This code has been written in conjunction with some of Scotland’s top “Catch and Release” recreational sea anglers with the specific aim of helping you to enjoy the awesome physical challenge of fishing for common skate. Most importantly however the advice and techniques outlined in this guide have been developed by skate angling experts to make sure that after hooking your “fish of a lifetime” you and your crew, are properly prepared to tag and release the fish safely back into the sea in absolutely top class condition.
Unlike most sharks which are usually migratory, tagging returns tend to indicate that skate are found in small static localised populations. The frequency and numbers of recaptures in the popular Scottish skate angling areas clearly demonstrate that these guidelines do work and that by following them you will be helping SSACN in both our current efforts aimed at shark conservation and our longer term objectives targeted at the wider regeneration of Scotland’s inshore fish stocks.
Novice skate angler
Because fishing and handling common skate is so specialized, we would recommend you gain experience with an experienced private boat skipper or charter boat before setting off on your own ventures after skate.
Many skate you will encounter are likely to be in excess of 100 lbs and found in depths of 400ft plus of water and often in big tides, it is therefore essential to have the correct equipment, not just rods and reels but terminal tackle, line, harnesses, butt pads, gaffs etc see this article.
When fishing for skate, a minimum of a 50 lb Class outfit should be used, coupled with an appropriate 6/0 size reel. There are times when 80lb class will be more suitable. SSACN do not recommend the use of light tackle when fishing for Common Skate. It’s also worth remembering that using the right tackle is not only better for the fish but is also better for the angler.
A guide on making your own trace and the terminal tackle can be found here; this preferred rig has been developed over many years and has been proven to cause less tangles and diminish the chance of a lost or deeply hooked fish. In particular please note the very short trace length.
The Golden Rules concerning: Hooks / Traces / Striking / Unhooking
When fishing for Common Skate SSACN recommends the use of a single barbless 12/0 bronzed hook (e.g. Mustad 3406 or equivalent). If the hooks you have are not barbless either file off, remove or crush the barb before fishing. Barbless hooks facilitate easy unhooking and are rated by many experienced skate anglers as the single most important factor in ensuring the release of a healthy fish. Hook lengths should be short at around 14 inches and made from heavy grade commercial nylon in the 200-250lbs range. Short hook lengths combined with an early strike will generally prevent deep hooking however in the unlikely event that you do encounter a deep hooked fish simply cut the hook link as near to the hook as possible and release the fish.
Braid or Nylon?
A minimum of 70lb Braid is recommended for skate fishing as
- braid has little stretch which means bites are detected earlier, resulting in an early strike and a clean hook up
- it allows the angler to use smaller leads because the smaller line diameter reduces the drag in the water
Every angler will have his or her own favourite bait, but coalfish, mackerel and squid are the most commonly used either on their own or as a cocktail. Again, how to present the bait is down to angler preference; some like huge baits made up of several fish and other prefer a single large mackerel.
When to strike
Strike early at the first indication of a bite and remember in extremely deep water you may have to wind down 30 – 40 turns on you reel before you get full contact with your fish. Also don’t worry if you miss the first bite as Skate will very often come back and have another go.
It is essential that you are prepared for any eventuality when bringing a skate to the boat. It sounds obvious, but the time taken to find buried tools in lockers or under a pile of clothing means that the skate will be on board for longer than necessary. This means having T bars, pliers, gloves, line cutters, tagging kits, cameras etc. at hand and each person on board knowing what is expected of him. Minimising time out of the water is a hugely important factor with respect to maintaining the fish in good condition for its release
The preferred option, wherever possible and safe to do so, is to release the fish at the side of the boat. However if you need to bring the fish into the boat, you should be able to lift fish up to 100 lbs by gripping and pulling on the area around the cheeks. You may have to use a pair of gaffs for anything bigger than 100lb. These should be made of stainless steel and used in the area shown. The gape on the gaffs should be approximately 100mm which will stop you reaching internal organs.
Returning a fish from inside the boat.
Unfortunately skate don’t come with handles attached so it is crucial you carry an aid to lift the fish out of the boat. The preferred method is to spread a 2m x 2m piece of old fishing net on the floor of the boat before landing the fish; gives you plenty of handles to lift the fish out. Be aware of the heavy thorns on the skate’s tail which can whip round and cause a nasty injury.
Fish up to 100 lb can be lifted like this
Returning larger fish using a net
What to do if the skate is tagged
Please leave the tag in the fish – DO NOT insert a second tag – write down the contact details (website or address) and number on the tag. This will be a 4, 5 or 6 figure unique number; which will be matched with the information stored on the database. This will allow the administrators of the program to produce valuable data for the development of fisheries management.
The tag in a skate will be on top and towards the rear of one of the wings. The tag will usually be a thin yellow or orange plastic tubing approx 4-6 inches in length. It may be covered in growth but careful rubbing will clean the tag up.
Please measure the wingspan and the length, check the sex and report all the details here.
Common skate are a large, powerful fish; their mouths could easily crush your fingers and their tail spines cause deep cuts that take a long time to heal.
The best practice for angler and fish is to remove the hook whilst the fish is still in the water, but if you have to land the fish then the safety of the angler and fish is paramount and care must be taken at all times.
Enjoy the fishing but please remember respect must be given to these magnificent sharks at all times.
By following this code, you will help preserve the stocks of these magnificent fish for generations to come.
This code of conduct was produced by the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network (www.ssacn.org). It may be freely distributed with the normal acknowledgements.