Giants of the Deep

I was recently up in Oban, Scotland with my son Mike Jr. We’d booked a couple of days for some pleasure fishing with Ronnie Campbell who runs the charter boat Laura Dawn from Oban.

We were fishing with 4 other anglers and the target would be giant common skate, one of the largest fish a UK angler can target as they can potentially easily exceed 200lbs in weight.

The weather was extremely cold with snow capping all the mountains down to low level and with a savagely cold wind coming in from the north. It was forecast to be sunny though, and the sea calm.

The first day we anchored over a mark in 460-feet. Being as I’d caught skate before I elected not to fish to give those yet to catch one the best possible chance. I chose to bottom fish with light gear trying to catch a black mouthed dogfish which also inhabit these deep, dark waters.

Almost straight away a skate was lost, then Glasgow angler Ewen Hill boated a 121lb male fish. This was quickly followed by 154lber for Adam Riach from Keith in Scotland, followed by Essex rod Mark Cole getting his very first ever skate, a whopping 193lb fish.

Mark Cole with a Common Skate of 193lbs

Mike Thrussell Jr, who’d unluckily lost two of the earlier fish when they just briefly picked up then dropped the bait, then struck in to a skate that fought hard diving several times, a sign of a male skate that usually fight much harder than the female fish. It was his first ever skate at 60lbs. A great result for the first day!

Mike Thrussell Jnr with his first skate of 60lbs

I didn’t catch a black mouthed doggie, but I did get a succession of spurdog on luminous Hokkeye rigs.

The second day skipper Ronnie decided to anchor over a deeper hole in 530-feet.
Just as the previous day two skate were lost early on as the hooks simply pulled out after an initial fight, then Ewen Hill hit a huge fish that refused to budge from the seabed. Constant pressure with the rod fully bent for over 15 minutes finally persuaded the fish to move and another 20 minutes of hard work brought the massive fish to the surface. It weighed a clonking 205lbs and was only his third ever skate.

With everyone now having caught a skate it was my turn to take the next run. I was using a Penn International 50 rod and Penn International 30SVW reel loaded with 50lb mono. I’d seen the rod tip shudder as the skate settled on the bait, then the line started to pay out as the fish winged away with its prize.

Mike Thrussell playing his skate on Penn tackle

Wearing a shoulder harness and butt pad to take the strain, I wound hard to fully tighten the line and set the hook. As I did so the rod arched fully over and the skate suctioned down on the seabed like it was glued there.

The tactic now is to bend at the knees slightly and lean backwards. This eases the pressure on you the angler, but maximises pressure via the rod on the fish. It took only 10 minutes of maximum pressure to make the fish move, then as it does you pump the rod upwards and gain line as the rod drops down ready for the next lift upwards. On big fish it’s often best to just gain a few inches of line at a time, but constantly keep them coming up. This is a tactic used by marlin and tuna anglers on big fish that go deep and have to be fought up from vertical deep below the boat.

Gradually the fish came up through the water column, often using its width across the wings to hold in the tide and pressurise the tackle. But steady rod pressure told and the giant of the deep came in to view as first a small white blob down deep, then grew to be a massive white carpet as it reached the surface.

Once aboard the skate are measured by length head to tail and width across the wings and this applied to a mathematical chart that accurately specifies the fish’s weight, my fish achieving a weight of 174lbs. This skate was carrying an old tag in the left wing so had been caught and released on rod and line before. The tag was cleaned, the number read at 4963, then a photo taken and the fish returned carefully to the water to grow some more. The tag number will now tell us, via Glasgow University, when and where the skate was caught previously and if she’s grown since the original capture. Vital information needed for the long term protection of these incredible fish.

Mike Thrussell with his skate of 174lbs

The last fish of the day fell to Adam and was another monster weighing 183lbs.

Seven skate caught in two days and no less than five others lost. But no matter, a great couple of days fishing and memories for all of us that will last a lifetime!

Adam Riach with a skate of 183lbs
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