A Couple of Days Fishing for Skate at Oban

To be quite honest, being an ageing office worker with the upper body strength of a 10 year old means I don’t always relish the chance to play tug of war with a skate almost as big as myself. I’m neither particularly keen or successful as a skate fisherman, but a great forecast, small tide and late March meant I didn’t have a many other options on the sea fishing front. So a trip to fishing for skate at Oban was on the cards, with Ian recruited as crew.

Perfect weather for a day afloat in March. A view over the islands to the south of the Firth of Lorne.
Perfect weather for a day afloat on the Firth of Lorne in March

This was to be a two day effort, with an overnight camp in between, which meant a lot of scurrying around to sort out gear beforehand. It was a leisurely start on Friday and we launched at Ganavan around 11, just after low water, and headed out into a very calm Firth of Lorne. The plan was to revisit the Lochaline area as I’ve not tried it for several years.

Well, we fished for around 6 hours without so much as a sniff from a skate. Ian was fishing a lighter rod and picked up a grand total of 3 doggies, whilst I spent more time watching the eagles on the cliffs above Inninmore Bay. An utter waste of time, and not a great omen for Saturday.

An eagle soars over Ardtornish
An eagle soars over Ardtornish
A small but pretty dogfish, one of three taken by Ian on a poor day in Inninmore Bay
Fish of the day, almost

I hauled anchor with my tail thoroughly between my legs and we headed off to find a spot to camp overnight. We (eventually) got tucked up for the night at my second choice, a remote little bay on Mull not far from the entrance to Loch Spelve. It proved a fairly tight spot to moor in but at least there was a great little spot to pitch a tent overnight. After a dinner consisting mainly of half-cremated sausages we turned in early for the night. A remote and isolated site together with a cool, starry and midge-free evening – pretty much the way I like my camping!

Next morning I was up early, mainly to make sure the boat was still there (and floating), and was rewarded with a fine sunrise over Ben Cruachan and Kerrera.

Just before sunrise on Ben Cruachan, viewed from Mull
Just before sunrise, looking across the Firth of Lorne from Mull. Ben Cruachan in the background, Kerrera in the foreground
The sun rises over Ben Cruachan with Alcatraz sitting at anchor on Mull
The sun rises over Ben Cruachan with Alcatraz sitting at anchor on Mull

Coffee and breakfast was followed by re-stowing everything on the boat and undoing the overnight mooring, However we were soon heading out towards my usual marks near Kerrera and fishing before nine, or around 90 minutes before slack water low.

Hauling ashore from our overnight mooring
Hauling ashore from our overnight mooring

Water depth was 515 feet and I was using a 2lb lead to get a whole mackerel down and pinned to the muddy seabed. Mackerel isn’t my first choice of skate bait where there might be spurdogs out to play, but with Ian possessing the one respectable coalie we had between us there wasn’t much choice in the matter.

A simple skate rig - One mackerel, one 12/0 crimped to 18 inches of 400lb mono, plus a 2lb lead
One mackerel, one 12/0 crimped to 18 inches of 400lb mono, plus a 2lb lead
A coalfish rigged for skate fishing
A coalfish rigged for skate fishing (yes, the tail does get cut off!)

In the event it didn’t seem to make any difference as there was little in the way of spurdog (apart from one nice but skinny specimen for Ian), and the skate liked the mackerel just fine.

A good bend on the rod as Ian persuades a skate towards the surface
Ian persuading a skate to start moving
A common skate comes aboard Alcatraz
A common skate comes aboard Alcatraz

I won’t bore you with the full details of every capture, but we hoisted 7 skate to the surface and had two more throw the hook. That is waay better than any day I’ve had previously – I think the most I’ve had aboard Alcatraz before is just 3. Most of them were small(ish) males but the biggest was a female that looked to be in the 150-160lb bracket. The tide was pulling her under the boat and we were both getting knackered by that point, so we didn’t pull her aboard. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less, but I can’t say the precise weight bothers me too much.

