allows for reasonably easy handling, though the huge bulk makes thing tricky. We landed this first skate of the day onto the deck. Delighted, one can only stand back and marvel at the pure prehistoric creature in front of you. Used to rays, to see a similar fish of such huge proportions is fairly mind blowing. It certainly gives you impetus to deal with the fish quickly and get it back to the water as quickly as possible. Those eyes are something else, when the spiracles move it is something else, if you know, you know! We unhooked easily due to the crushed barb on the hook, measured the fish for reference and released it back over the side of the boat as quickly and as gently as we could.  I baited up again and sent another offering down.

We always do some lure fishing. If only for bait and a bend!

I was basking in the glow of the capture when my rod moved again. This time I picked up immediately to feel a fish, undoubtedly a skate, moving off at pace. There was no need to strike, again I just lifted into the fish and hung on! After a lot of huffing, puffing and a deal of groaning we had colour again. I could feel the strain of the fighting and would have happily gone home at that stage but I baited again and left the trace down easily, baited again with a half a chunky pollack hooked through the lip and out through the head; hook point well exposed.

The elusive specimen

We never had the chance to get the lighter bait rods in the water. I was just thinking about baiting up and casting away from the boat. I sat back and had a cool drink and was just about the sort the light rod when my rod went a third time. I nearly handed the rod to Paul my crewmate but I decided to give it one more bash. Remember we have had no action on Paul’s rod baited with mackerel. I lifted into the fish and the battle that ensued will live with me for a long time. At one stage the fish was suspended mid water with a stalemate ensuing where it could not take line and I was reluctant to put more pressure on the Suveran which was bent to an extent that it never had been before. I’m glad to say the fish tired before me and soon we had to deal with a veritable monster at the side of the boat. All I could think of was 186cm from nose to tail – The length of an Irish Specimen Skate. It was a bit of a struggle to manoeuver the fish onto the measuring mat. It was some delight to see that tail touch down at 198.5cm – big on any terms but very big for a male fish. We took a couple of snaps, would have liked to have got some more but again we wanted to get the fish back to water as soon as possible. I held him at the side of the boat for a short time and he swam away strongly with a flick of his huge wings. I was officially a tired camper!

Lure angler Andy with his first!

Undaunted I baited up again. Within another short space of time the rod tip went again. I told Paul to take the rod and lift into the fish. We had had nothing on the mackerel baited rod. Paul won’t mind me saying that he was a skate virgin – he got a rude awakening into the world of skate fishing. A mighty tussle ensued with much grunting and cursing! Paul didn’t realise there was something in our waters that could fight like this. He managed to get a fine skate to the boat. We landed and took a few snaps and got the fish off the deck in record time. We are getting used to this.

We decided against another foray.  We took in the skate gear and readied ourselves for another session on the lures.  I must say my mind was elsewhere for the rest of the trip. I was basking in the warm glow of catching a specimen skate on my own boat. Something I have wanted to do for some time now. The effort to get to that point was considerable abut it was a great journey.

I think I couldn’t stand up….beaten up by a skate!

Reviewing the day is always an important part of any fishing trip. It is good to determine what has worked well and what didn’t perform as expected. It is good to modify the outfit for the next day. I think my skate terminal gear has withstood the battering, of that I am pleased. I was not sure that my snap swivel, I have not been using a wind on leader, would be strong enough. Rated at 120kg they have done very well. My traces were all crimped rather than knotted. I have tried to have the minimum of weak links. Skate fishing has that in common with shark fishing – any weak link in your tackle system will be exposed rather quickly.  Thankfully we have suffered no trace breakages today so I will construct some more traces in the same fashion to have spare for the next trip out. I am no skate expert, but my experience is growing each trip out.

At last after many attempts and experimenting Gavin got his skate!

The rest of the session was largely uneventful and we headed for home, stopping off briefly to watch some tuna busting. It is illegal for us to fish for them. It would have been a bit too late in the day to hook one up by accident! We didn’t need to be pulled about the ocean by a monster fish… we had done that already today!

Over the next few months we refined our fishing more and had a tremendous strike rate. When Covid Lockdowns eased Rob and Gavin, who were there for the first experimental trips, arrived and got into the action again. It was superb fishing. It makes for a superb day out – Getting a bend in the light lure gear from some pollack, ling and cod and then taking a beating from some skate. Two methods that are so different and each so rewarding in it own right.

To be sure skate are a realistic target on a small boat. I would say though, just like shark fishing it is important that the angler gears up properly and take on the fish with “fair” tackle. There are no awards for fish caught with little rods that are outgunned by big fish. You may get the fish to the boat but at what cost to the fish. It is hard, but try to resist the urge to take all fish on board. At this stage I would only bring a fish on board if there is a fairly good reason to do so. I wouldn’t deny any angler his classic picture. It will be done carefully and quickly. Skate can take the handling, that’s for sure. We have caught tagged fish during our trips. The charter skippers that tag these fish are well trained and have the fishes welfare at heart. I started my skate journey with Tom Collins in west Cork. That would be a great place for any angler to start their skate journey.

My Current Skate Gear:

Rod:                       Abu Suveran 30lb

Reel:                      Penn Formula 15kg

Rod:                       Diawa Kenzaki 20-30lb   

Reel:                      Calcutta 700

Traces:                  Crimped 300lb mono, Owner 12/0 SSW Hook

Paul with a superb fish!
Rob had the first skate aboard Skua a few years back…. He hasn’t blanked since!
Homeward bound on a lovely evening.

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