Background Info The Common Skate are one of the few species of fish where local populations can suffer as badly from poor angling practices as from commercial fishing pressure. The once prolific grounds off the Northern & Western Coast's of Scotland were wiped out in the 1970's. This is mainly due to the now frowned upon practice of anglers bringing Skate ashore to be weighed and photographed. Afterwards their carcases were ignominiously dumped off the end of the local pier!
Present Day Thankfully times have changed and now Skate anglers practice catch and release with a few even taking part in the Tagging Programme.
Location You have to find an area with a population of Commons before you can catch them, the easiest way and the most commonly followed route in Scotland is to do what everyone else does, fish off Oban. This gives you access to Skate angling 12 months of the year, as the Skate are residents of the areas they are found. There are a few other places to catch them, such as the west Coast of Ireland and a few areas further North from Oban, however these areas tend to be very weather dependant thus restricting the chances of getting out after the Skate.
Depths In the Late summer months Skate can be found right in shallow water, even as little as 30 feet. Then as the water cools, they move out of the shallower water back in to the deeper areas. By deeper I mean 200 feet is plenty depth to be able to catch commons all year round. If your fishing in deeper water, say 400 feet, then the Skate are there ALL year round, despite what has been said; they don't move out to deeper water. To almost everyone 400 feet passes off as deep water.
Tides Contrary to what has been said, tide strengths do not have a lot of effect on catches, the only real effect that the tide has is in the amount of weight you have to use. That being said the state of the tide does have an effect, but you will find out most marks fish at different states of the tide.
Tackle When angling for Skate use appropriate tackle : IGFA 30lb Class gear should be regarded as the absolute minimum to use. Ideally 50-80lb Class should be used. This is as much to combat the 'inhospitable' conditions in the areas where Skate are targeted. i.e. deep water, strong tides. The use of heavier gear allows the Skate to be landed more quickly and not exhausted, allowing it to be released in better condition.
Tackle You can land Skate on lighter gear but you are not doing yourself or more importantly the fish any favours. Personally when targeting Skate I don't use anything less than 50lb class, with 80lb being the norm. This way when I hook a fish I know the odds are on my side and the fish will be boated with the minimal chance of a hook being left in the fish
Terminal Tackle Terminal tackle needs to be strong and is best kept simple. A single 12/0 bronzed hook (e.g. Mustad 3406), preferably with the barb crushed down is best.
Terminal Tackle Never use stainless or plated hooks as these will not biodegrade if they have to be left in a skate. Keep hook links to a maximum of 24"/60cm. Short hook links are necessary to minimise the chances of deep hooking your Skate.
The Trace This should be made up of 150lb (minimum) breaking strain monofilament. Crimped to a quality 200lb rated swivel. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR WIRE
Terminal Tackle This hook link should then be attached to an 8 foot(2.4m) rubbing or 'wind on’ leader, made of 150lb breaking strain monofilament. This is to protect the mainline from the sharp thorns on the Skate's tail. This leader also helps when bringing the Skate to the side of the boat.
Weight Boom The weight boom runs on the heavy mono of the rubbing/wind on leader. The main reason for this is to avoid it damaging the mainline and also to assist in keeping the mainline well away from the Skate's sharp tail thorns.
Bait Common Skate are not fussy eaters and have a very varied menu. This covers most shellfish and fish species. As an apex predator, Common Skate are deceivably agile when it comes to hunting and can easily catch fast swimming species like Herring and Mackerel.
Sustenance Common fodder fish species are Spurdog Rays Dogfish Whiting Herring Shellfish fodder species are Edible Crabs Prawns Squat Lobsters Scallops
The Favourite The most commonly used baits are Mackerel and Coalfish around the 1lb to 1.5lb mark
Striking a Take Always 'hit' a take as quickly as possible - never wait for a run to develop as this will almost always result in a deep-hooked fish. Don't worry about missing a bite; Skate can and do, swallow very big baits in seconds and if you do miss one, they almost always come back for a second, third or even fourth attempt at a bait.
The Fight A lot has been said about the “LACK OF” fight from Common Skate, this usually comes from people that have either never caught one or have been using mono rather than braid as a main line.
Mono V Braid With mono the stretch takes most of the fight out of the encounter, giving the angler very little “feel” as to what is happening at the other end of his line. However with braid you are in full contact with the fish at all times, making the fight rather more interesting.
Skate Handling When a Skate is brought to the side of the boat it can be held quite easily by holding the trace and then getting a firm handhold at the cheek area of the Skate. Large specimens may require to be gaffed to aid holding the fish. This needs to be done with great care.
Gaffing The gaff should be used ONLY in the area outside the halfway point of the leading edge of the wing and no more than 3" in from the leading edge. This gives a secure hold and poses no danger to internal organs.
Watch Out!!!! Danger Areas The large thorns on the tail are razor sharp and the Skate have a habit of putting the tail where you don't want it to be. Another danger area is only found on male Skate, it's a rough patch or razor sharp thorns on the leading outer edge of the wings. Lastly is the mouth, a Common can easily crush a wayward hand to a pulp, so it pays to be very careful when unhooking the fish.
PLEASE!!!! If the Skate is deep hooked, DO NOT attempt to remove the bronzed hook. Simply cut the hook link as near to the hook as possible and release the fish. You can do more damage by trying to retrieve the hook and a living Skate returned is worth more than the cost of a hook! Deep hooking can and does cause fatal injuries to skate. TRY TO AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS!!!!
Handling cont If you can, try to avoid bringing the Skate into the boat, they can be measured and the tag (if any) checked at the side of the boat. If the Skate has to be brought onboard, for whatever reason, have everything to hand before doing so in order to release the fish back into the water as quickly as possible.
Measuring Measure the wingspan and the length, the weight charts can be obtained from Glasgow Museums. Always remember to weigh your fish against the correct chart, until you are used to the charts, it can be very easy to measure the wrong sex of fish against the wrong chart.
Tagging Data If you catch a tagged Common Skate, please take a note of the following: Tag number Sex Wingspan length Date Time Location Captor Condition of the fish i.e. any leaches or parasites And anything else you may feel is relevant
Send Information to: Richard Sutcliffe Art Gallery and Museum Kelvingrove Glasgow G3 8AG Or you can report a recapture online on the Forum of www.catchalot.co.uk
And Finally Enjoy the pleasure of watching your Common Skate swim back to the bottom & Get a bait back in the water