My turn to try and surface a skate from 510 feet below.
Fish on! Another skate heading towards the surface
A first skate on to my rod
A first skate to my rod (one of Ian’s pics)
A 107lb male skate caught off Kerrera
A 107lb male skate caught off Kerrera

Apart from that, all the others did scrape over the gunwhales, with the best being a male of 107lbs (we had 4 males and 3 females in all). It had some sort of tag fitted, of which only the black circular base remained. There wasn’t any identifiable number on this one, so it was possibly one of the few skate tagged with a radio beacon – if anyone can shed light on this that would be great.

A small common skate from Kerrera, near Oban
A small common skate from Kerrera, near Oban
The only spurdog of the trip, and a rather skinny specimen
The only spurdog of the trip
Ian with an 85lb common skate, caught off Kerrera.
Ian with an 85lb common skate

Ian also managed the dubious honour of being the first person I’ve ever seen to get bitten by a skate. Probably more of a glancing blow than a full on crush your hand effort, it still did a fair bit of damage and certainly looked impressive with a nice pin cushion effect. This was a particularly pissed male skate which was quite aggressively trying to bite anything it could and managed to extend its jaws just as Ian extended his pliers to remove the hook. Oops!

Ian's hand after getting bitten by a common skate
Ian suffering after getting too close to a skate’s jaws. Note the lovely pincushion effect!
The mouth of a common skate bristling with sharp, backward pointing, teeth.
The mouth of a common skate bristling with sharp, backward pointing, teeth.

After swabbing copious quantities of Ian’s DNA from Alcatraz’s decks and covering his hand in band-aids we got back to fishing again. Slack water high was about 4.20 and I reckoned we could give it another 90 minutes after that before the tide picked up again.

In the event that was pretty much spot on, as I pulled up a small male of around 60lbs – and no sooner had that hit the deck than Ian was into another fish, again a male, which gave a good account of itself before coming aboard for a photo opportunity.

A last skate for Ian
A last skate for Ian

By this time it was well after five, so we decided to call it a day and head in whilst our backs were still just about in working order. 4 to me and 3 to Ian, and both of us happy with our lot, bandaged fingers notwithstanding. I’m not sure I’m converted to skate fishing as such, but it was a great way to spend a couple of days in a beautiful part of the world.

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Back to Oban for more Skate Fishing

It was a bit of a toss up whether to head to Etive or carry on a bit and try fishing for skate off Oban, but a combination of small tides and calm weather tempted Ian and I into a spot of skate fishing from Gallanach.

My reservations about skate hunting were further overcome when the sun came out big time and I could safely settle down for a snooze whilst waiting for some action…. maybe.

Apart from a few dogfish on small baits, a snooze was as good as it got all the way through the ebb, and I was pleased to catch a couple of modest spurdogs to add a little excitement.

Spurdog in the 7-8lb range
Spurdog in the 7-8lb range

About 90 minutes into the flood tide, and with the sun almost setting, Ian’s rod finally got some action with a fish that messed around for several minutes before Ian set the hook.

Playing an Oban skate

This fish played around in the tide, alternating some fairly easy retrieval with powerful dives that left Ian struggling to stop it.

Playing a skate as the sun fades
Playing a skate as the sun fades

However experience gradually told and the familiar outline of a decent fish eventually emerged, kiting gently in the current.

Bringing a skate to the gaff

Lifting a 100lber aboard Alcatraz

A quick haul in for a few photos and back it went – later confirmed at 103lbs on the size tables. Not a monster but a fine male fish nonetheless.

Ian with a 103lb skate

By now it was getting dark and time to haul anchor from 500 feet below us, before heading back to Puffin Dive Centre at Gallanach, and then home, via the chippie at Oban.

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Oban Skate Double (just not for me)

End of March and it’s been bitterly cold and snowy for the last 2 or 3 weeks, with a stiff easterly breeze dampening any enthusiasm at all for fishing. Unfortunately Trevor had a week’s holiday booked and wanted a bit of company for at least one day’s fishing so I rather reluctantly booked a day off work on the Tuesday and we agreed to meet up at the Puffin Dive Centre.

The tides were a little on the large side, and the forecast a 10-15 easterly so my hopes weren’t too high when I packed a skate rod in the car alongside a coalie or two and headed westwards. Trevor had Flying Huggis – an Icelander 18 – in the water already, and was his usual enthusiastic self as we prepared to head off. Even the weather looked fine enough, so my early pessimism lifted as we headed down the sound and round the south side of Kerrera before settling on our mark.

