Round 2 with the Skate

I rarely fish for skate, and once a year is usually enough for me. However it’s definitely been an odd year, and calm weather and dead tides suggested Oban. Ian was up for it, so we arranged to meet up at Lochearnhead around 7.30…

We launched at Puffin Dive Centre and headed down the sound towards the south side of Kerrera. Despite stopping a couple of times we didn’t pick up any mackerel; we had enough bait anyway so didn’t waste much time looking for them. I dropped anchor on a different mark from my usual 500 feet+ depth and the sonar settled on 385 feet.

We both baited up with coley and sent our heavy gear down towards the muddy darkness far below. I settled down to wait, but Ian also popped down lighter gear in search of smaller species.

First Blood

Our first hour was very quiet but then Ian got a decent knock on his skate rod. A few minutes later, after a few false dawns, he hit into something that put a decent bend in his rod. Definitely not a ton-up skate though.

To add to the excitement I had a good skate run on my rod as Ian’s fish neared the surface. Unusually, this fish appeared to just drop the bait, so I just left it to fish on. By this time Ian had his fish just about aboard, so I helped him deal with it. As we suspected, it was a conger – not big (under 20lbs), but nice enough for round these parts. A couple of photos and we sent it on it’s way.

I kind of lose track of the order of events after this, but Ian knocked out a succession of fish as I watched on. A smallish skate of 45lbs and a nice spurdog of dead on 10lbs (the best I’ve seen from here), and a couple more smaller conger eels.

A nice spurdog taken from the deep waters off Kerrera, near Oban.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I got another unmistakable skate run, which I hooked up. This was a better fish, but not a real biggie. Much huffing and puffing later I got it alongside. I didn’t bother trying to take it aboard and just released it at the side of the boat – somewhere in the 80-90lb range I’d say.

The Fat Lady Sings

Ian’s rod keeled over again and his ratchet complained loudly as another skate munched lunch below us. This was clearly a better fish and it took Ian a good while to prise it off the seabed.

Eventually a large white shape materialised below us and a good skate surfaced alongside. We took this one aboard and measured it for a more accurate idea of size – 184lbs, which put a smile on Ian’s face.

Ian with a large female skate caught off Oban

This one had suffered some damage towards the base of it’s body, probably from entanglement in a rope, but it seemed to be healing up OK.

A fine 184lb Oban skate

I managed another skate myself to try and even the score. A nice enough fish and somewhere around the 100lb mark, but not really competing with Ian’s chunky female.

Final score for the day was 4 skate (2 each, with Ian’s by far the heaviest), with another 3 conger and a spurdog, all for Ian.

Ian treated me to one of Oban’s fine fish suppers before we headed back home. This took a lot longer than intended as the road was closed due to an accident, and we ended up with a 60-70 mile diversion to get back to Ian’s car. I was truly knackered by the time I crawled into bed some time after 1 in the morning!

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Kicking off 2018 in Style – Targeting Skate and Conger off Oban

Lochearnhead was a freezing -5 degrees when Ian and I met up on Sunday in the pre-dawn darkness. We didn’t hang about, quickly shovelling the rods and gear into my car before heading across to Oban with the boat in tow. Gallanach managed a balmy -2C as we launched and headed out to Kerrera, very grateful for the shelter of the cuddy. First trip of 2018 and we were targeting skate …

Sunrise off Gallanach, near Oban, January 2018
Sunrise off Gallanach (photo courtesy of Ian)

A little while later and the gentle SE breeze still managed to cut right through us as we waited for the boat to settle at anchor. Skate were the target, but getting a bacon roll and a hot coffee on the go to ward off the chill felt more like my priorities. However, even with 530 feet of water below us, it didn’t take too long to get the baits out and settle down to defrost.

Cold, grey sea with a background of the Nevis range of mountains covered in snow
A cold winter morning looking towards Ben Nevis

Maybe half an hour passed before Ian’s rod keeled over to the steady run of a skate. I went into cameraman mode for a few minutes, until the ratchet screeched on my own reel (the ratchet on an Avet reel is definitely not subtle, and makes a horrible racket). A double hook-up!!

