February 5, 2020 Last Updated 7:14 pm

* Big Skate, Small Boat

The quest for a new species is always a great driver for the small boat skipper.... Get to grips with a Skate!

The quest for a new species is always a great driver for the small boat skipper!

A close to specimen sized Common Skate for Rob McClean

As a skipper gets more experienced it is then that many of the challenges are ticked off the list as species are caught and new techniques are learned. It is part of what drives the small boat angler. Learning new techniques to catch fish is a great challenge and test. Learning more about your boat and equipment in order to catch those species is what makes small boat angling really great.

It is a while since I felt that buzz for catching a new species. Yes, new techniques for catching old favourites has consumed a lot of time in recent seasons (Think bass on lures!). Scouting new ground to improve catches in the face of declining sport in my area has taken up time as well; it is surely getting more and more to get that “superb” day on the water.

Ready for the off – Cobh, Co.Cork

A few years back I took a trip on a charter boat in the hunt of some mixed fishing and a chance of a crack off a skate. I looked forward to the trip. It was a good few years since I had taken a charter and the lure of fishing in West Cork was strong. I must say that skate never featured in my plans much but I got a twinge of excitement as I geared up for the coming trip. It was April so we were not overly confident of explosive fishing. We did manage to catch some bait and had a few fish on lures before Tom Collins, skipper of Loch an Iasc, decided it was time to anchor and make an attempt at skate.
Tom is one of the most experienced skate anglers on the south coast of Cork (www.seaanglingcharters.ie ). He has worked the grounds available to him and has built a serious reputation for catching skate consistently. Just take a look at any recent Specimen Fish report and you’ll see Tom featuring strongly.

Tom Collins found this clip on my drone app, from a trip out back in April. Jim Clohessy that's your mush fighting a big skate!

Posted by Gary Blake on Sunday, January 7, 2018
Thanks to Specimen Angler Gary Blake for the superb footage!

Skate have suffered due to over fishing in recent years and their numbers were in serious decline until the EU introduced legislation to protect the remaining stock. It is currently illegal for boats to catch Skate although rather cynically there is an increase in skate catches as “bycatch” by largely Spanish and Portuguese boats. The general ban on fishing has meant and increase in skate stocks. It would also be fair to say that skate were not always a target for charter boats as it would be a fairly specialised pursuit and it might not always be the most explosive fishing. Skippers were caught up wreck fishing and of course shark fishing would be very popular too.

A specimen sized skate – With Tom Collins

That day out with Tom we only hooked up with one skate. As luck would have it, it was myself that hooked up with my first skate capture. Yes, all those years fishing but I had never targeted skate! The take was subtle but the fight was less so. I have been told that a fight from a skate was not really a memorable experience and that it was largely an exercise in brute force angling lifting a big, almost immovable, object from the sea bed to the surface. The fight I had that day was far more exciting. It was tough, but then this fish was more than 100lbs weight. I gave my tackle a decent workout that day to land a Specimen sized skate. It was an enjoyable experience and far from just ticking the box it ignited a desire to catch some skate from Skua.

Catching a skate from my own boat has been a simmering idea more than a raging obsession. The increasing numbers or skate being caught in west Cork waters had me thinking about the waters accessible from Cork Harbour. A visit to the “Inn by the harbour” in Ballycotton in East Cork shows why Ballycotton was the Angling capital at one stage. The black and white pictures on the wall of the bar showing captures of common skate hinted at ground that held good numbers of skate just right on my doorstep. In my angling lifetime I had heard of only two captures close to Cork Harbour. I had taken a few experimental trips to likely looking areas and had anchored up and fished in hope but failed to contact with any skate. In one mark I was tormented by congers so I felt that skate could not get to the bait if they were any about.

Planet Sea Fishing has many skate fishing articles

I began to speak with local fishermen about the possibilities. There was little or no concrete information. In the mean time I spoke with consistent skate catchers to be sure my gear was up to the mark and also to see what “type of ground” skate were typically being caught and at what types and stages of tide – Anything to give me an advantage.

Skipper Tom Collins is a mine of information and loves to talk skate. He offered to buddy up when I towed into the area so I could be confident of being in the right place at the right time. While at the Irish Angling Expo in Dublin I had a long conversation with consistent skate catcher Graham Smith. Graham tackles skate from his Kayak off the coast of Donegal in waters that are not horrendously deep either, more like the areas I have decided to target.

The more I investigate, the more I am getting excited! It’s been a while since I have gotten such a buzz that is not lure related. I move my research to the internet to see what help could be gleaned. I used the excellent article from Les McBride on skate trace making to be sure that my terminal tackle would be up to scratch ( https://www.planetseafishing.com/how-to-rig-up-for-common-skate/ )  It would be soul destroying to be in contact with a skate and to find that gear would let you down. I went for solid heavy gear with simple connections and good knots. Les’ article resides on the Planet Sea Fishing website.

What other gear would be needed? The correct rods and reels are crucial. Most anglers will make use of the charter skippers gear unless they are regular skate hunters. Good quality gear is a must. You may be tackling a fish weighing 200lbs in weight.

There’s big reels and strong rods there!

Subconsciously I must have been thinking of skate a few years ago when I came by a used but perfect Penn Formula 10kg reel. It is a beast of a yoke! Two-speed and a narrow spool so it is very well balanced. This style of reel is perfect for skate fishing and the low gearing allows for a steady pressure to be applied to the fish. I was tempted to mate the Formula 10kg with a 50lb class rod but I do have a liking for Abu Garcia Suveran rods and the 30lb class rod if of such quality I am happy to use it for my skate angling. I am always happiest using braided mainline. I think decent quality braid between 50lb and 80lb will tame most beasts. I chose the route of tying a swivel to my main line but I can certainly see the attractiveness of a wind on leader.

