Tope and Skate fishing

In my former job as a curator of a large group of Public aquariums one of my roles was to organise and co-ordinate conservation activities. One of the activities we arranged was a Tope tagging project. Surprisingly there was very little interest from the various European sites so i decided I'd go myself and lead by example!

I arrived at our campsite on Luce Bay near Stranraer. The weather was great, nice and clear and very still. My Friend had a caravan there all summer as he fished the bay a lot. once we settled down with some beers the stories started to flow and anticipation was building, i couldn't wait to get stuck in.

I awoke to an amazing morning with a great view out across the bay, it looked perfect!
After a hearty breakfast we started to sort out the boat and tackle etc. this was quite a long winded process as i was desperate to get going, after what seemed like forever we were reversing into the shallows ready to drop the boat in. The day was getting nicer by the minute.

As we motored out into the bay the fish finder was turned on and the constant beeping alerted us to the huge shoals of Mackerel that our quarry, the Tope would be feeding on. We shut off the engine hand got out the Mackerel rods, after a few minutes we managed to fill a couple of 20 Litre buckets, enough for a good amount of 'Rubby Dubby' and plenty of baits. We continued to motor out across the bay towards the distant headland to a spot my mate assured me was a likely place to pick up larger females as opposed to the large numbers of smaller males that they had encountered closer inshore on the shallower reefs.

My mate got on with mixing up some rancid 'Rubby Dubby', this was the most foul smelling concoction i had ever smelt. this was dropped down to the sea bed to put out a nice scent for the tope to follow up to our baits. After tackling up i baited my rig with a whole Mackerel and dropped the heavy lead down to the drop off. There was a good flow over this drop off and i was told the large tope would sit below the ridge and ambush the shoals of fish as the tide pushed them over the top.

After about 45 minutes of nothing other than a couple of nuisance dogfish i heard my real giving out line, at first it was quite slow, all eyes were on my reel. The clicking started to speed up to more of a fast run, i picked up the rod and waited for the fish to take hold of the bait properly before setting the hooks. The run stopped and i could feel the fish letting go. I kept hold of the rod and after about 30 seconds felt another thud, line started zinging off the reel then the fish let go again. This time it didn't come back. I reeled in and the bait showed the tell tale signs of the razor edged teeth.

I baited up with a fresh bait and dropped my rig back into the depths. After only 5 minutes or the my bait was picked up again, followed by a quick run and then being dropped again as before, this was getting frustrating. i picked up the rod and felt the fish pick up the bait again. This time it ran a lot faster, line was zinging off the reel fast, then it slowed right down. Apparently this was the fish turning to swallow the bait, then Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, line was flying off the reel like I'd never imagined, "wait......... wait..... wait...HIT IT!" shouted my mate, i flicked the ratchet off and felt the sheer power of the fish. The fish powered off tearing line off the reel, My mate was laughing as i looked increasing concerned as the spool emptied rapidly. after what seemed like an eternity the run slowed and it was time to try and regain some line. This was hard work as we were fishing light tackle and i was fighting a big fish against a strong tide.

Once I'd regained a fair amount of line the fish took off again, thankfully this time it only took about half as much line. After i managed to get back in control i managed to get the fish up close to the surface and with the clarity of the water we could see it coming up, it was a big fish and looked in great condition. My Mate tried to grab the fish by the dorsal and tail to bring it on board (he was a carter boat Skipper here so knows what he's doing) Unfortunately the fish had other ideas and took off once more.

I eventually managed to get the fish back up to the surface and this time we got it on the boat ready to measure and tag and have a couple of quick pictures before returning her.

 This was  a female fish estimated at 70lb and was the largest taken so far that season in the area, what a cracking start and a classic case of beginners luck.

In order to continue my good track record i managed a 60lb fish a few days later, you can see the tag on this fish just by my right hand. Over the rest of the week we caught, tagged and released various species and had a brilliant time. I decided i like to lead by example and vowed to do this again, all in a days work!!!!

Skate fishing in Oban

I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in some Skate tagging off Oban a couple of years ago and was thoroughly excited at the chance of connecting with these massive fish. I though that they were very few and far between but was assured that on the right day several fish could be landed on one boat. As the project was to take place in February i was a little apprehensive about the weather conditions and packed accordingly. Typically, i arrived to be greeted with no wind and lovely bright sunny conditions.

We checked in at the hotel and settled down in the bar for a few beers and a few more Whiskeys. I woke up with a sore head but full of hope as it was a beautiful morning. We met the skipper at the Quayside and got on board ready to motor out to our spot.

It was a classic day and hopes were high.
As we got to our spot the Skipper let us know that the day before they had landed four skate up to 160lb and prospects looked very good for the day, we had two days booked so we all hoped to land something. Once tackled up we dropped our whole Mackerel baits 600ft down to where the Skate would be feeding. After only about 40 minutes my friend Linzi had a run, she hooked the fish and the battle commenced. Linzi is a very small, wiry strong lass and amazed us all by landing her fish after a tremendous battle of about 30 minutes - a great start to the day!

After lunch time and a couple more fish landed it was my turn, the reel started clicking as the fish picked up my bait and started to take line, this got quicker and quicker as the fish took off at a rate of knots! after being told to tighten up by the skipper i cranked the drag down tight and felt the sheer weight of the fish, this was like nothing i had ever experienced before. Unfortunately as the fish had run a couple of hundred yards before i struck i really had my work cut out! After about 30 minutes of back breaking fight i managed to get this fish back below the boat although it was still 600ft down. "Now the fun starts" laughed the skipper. The challenge with these big Skate is to get them clear of the bottom, then it gets easier - apparently!

I managed to get the fish off the bottom a couple of times but both times it managed to get back down, i was really loosing my energy at this point as id been fighting this heavyweight for nearly an hour, this was seriously back breaking stuff! After what seemed like an eternity it looked like i was gradually getting the better of my fish. Eventually the skipper said we should be able to see the fish before long. As i continued to heave the fish up i could just see soothing pale coming towards the surface and the first view of the fish was amazing and such a relief.

After much puffing and panting we managed to haul the fish onto the deck to un-hook, measure and tag before we could photograph and release her. I was relieved that the tussle was over and looked in awe at the strange looking fish, it was estimated at 190lb and was the biggest of the trip - mission accomplished.

I did have another run that afternoon but let someone else take the rod as i was well and truly exhausted and needed a beer of five. That evening we arrived back at the hotel and were treated to an amazing sunset and great hospitality - what a trip!

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