Ian bends into a skate off Kerrera, January 2018
Ian bends into a skate off Kerrera

Whilst it’s all very nice to know that there are skate around, hooking two simultaneously creates a wee bit of a problem in a small boat. The obvious difficulty comes after 20 minutes of exhausting, backbreaking, slog when you bring the fish alongside. Trying to haul one fish over the gunwhale without losing the other as you do so isn’t easy, especially if you’re both a bit knackered. However we sort of managed and filled the cockpit with a brace of skate – almost identical males in the 120-130lb bracket.

A brace of skate aboard my little Longliner 2. One each to me and Ian, with a double hookup always being interesting to manage when the fish hit the surface.
Two at a time! Both decent sized male fish

Hasty measurements and a photo or two and then they slimed their way back over the side and into the depths again. A new coalie on the hook and then it was time to get serious with the bacon rolls as we’d definitely earned one by now.

Deep water - the sonar reads nearly 530 feet to the muddy seafloor
Deep water – the sonar reads nearly 530 feet

Another good run to my rod came to nothing, but a repeat a few minutes later hooked me into a small skate. I wasn’t complaining though, and this little 32lb fish was a lot easier to handle than its predecessor.

Small skate of around 32lb taken in January 2018 from the Firth of Lorne, near Kerrera
Small skate of around 32lb (photo courtesy of Ian)

Ian plays another skate in the Firth of Lorne as the sun fades on a very chilly winter afternoon. This one ultimately escaped, much to Ian's frustration.
Ian with another skate

A 169lb skate taken from 520 feet of water near Kerrera, Oban.
Best skate of the day (photo courtesy of Ian)

The rest of the day proceeded in similar fashion and we ended up with six skate in total, with the best around 169lb. Ian had a number of smallish spurs to his lighter rod and I also picked up a bonus of a small conger, something I’ve never caught round here before.

A small conger eel captured on a large skate bait from deep water off Oban
Small conger eel (photo courtesy of Ian)

Fifth skate of the day, and I'm feeling the strain...
Fifth skate of the day, and I’m feeling the strain… (photo courtesy of Ian)

We stuck it out until the sun set before finally hauling yet another heavy weight from the seabed as we retrieved the anchor. Job done, we headed home cautiously in the dark, looking forward to defrosting in a nice warm car. Six common skate and a similar number of spurdogs, not forgetting a small conger, makes a pretty good start to the year in my book!

A cold winter sunset afloat near Kerrera, January 2018
Winter sunset looking towards the Garvellachs and Jura
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Westward Ho! – Revisiting Lochs Leven and Sunart

I hadn’t really planned on a trip to the sea lochs, but the forecast was mixed to poor and Trevor was still recovering from the damage inflicted the last time he came fishing with me, so we took the Mr. Sensible route and headed westward – besides which, I haven’t fished Sunart for a couple of years now and it is a very pretty place.

Loch Leven

We got launched easily enough at Ballachulish, once the hotel reception had found the key to the car park barrier, and skipped across to the fish farm for a couple of hours.

A small thornback from Loch Leven
Baby thornback

Smallish mackerel soon added to our bait supply but the rest of the fishing was pretty slow, with only a few rays showing. Getting a little fed up of this we upped anchor and went for a bit of exploring.

Trevor feels for a bite as we fish on Loch Leven
Concentration: Trevor on Loch Leven

A nice ray from Loch Leven for Trevor, but nothing like the quality of fishing that the loch can produce from time to time
Ray of the day. Umm!

Heading up the loch in far calmer conditions than the forecast promised, we passed through the Narrows and into the upper loch. We dallied for a few minutes at the cliffs, but the codling didn’t really want to play ball and we’d to settle for a few poorcod as additional bait.

A warm afternoon afloat on Loch Leven had us both getting a little sleepy
Nodding off

A peaceful scene on Loch Leven - vastly better than the near gale and heavy rain that was forecast
Tranquility… despite the near gale-force forecast

A mooch over to the mussel farm saw a few more rays and absolutely the tiniest mackerel I’ve ever seen – large shoals of fish the size of a large minnow.