The tide run was fairly substantial but manageable and we sat happily enough at anchor for an hour, then another hour, until suddenly Trevor got a modest run which dropped the bait. All alert now, leaving his bait on the bottom proved the right decision as the fish came back another couple of times before it was finally nailed and Trevor was faced with the long haul from the sea bed 500 feet below. Despite applying plenty of pressure it was a good 25 minutes, and several nice runs, before a substantial shape materialise alongside the boat. Once safely gaffed and aboard we realised that this was a nice male fish, which was later checked at 121 lbs on the charts.

A couple of bacon rolls later and Trevor had pretty much recovered from fish number one when his rod went again. No messing about with this fish and it was hit first time. Despite the exertion from the earlier battle Trevor proved more than a match for this skate, and it was less than 20 minutes before it hit the deck – slightly smaller, at around 111 lbs, but still another good sized male.

By now the tide had turned and the wind freshened so we decided to head inshore a bit as the rolling was getting very uncomfortable. We gave it another couple of hours, but only one tiny spurdog appeared, so we called a halt a little earlier than planned and had a leisurely recovery back at the slip. So, a good call and good fishing on Trevor’s part, and crap on both counts for me!

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Solo Skating off Oban

October 7th 2012 – Oban

It’s been a couple of years since I last fished out of Oban, but the forecast was good and the tides small enough to have a reasonable stab at the skate grounds. Also it gave a chance to meet up with an old friend who I hadn’t seen for almost a decade and who was fishing the area for a few days from his own boat.

Trevor had been at Loch Etive for a couple of days and was wanting to try somewhere different, but need to retrieve his boat from Taynuilt and get re-organised before heading down to the Puffin Diver’s, so I launched a few hours before him and lowered a large coalfish into a deep, deep hole close in to the west coast of Kerrera. Trevor appeared around 1 o’clock and proceeded to anchor up nearby, after establishing that my total catch was 2 doggies and no interest at all in the skate bait.

Things stayed this way for another hour or so when the ratchet on the Avet screamed a warning and the heavy rod heeled over to the weight of a hungry skate over 500 feet below the boat. As usual I applied maximum pressure to the fish and, as usual, this made bugger all difference as it hugged the bottom and ignored my puny efforts. Eventually it grudgingly shifted a few feet and I broke it free of the bottom and started to gain line gradually – thanks goodness for the low ratio gear on the Avet, as it makes this sort of heavy duty fishing so much more bearable than a high speed reel. I didn’t have it all my own way, and the fish made several strong dives towards the bottom before a large shape glided up alongside the boat. Once alongside I checked for tags, but there were none showing, and then released her without bothering to try and get her aboard.

Another couple of hours went by and I gradually recovered my breath and the thought of another back breaking fish no longer seemed quite so awful. Trevor elected to head back to the slip at Puffin Divers as his battery was playing up and he couldn’t get his main engine started, so faced a slow run in on the aux. About an hour after he left the skate rod keeled over to the run of another fish and I braced myself for a repeat performance. Fortunately this skate wasn’t as big, so was that much easier to break clear of the sea bed and gradually pump up to the surface.

Another female and again not one with a tag, this was clearly smaller than my first fish so I tried to get an idea of the wing measurement in order to get a rough weight. As you can imagine this proved pretty tricky, with one hand holding the measuring tape and one the fish, and the result gave a weight that was clearly too high. However it was pretty clear that this fish was the right side of 100lbs, which suggested the first one was around 150lbs as it was considerably bigger. A quick one handed photo (not recommended, as you can see from the result) and away it went.

That was my lot – 2 skate, 1 small spur and 5 LSD – but I was happy enough as I hauled anchor and headed back along the south coast of Kerrera and dodged out the way of Macbrayne’s Islay ferry as it came down the Sound. The sun was setting on the shoreline, but with solid heavy cloud behind it so Kerrera and the ruin of the castle on its shoreline showed up beautifully, giving a fine end to the day.