I have seen anglers use harnesses and kidney belts when fighting skate. So far we have been happy with a decent butt pad. I particularly like the type that mate up with the gimbal on a rod butt as they keep the rod straight without much effort.

Other additions to the boat were a pair of gaffs. A gaff doesn’t generally have a place on a modern angling boat so I had to scour about to locate a nice gaff.  Dennett Outdoor supply a nice Kali Kunnan gaff and since I have committed to doing more fishing a friend has made me a nice pair of short stainless steel models. You can also include the contents of your shark fishing bag when chasing skate. Gloves, long nosed pliers, snips and all that sort of stuff is useful to have on board.

There is no weight based specimen allowed for Skate. It is a length based specimen only. 180cm from tip to end of tail. There is no wingspan length used. A strangle on considering I have seen a few skate at this stage with damage to their tails. The standard Inland Fisheries Ireland measuring mat will do the finest. This mat will make the claiming of a specimen fish easier and the committee recognise the mat as being and “official” measuring device.

2019 was not a great year for small boat angling. The nature of the windy weather made it very difficult to plan sessions at skate. There is so much fishing to do and so little time to do it. Eventually we got some weather windows and I felt that this would be a good time to make the attempt. I was as ready as I could be.

Where will you pick skipper?

Expectation v Results

It is always difficult to keep your expectations for a trip in check. Here I have spent hours scouting potential ground to fish and then have spent time concocting the terminal gear to catch the target species. That first trip would be one of pure experimentation but it was with a huge sense of anticipation that we headed offshore. We stopped inside the harbour in order to catch some mackerel. Bait was an area I could only guess about. Who knows what a skate in our locality would prefer to eat? We caught some mackerel. We headed offshore and stopped off at a reef to pick up a few small pollack and some coalies that might also tempt a big flattie.

We anchored our mark and waited for the boat to settle into its position. I was surprised that there was a good run of tide in a fairly open stretch of water. I baited up with a decent pollack and sent the bait to the bottom with 1lb of lead. Literally that’s the biggest lead I would ever use in this neck of the woods! We varied the baits and we also tackled up some lighter rods in the hope of picking up some smaller species while we waited for the main event. We were kept going with some congers, huss and the inevitable doggies.

Huss provide some craic while we wait for skate

If there is one thing that my research showed it is that skate fishing can be a waiting game. Some days can be better than others and really you must be prepared to put in the time. This was the first time we have fished this ground so really we cannot be sure what is the best stage of tide to be fishing. It will take a few trips for us to home in on any “sweet spot” in tide.

Huss Wrestling should be an olympic sport!

We fished for a fruitless couple of hours before reanchoring in the general area and we reset our baits again. There was certainly no shortage of scent in the water. Our plan for the day was to return to lure fishing after our attempt at skate.  We were catching nothing but we were happy to wait it out. It was getting close to home time when Rob’s rod began to nod a bit. It was like a shock to the system. He picked up his rod, lifted into a fish and then all hell broke loose!

All Hell broke loose!
Some test for man and machinery

Because the water is quite shallow the skate was inclined to run away from the boat. It also decided to change side of the boat and all the while Rob, into his first skate, was blown away by the sheer power of the fish. (Of course he had me whispering into his ear “don’t lose that fish”!). The fight was tough but in fairly quick time and with some deft angling we began to see colour under the boat. At that stage myself and Gavin took over the boating of the fish. On best advice we gaffed the skate, a very big fish, in both wings and lifted the fish onto the deck. I have had big fish on the deck of Skua, plenty of them, but this was a special fish. There is something prehistoric about a skate. The sight and sound of the huge gills working is something to behold and is something we were all in awe of.  It certainly was a motivator for us to get the fish back to the water as quickly as possible without stressing the fish.  This catch was the culmination of some interesting study, experimentation and testing and was all the sweeter for it.

A cracking big skate

I could never have been called a “fan” of skate fishing. Trying to wrestle a leviathan from the depths to the boat didn’t excite me. The prospect of catching these huge fish from relatively shallow water has certainly changed my outlook. It has been a few years since I have had the sense of anticipation and the buzz from chasing another different species. Skate may not be an all-consuming species of fish for me but we are not finished with them yet. It was later in the year when we went chasing and the weather was less than kind for the autumn so we have unfinished business. I would like to sharpen our consistency in catching good numbers of skate on a trip. I would like to refine the bait and timings of the tide and suchlike; so there is plenty to be keep us occupied in the year ahead. The fact that this is all being done from Skua’s home port is the added benefit. In fact, there are more areas in the locality that could and should yield skate. I think back to the pictures in Ballycotton and that chap I met that day on the charter boat who was a member of The Centurion Club of Ireland. He caught a huge skate near the Cork Buoy, located just outside Cork harbour.

They come in small too!

Without preaching, tackling skate from a small boat is not to be taken lightly. I am thinking of the welfare of the fish and also the welfare of the anglers too. Skippers really need to be geared up properly for this type pf fishing. The danger here is that there could be damage to the fish and even injury to an angler by not getting the system right. I am really only a learner at this game but I’m having a craic doing it!

In the first case you should take a charter with the like of Tom Collins, Sean Maxwell or Mark Gannon. These skippers are the most consistent skate catchers and you can get a feel of what is required to get a beast in your boat!

And back she goes!

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