These tiny mackerel were around in large shoals on Loch Leven

Another miniature mackerel falls to Trevor on Loch Leven
Another miniature mackerel

The final move for the day saw us try some reefier ground in the middle of the loch, but with only a few dogfish to show for it. Heading back to the slate slip we duly retrieved Alcatraz after the usual palaver of getting the keys for the barrier.

Ballachulish now boasts a chippie, but before heading off to find it we’d a chat with the skipper of one of the big ribs that plays with tourists on the loch. Aside from the tale of the witches curse on the Ballachulish bridge, it was quite blood curdling to hear of the fuel consumption of these ribs at full blast – 110 litres per hour – per engine!

Trevor hauls up a thornback from Loch Leven
Something meatier

It would be nice to say Loch Leven coughed up loads of thornback rays, but that would be a fib.
A small ray comes out to play

And across to Resipole and Loch Sunart

By now the rain was starting, but the plan called for a run to the Corran ferry and then an overnighter at Resipole campsite before a day on Loch Sunart. We reached Resipole as it got dark and pitched the tent quickly in what was becoming quite heavy rain – and then promptly fell asleep.

Resipole is a very nice and scenic campsite, but the still, damp air at half-past six next morning meant there were a million midges hovering outside the tent, just waiting for us me(!) to step outside. I’d say it took around 60 seconds to clear the tent and sleeping gear into the car…

Launching wasn’t too bad, as we’d a few minutes grace before the little bar-stewards figured out where we were, but we didn’t hang around on the slip and were soon heading out on the loch.

A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart
A very atmospheric early morning on Loch Sunart

We tried a couple of different marks in the morning, and both were holding good numbers of spurdog – but just the wrong size, maxing out at maybe 5lbs. Mackerel, dogfish and a solitary thornback made up the numbers, but quality was distinctly absent.

Not great - a typical sized spurdog for this trip on Loch Sunart
Not great – a typical sized spurdog for this trip

Clearing skies on a windless Loch Sunart - but only small fish around
Deep water + small fish = hard work

A shift to shallower marks for the afternoon added some smaller species – whiting and gurnard, plus a conger eel for Trevor. We were trying for thornbacks but had none at all, so it was a little ironic to get an eel from relatively shallow, clean ground when we’d spent all morning trying for them without success on the more recognised marks.

This Loch Sunart conger eel was a slight surprise from the mark it was captured on - shallowish water and clean ground
Sunart conger

A low double figure conger for Trevor - and our best fish of the weekend from Loch Sunart
Trevor with his conger

And the whelk population just here seemed enormous – I don’t recall seeing any from Sunart before.

A "shoal" of whelks feasting on a whole mackerel bait in Loch Sunart

So we ended up with better weather and fewer fish than we probably deserved, but it was fine just to mix a bit of fishing with a bit of fossicking about in search of new ground – and I don’t see anything to regret in having a relaxing weekend in the Scottish fjords, rather than a full-on fishing trip.Share this:

Boat camping in Sunart

Almost two months had past since Alcatraz last got some exercise, as one thing after another got in the way of a bit of fishing, until finally some decent weather and a free diary lined up for a few days.

The original plan had been to head either to the far north of Scotland or to some very remote territory on the south coast of Mull, as the forecasts looked a bit on the breezy side. However this improved just enough to give a decent crack at Loch Sunart so it became a question of finding somewhere sheltered enough for an overnight stay in a northerly wind that was still forecast to be a force 5.

Looking towards Dun Ghallain, a natural harbour used for over 2000 years
Looking towards Dun Ghallain, a natural harbour used for over 2000 years

Dun Ghallain (“Fort of the Storms”) is a highly sheltered little lagoon on the north side of Sunart between Laga Bay and Salen, and most people are only vaguely aware it exists. It does indeed have an old Iron Age fort, and the superb little anchorage was used by the Vikings for their own ships over 1000 years ago, but the more pressing question was – is there anywhere to pitch a tent? Past experience with Sunart’s combination of stony shorelines and bogs has made me wary as flat ground is quite rare, and Dun Ghallain is no exception.


