Every season, Mark McGivern, director of “Angling First”, the well known angling charity in Northern Ireland, gives me a call to ask if I would take several volunteer workers, along with himself, on a salt-water angling adventure. This seems to have become a tradition each year! Its Mark’s way of giving the lads a treat for the hard work they put in through-out the year.
It transpired that there would only be a crew of three on this adventure, including myself, which would work out quite nicely, leaving ample room to set-up a couple of extra rods. Mark was joined by his relatively new recruit to the “Angling First” organisation, a young lad, Colm Crothers. A great kid, and eager to experience some big-fish action. Nothing like a bit of pressure on the skipper to find a result, as per usual!
Apart from a couple of obliging dogfish, our first serious tap on the rods came on the relatively light twenty-pound class Penn Wave Blaster. Mark eventually persuaded it to leave the sea-bed, and after a twenty minute battle, a small skate broke the surface. Measuring fifty eight inches from nose to tail with a forty three inch wing-span, it put the weight estimate in and around forty eight pounds on the chart. Not massive by skate standards, but a great battle none-the-less and encouraging for the future to see some younger specimens present.
While Mark had been enjoying the battle, a second rod buckled to the weight of another fish, and once I lifted the rod, it was obvious a second skate had showed up on the scene, quite possibly a little larger this time. With Colm kitted out in the harness and butt-pad, control was handed over and it was immediately obvious that he was a little shocked at the pure tug-of-war power these awesome creatures exert on rod and line. A bit of a culture shock from the carp, tench and rainbow trout back at the fishery! Although this fish had taken our bait on the Penn Tuna Stick, more than ample equipment, Colm still struggled to come to terms with the job in hand!
Fifteen minutes into the fight, he threw in the towel, amazed at how difficult it is to prise a stubborn skate off the sea-bed. By this stage, our first fish had been tagged and released, and Mark was still getting over the adrenaline rush. He was quite happy to sit this one out. The skipper had to step up to the mark on this occasion and put our second skate under a little pressure! This turned out to be a hard fighter, a typical male fish. They are leaner and a great deal more muscular and sinewy than the females, which doesn’t half show when it comes to dragging them through the depths to the surface!
As the tidal strength eased further, smaller species made an appearance, and to be honest, this was somewhat of a relief, for me at least! A handful of decent Cod showed, an un-expected double-figure Ling, along with a couple of hard-scrapping congers. Delicate little Black-mouthed dogfish obliged and Mark rounded off day one with his all-time favourite species, the spectacularly marked Bull-Huss.
On day two of our adventure, we soon ran in to the same species, with a seemingly endless conveyor belt of lesser spotted dogfish queuing to be caught. A few decent sized Black-mouthed dogfish showed again, some nudging specimen size and a handful of conger made an appearance to keep things interesting. Towards the end of the session, my trusty old Shakespeare Ugly Stik nodded and dipped somewhat ominously, and as I tightened against the fish, knew instantly that we were into skate number three! Colm had taken a bit of raking from Mark and myself after backing out of yesterday’s fish, and was determined to make amends as I handed him the rod, now under serious pressure by this stage!
Harnessed up, Colm settled into the battle, a little more confident to come out on top this time. With constant pressure and a bit of give and take, the tug of war began to take its toll on our fish as he slowly inched it through the depths towards the surface. Safely over the gunnels, the expression on Colm’s face was priceless, a mixture of relief, amazement, and achievement, along with the adrenaline rush of landing his first deep-water monster!
By this stage of the day, and the tidal state, it was time to bring our adventure to a close, and judging by the atmosphere on board, it was indeed a memorable adventure. Two busy days, a few new species for my crew and three fabulous not-so Common Skate, tagged and released, with plenty of photographs for posterity. It’s great when a boat trip works out according to plan!