Today we look at the Common Skate in the fourth of our Species Fishing and ID guides.
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Other Names: Dipturis batis, Dipturis cf. flossada, Dipturis cf. intermedia. Although many anglers treat Common Skate as one species, there are in fact two species referred to as Common Skate: D.flossada and D.intermedia.
Description: Very large skate with a grey to brown dorsal surface often with small light coloured spots. The ventral surface is pale grey to white with many mucus pores that often look like small dark spots and lines. Common Skate have a long pointed snout and often have two rows of thorns along the tail. Some fish (in particular juveniles) may have an eyespot on each wing, this generally fades with age as the Skate grows.
Maximum Size: 285cm
Habitat: Common Skate are found over a wide range of sea beds though generally prefer soft sand, gravel or mud areas.
Depth: Shallows to 600m.
Distribution: Frequently found around the west coast of Scotland and the Outer Isles.
Feeding: Common Skate are opportunistic predators and scavengers and feed mainly on fish, small sharks and rays, crustaceans, squid and shellfish. Common Skate generally hunt on the sea bed though they will venture into the water column where they hunt fish such as herring and scad.
Biology: Males mature at 11 years old at around 150cm long (47-60lb); females mature at 11 years old at around 180cm long (107-135lb). Common Skate length and wingspan (cm) can be easily converted to weight (lb) using the SSTP weight charts found here. Common Skate are oviparous (egg-laying); females lay up to 40 eggs every second year. Common Skate eggs are around 25cm long and 15cm wide, they are deposited in sandy areas and are left loose on the sea bed. After 2-5 months fully developed 21-22cm Common Skate hatch and begin to feed actively. Common Skate may live for 50-100 years.
Caution: Common Skate have extremely strong jaws and rough skin. Some fish may have rows of large, sharp thorns along the tail.
Current Fishery: It is illegal to land Common Skate in the EU.
Conservation Status: Critically endangered. Common Skate are very vulnerable to depletion by overfishing due to their slow growth rate and low levels of reproduction. Common Skate populations have decreased significantly and the species is considered locally extinct in some areas.
GFAC Size: Release of Common Skate is required by law in Scotland.
Tagging: The minimum SSTP tagging size for Common Skate is 55cm wingspan (5.3lb). For advice on tagging skate please refer to the SSTP tagging guide here.
Targeting Common Skate in Scotland
Dipturis cf. flossada, Dipturis cf. intermedia
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Tackle: Minimum of 50lb class boat outfit though an 80lb outfit is often more suitable. Rods should be paired with a strong multiplier reel loaded with a minimum of 70lb braided line. Braid increases bite detection when fishing deep water and reduces drag in the water column allowing smaller lead weights to be used.
End Tackle: Above all, Common Skate gear and components must be strong. A single size 12/0 to 14/0 bronze barbless O'Shaugnessy hook is a very popular choice for Common Skate fishing. Hooks should be crimped to 2-3 foot of 250lb monofilament and a 200lb swivel using double barrel brass crimps and fished as a running ledger/slider rig. A further 10 foot length of 250lb monofilament should be used above the hook length as a rubbing leader. The short hook length minimises tangles and reduces the number of deep hooked fish. See http://www.tagsharks.com/common-skate-rig. Given the depth of water Common Skate are often found in it is not unusual to use lead weights of up to 2kg.
Bait: Large mackerel, coalfish and squid baits are most effective. Bait sizes range from a single small fish to several mackerel or a single large coalfish.
Tactics: Common Skate fishing often involves battling 100lb-plus fish in over 400 feet of water with strong tidal currents, as such it is important that all gear and end tackle is strong and that butt pads and harnesses are available for the anglers comfort. When Skate fishing, always have your unhooking equipment (t-bar, pliers, gloves, line cutters and tagging equipment) close to hand, this streamlines the unhooking and tagging process and minimises stress to both the fish and angler. Common Skate can often be released at the side of the boat using a t-bar. If the fish has to be brought on board the boat a pair of stainless steel gaffs may be required to safely land fish. Gaffs should be placed around 10cm from the edge of the wing: our Common Skate Code of Best Practice provides some guidelines on safely handling and tagging skate. Common Skate should be returned to the water by laying the fish on a 2x2m section of heavy duty nylon netting to lift the fish safely. If you measure the wingspan and length of Common Skate the weight charts here can be used to calculate the weight of the fish in lbs.