After a good bit of looking around I settled on a site on the outer edges of the lagoon where there was enough ground to pitch a tent between exposed rock edges. Fine for a bit of solo camping, but two would definitely be a crowd when it came to avoiding rocky lumps in the ground.

Given the history of the place you’d half-expect a ghost or two to show up but not even a stray deer wandered past and I’d a couple of uneventful nights. I’d been a bit worried about the amount of weed in the bay, coupled with some large rocks, but low water revealed Alcatraz safely surrounded by sand and water and it wasn’t difficult to extricate her from her mooring and out the channel into the loch.

Leaving Dun Ghallain anchorage just after sunrise
Leaving Dun Ghallain anchorage just after sunrise

To be honest the fishing wasn’t great. Day 1 only involved a few hours by the time I was launched and allowing for the time spent setting up camp, and it was basically dogfish. Day 2 was better after a slow start, with a mix of rays and a few spurs from Laga Bay, including just one double of 13lb 6oz, plus more dogs and a couple of whiting. Given that it was pretty windy for much of the day I couldn’t really complain as I headed back to feel my way in to Dun Ghallain as darkness fell. After breaking camp (and the ice off the tent), the last day gave a couple of conger to 17lbs 6oz and yet more dogs and whiting in a beautiful sunny day. So quality fish but slow fishing, and in line with my previous experience of Sunart.

A spur in low-double figures
A spur in low-double figures

A small thornback ray from Loch Sunart
A small thornback ray from Loch Sunart

Where possible I use a net to land conger
Where possible I use a net to land conger

A typical conger eel from the Laga Bay area
A typical conger eel from the Laga Bay area

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A little bit of everything on the sea lochs

…and that’s just the weather. Flat calm and warm sunshine one minute, followed by vicious squalls with heavy rain and sleet the next. Not quite what was forecast but certainly what we got when Trevor and I headed west for a couple of days on Etive and Sunart. Sort of summarises the fishing too!

A double figure spurdog from Loch Etive
A double figure spurdog from Loch Etive

An early start on Sunday saw us anchoring in around 120 feet near Ardchattan, where we got off to a good start with my second fish being a lively spurdog which just made into double figures by a couple of ounces. Trevor soon added a thornback and we both picked up more doggies than we might like.

Squalls turn Etive into a mass of whitecapped waves
Squalls turn Etive into a mass of whitecapped waves

The weather alternated between bright sunshine and a blasting cold wind that kicked up the surface of the loch into a mass of whitecapped waves, but we stuck it out for most of the morning, picking up a good collection of spurs and thornies for our trouble.

Come lunchtime and we decided on a move up beyond Bonawe narrows where we spent a fair while chasing fish quite a long way up the loch, but with fairly poor results. As a sort of compensation, loads of rainbows appeared after the many heavy showers, several of them framing the mountains and upper loch quite nicely.

One of many fine rainbows on a squally day on Loch Etive, with Barrs in the background

Working our way back down to Bonawe I took the opportunity to mark the wreck of the hulk that had sunk earlier in the year – just in case I get bored some point in the future and want to give it a try.

A rainbow shines through the clouds on a very mixed day on Loch Etive
A rainbow shines through the clouds on a very mixed day on Loch Etive

Our last spot for the day was opposite Airds, where we anchored again in fairly deep water and picked up more smallish spurs and a ray or two until we packed up about an hour after dark and headed in to recover the boat.

The plan was to fish 1 day on Etive and 1 on Sunart, so we needed to head down to Connel and then up to the ferry at Corran. The hotel at Salen had been our first thought for the night, but we wouldn’t arrive until late and the forecast had been good enough to tempt us into few hours camping rather than forking out a fair bit for a few hours kip. Given that it was now cold and fairly wet, this didn’t seem like the best decision but it was a bit late to change our minds so we turned up the car heater full blast and headed off into the night.