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April 17-18 – Loch Sunart

Weather: Calm or lightish winds. Overcast on the Sunday and sunny on Monday.
Sea: Calm
Time: Roughly 1130-1630 on Sunday, and 0730-1530 on Monday – say 13 hours altogether
Tides: HW 1822 on Sunday and 0637 Monday (large tide – 4.5m range)

March and April are always fairly slow months for salt water anglers, but I hadn’t been fishing since early March and the frustration was growing unbearable. I’ve long had the desire to explore the islands at the mouth of Sunart and reckoned it should be possible to anchor the boat safely overnight in one of the deep inlets on Oronsay islands, so the chance of a couple of days good weather was seized eagerly and I threw the camping gear into the car and headed off towards the ferry at Corran.

By the time a further 30 miles of snaking single tracks were negotiated and Alcatraz finally got prepped and launched it was late morning by the time the first bait hit the seabed some 400 feet below and perhaps twenty minutes later before the first fish started snaffling around for lunch. This eventually proved to be a small thornback of about 3 1/2 lbs which was a welcome enough start. Unfortunately only doggies came out to play in the next couple of hours so I upped anchor and shifted into Laga Bay to see if anything else was around. Initially more of the dogfish, but a couple of small conger eventually made an appearance about an hour before I packed up – best around 9lbs so nothing to get too excited about, but a welcome change to LSDs.

Camping on Loch na Droma Buidhe
Camping on Loch na Droma Buidhe

I finished early in order to get enough time to find somewhere to stay for the night. Originally I had planned to camp on one of the inlets on the north side of Oronsay where there is a large sandy area, but the tide was actually too large to allow me to anchor safely and leave the boat for the night. After a look around I decided on a move round to the south of Oronsay and into Loch na Droma Buidhe (a yachtie favourite) where I found sanctuary in a narrow inlet that ran several hundred yards up into Oronsay. The large tide actually worked in my favour, as the very head of the inlet was softish sand and salt marsh rather than the bouldery ground I’d have found on a small tide, and it was easy enough to secure Alcatraz near to a small space on the shoreline with just enough space for a tent.

Oronsay Island, Loch Sunart
Oronsay Island, Loch Sunart

Once the basics were sorted out I had a look round the island, which was completely deserted apart from some ruined old croft houses. With no wind and no people about the silence was almost total – only the occasional bird intruded for a few seconds. Very therapeutic for a night or two, but would probably drive you over the edge after a week. It does make you realise just how noisy our normal environment actually is, though! As the light faded I lit a small campfire and had a coffee before turning in for an early night. Next morning I woke just before six to find clear skies and a flat calm sea – and the tide only a few centimetres from the tent, and still rising. Oops, a slight miscalculation on the height of the spring tide! A few minutes frantic tentpeg pulling and stuffing of sleeping bags back into drybags and Alcatraz was quickly loaded and soon underway, headed back into Loch Sunart.

It was a lovely sunny morning but still cold as I headed back to a mark near to yesterday’s session. By 7.30 we were anchored in around 360 feet and fishing the start of the ebb. Over the next 4 hours there was a slow trickle of fish, mainly doggies but also a 9lb spur and a couple of thornbacks. The better of these was 9lb 8oz which is the best I’ve had out of Sunart, so at least that was something. A late morning shift saw me close inshore at the base of an underwater cliff, looking for conger again – however all that turned up was a solitary ray of about 6 1/2lbs.

A standup Thornback Ray
A standup Thornback Ray

By now it was just after low water so I decided on one final move up the loch towards Salen, so spend a couple of hours on a mark that can be good for spurs. I also put down a skate bait and settled down to wait. The first hour produced only a couple of doggies until the silence was broken by the urgent warning of the ratchet on the skate reel as several feet of line were suddenly pulled into the loch. I quickly freed the rod from its holder and lifted into very solid resistance as the 12/0 hit home almost 300 feet below. The skate didn’t hang about and powered off down the slope of the loch in determined fashion whilst I hung on as best I could until we could get to the usual stalemate of fish glued to the bottom and angler trying to apply enough pressure to get it prised off the seabed. After an eternity (according to my aching back, but probably no more than a few minutes in reality) the fish grudgingly gave way and was slowly persuaded towards daylight. Once alongside I reckoned it at something like 80lbs, but being alone in the boat I had no intention of trying to get the fish inboard to find out for sure. Fortunately it was tagged – #1080 – so I simply noted the number and released the skate to be caught another day.