A little detour to Oban saw us with a first class fish supper, but the drive from Etive to Sunart took an age and it seemed to rain most of the way there. To be fair we didn’t have to wait long for the Corran ferry, but it was around half-nine before we pulled over near Salen and got the tent organised. It was a cold night and I was glad of the extra mats and warm sleeping bags that we’d taken over, and we were so tired that it didn’t take long to fall asleep. Next morning saw us awake to clear skies and ice on the car, but we were launching at Salen just before 8 and heading out on a perfectly calm loch.

Trevor with a double figure spurdog from Loch Sunart, on a lovely November morning
Trevor with a double figure spurdog from Loch Sunart, on a lovely November morning

The first two or three hours proved to be a teaser session – just enough double figure spurdog to keep us interested, but not enough to stop us considering other options.

Lovely morning and a nice spurdog
Lovely morning and a nice spurdog

No wind and a fair bit of sunshine made for a very pleasant session but eventually we tired of the spotty dogs and decided to chase conger and skate down in Laga Bay, aiming to get there just before the tide turned. A few hundred feet of anchor rope later, and a little detour back to Salen for me to pick up a couple of essentials (a hat, and water for the kettle!), and we were soon scooting seawards at a steady 21 knots.

Trevor prepares a modest sized snack for a skate
Trevor prepares a modest sized snack for a skate

Sunrise over Salen, Loch Sunart
Sunrise over Salen, Loch Sunart


Another nice spurdog from Laga Bay in Loch Sunart
Another nice spurdog from Laga Bay in Loch Sunart

As per usual, things were quite slow in Laga, but a few conger to the low twenties appeared which were good fun on light gear, plus a handful more spurdogs and the usual LSDs. Skate were noticeable by their absence, but the baits did seem to attract a few spurdog which did their usual shredding act whilst avoiding the hooks.

A conger in the low twenties
A conger in the low twenties

We hung on until the light was almost gone, but with nothing wanting to play we called it quits around 5 and headed for home with the last of the light fading over Carna.

Conger eel from Laga Bay, Loch Sunart
Conger eel from Laga Bay, Loch Sunart

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Shivering on Sunart

This is the tale of a trip to the wilder parts of Scotland in mid-December, and one that came together quite wonderfully well given the preceding forecasts and work getting in the way of the participants. Of course, trailing a boat across to Ardnamurchan for 3 days fishing hardly counts as a great adventure but after a summer of dismal weather I didn’t rate the chances of getting decent fishing weather very highly. However the forecasts improved mightily and we were faced with three days of flat calm, sunny weather, so some hasty calls to the Salen Hotel later and we were (almost) organised.

Crew were Trevor and Ian, and we rendevouzed at Ian’s house at the relatively leisurely hour of half-six in the morning and trundled across westwards to Sunart without any drama. Making our way along the single track road towards Salen we realised that the upper loch had frozen over – something I should have expected given the conditions on Etive a week earlier, but it underlined how cold it was. Fortunately we arrived at Salen Pier and got launched into the ice free lower loch without any bother, and readied the boat for the rest of the day.

First stop was the deep hole opposite Salen which can produce decent numbers of spurdog from 380 feet below our keel. The weather was beautiful – sunny and windless, and it felt quite warm – so it wasn’t a great hardship to give it a couple of hours with little activity from anything. Trevor picked up a bonus Black Mouthed Dogfish – it’s the second I’ve seen from Sunart, and also taken from what is paddling pool depth for this species as they’re more commonly associated with 600 feet of water. Apart from that all that came up was a slow succession of LSDs.

You can only flog a dead horse for so long, so we shifted down towards Laga Bay to finish the day off, trying a mark that has thrown up conger, spurs and thornies in the past. Initially this was quiet, but picked up as the light faded – nothing spectacular but a smattering of conger to mid-teens plus a single double figured spur for Trevor and a mid-sized ray for me. We called it a day at the back of 5 as it was now freezing in the winter darkness, and we needed to check into the hotel and claim dinner before it got too late.