By now it was 3 p.m. so I spent a little while sorting out the boat and various bits of fishing gear before calling it a day and heading back into Salen. Total catch for the trip wasn’t spectacular – 1 skate, 4 thornbacks, 2 conger and a solitary spurdog (plus plenty of spotty dogs, of course) – but it was great to get some spring sunshine and do a little exploring in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland.

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24th January 2010 – Oban

Weather: Light N/NE wind F1-2. Dry, cold with some sunny intervals
Sea Conditions: Slight – a little chop at times
Time Spent: 0945-17:00 – 7:15
Tides: 11:15 GMT – 3.1m

Taking advantage of a break in the winter weather Ian and I towed Alcatraz westwards to have a crack at Oban and the chance of a skate. The wind was light but it was bl**dy chilly, so much so that my eTec decided to issue a “no oil” warning after a few minutes running – a first for me, but known to be an occasional problem in cold weather. Sorted out by a quick restart, and we were soon dropping the hook down to the seabed 530 feet below.

Ian with 178lb skate
Ian with 178lb skate

We’d timed arrival for an hour or so before HW, but there was still a moderate tide running and a little hint of wind against tide. Nevertheless we got a pair of skate baits settled on the bottom and sorted out a welcome cup of soup. After an hour or so, and a little after HW, Ian’s rod had a nice run and he was soon into a good sized fish which was surfaced about 20 minutes later, after much huffing and puffing. The way the tide had been running the fish was actually lying in front of the boat, towards the anchor rope, which made playing it a bit more difficult. However, at 178lbs it was a good start for the year for both Ian and Alcatraz, and broke Ian’s long running duck at Oban.

Just as soon as Ian’s fish was returned I realised that there was another fish on my rod so it was a repeat performance,

A 203lb Oban skate
A 203lb Oban skate

apart from showing me to be even more out of condition – it took an age to get it off the bottom and my back was constantly reminding me why skate fishing is a really silly idea. Nevertheless line gradually filled the reel again and eventually Ian got the chance to sink a gaff into the wing of what looked to be a very good fish.

The fun started in earnest now because, try as we might, we couldn’t get the fish aboard. After a few attempts we gave up before we caused too much damage to ourselves or the fish and settled down to trying to measure it in the water. Length wasn’t too bad – after we got a rope around her tail we could hold her against the side of the boat and measure off against that. Width was much harder as we were measuring a rather slippery and curly underside but we got there in the end, despite almost joining the fish in the water a couple of times. Final result was a (reasonably conservative) 86″ x 69/70″, which I make to be around 203lbs or thereabouts and a lifetime personal best. Result!

After that excitement the rest of the day was (thankfully) fish free apart from a few doggies and a single spurdog to Ian. Sadly no black mouthed dogfish put in an appearance 🙁

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4th December 2009 – Loch Sunart

Ian and I decided on a three day trip across to Sunart in search of spurdog and skate, the latest in a long line of weekends spent across there. Day 1 proved to be fairly slow, although I did winch up a skate from over 400 feet of water on a spinning rod – pity it was only 10lbs or so in weight!

Weather: F2 SE to start with, rising to F4-5 SE later. Dry and overcast
Sea Conditions: Calm until late in the day, with a chop developing
Time Spent: 10:00-16:30 – 6.5 hours
Tides: Approx 07:00 – Largish tide

Ian L and myself headed up to Sunart for a long weekend starting on the Friday, aiming to bag a spur or two.

A very small Sunart skate
Tiny skate!

We hit the water around 10 a.m. and nipped across the loch to a favourite spot close to Salen. This proved a slow burn to say the least, with only 1 spur and a handful of doggies showing in an hour and a half so we moved a few miles down the loch and set up shop again. There were more signs of life here and, after dealing with a few more doggies, we picked up two congers, to just under 15lbs and a couple more spurs. Just to complete the doubles I picked up a pair of mini-skate (total weight about 18lbs!) within minutes of each other – one of them christening a new spinning rod.

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