Day 2 saw us eating a decent hot breakfast before venturing out into very frigid conditions with thick frost covering the boat. Once out on the loch it became obvious that there was really no need for a coolbox, as the water and milk left on the boat overnight (and under cover) had frozen almost solid! Popped up on top of the cabin to catch the sunshine they eventually melted enough to keep us going for the day but it remained very cold all day, and we were all soon suffering from the cold creeping up the deck and through the soles of our waders. Fortunately the fishing picked up a bit and kept us moving as a selection of spurs, mainly low double figure fish, chomped at our baits around 400 feet down. A couple more conger appeared, plus a slow procession of LSDs, but the fishing eventually slowed to a trickle and a move was on the cards before darkness fell again.

Life here was very quiet until the light started to fade, whereupon another conger and spur put in an appearance – and then Ian almost watched his rod head over the side as a skate ignored the “proper” baits and munched a spur bait instead. On light gear Ian really struggled to slow the fish as it quietly proceeded off down the slope towards decent water, and it was clearly a good skate as it pretty much ignored whatever level of pressure was applied. This went on into the darkness until the hook snood finally gave out after an exhausting 30 minutes or more, leaving Ian gutted if not terribly surprised at the outcome. Back at the hotel it gave an excuse for a few more drinks that evening, and we looked forward to the final day out.

Again we awoke to clear skies, no wind and a vicious frost and we headed off eagerly down the loch to try the same mark as produced the spurs yesterday. However a few almost fishless hours later we called time on the deep water and headed over towards the same general ground as we’d tried the day earlier. Being earlier in the tide, and also a couple of hundred metres nearer the mouth of the bay we found ourselves in a significant run of tide which made fishing very difficult at first – normally you get a surface run of tide with little movement more than 50 feet down, but this was the reverse with a lot of movement sub-surface and not too much showing topside. Eventually the tide slackened and we caught a couple more spurs before Trevor picked up a nice 22.5lb conger to finish the trip with – this took a whole coalie skate bait and was the only fish we caught on a skate rig the entire trip.

Overall the fishing was modest, and dominated by spurs in the 10-11lb range plus a decent sprinking of conger – in absolute numbers there weren’t many caught, but the quality was better than I’ve had in the last few trips to Sunart, and fishing in clear windless weather is so massively more enjoyable than enduring heavy rain and strong winds! Sea lochs like Sunart are simply transformed by winter sunshine, which really adds to the pleasure of fishing them, even on days with little more than 7-8 hours of daylight.Share this:

5th December 2009 – Loch Sunart

Day 2 of our Sunart trip, and Ian and I had a reasonable day with spurs and conger. Still not a patch on earlier years on the loch though 🙁 At least the Salen Hotel offers good food and friendly place to drown your sorrows!

Weather: Initially F2-3 S, later F3-5 SE. Dry and mild(ish). Overcast
Sea Conditions: Calm
Time Spent: 10:00-16:30 – 6.5 hours
Tides: Approx 08:00 Largish tide

After the slow fishing on Friday we decided to head down towards the mouth of the loch and kicked off at a spot just west of Carna. At 170 feet it was much shallower than other marks, but there were fish showing and we quickly got bites. Alas these proved to be small doggies and whiting and, after an hour of baits being stripped, we decided to move back into Laga Bay and give it a try opposite the fish farm area.

Ian with a nice Sunart conger eel
Ian with a nice conger

The first hour and a half was completely blank, with no sign of activity until Dale Robertson and Iona V appeared sometime after 12. They had tried a number of marks but had also failed to find fish in the morning, and ended up anchored a few hundred yards away from Alcatraz. Happily things picked up shortly after they arrived and both Ian and I hit into spurdogs of a decent size. We had perhaps 90 minutes of decent fishing with several spurdog and 3 congers as well as a few LSD, before things went very quiet again.

Dale left for home first, and we gave him a few minutes to clear the slip before heading back ourselves. Back at the hotel we met up again at dinner and had a couple of drinks in the evening, mainly bemoaning the weather and general state of fish stocks…Share this:

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.Share this: