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Saturday, December 22, 2012

A fitting end to what has been an unbelievable year!

With just a week to go until my year long species hunt ends, this is almost certainly going to be my last blog entry of the year and I'm sure it won't disappoint.

Hovering on 69 species it was inevitable that I had to go in search of something a little special for number 70, so the planning began. After doing plenty of research and consulting with a few mates, we decided there was only one option, go big or go home, we were off to Oban to target the Skate! My good mate Scott sorted us a boat and some accommodation and I was left in charge of getting a few mates to join us on what had the potential to be a trip of a lifetime, two stepped up, Ad and Ed. With the 4 of us, the trip was a go and the dates were set to suit us all (20th and 21st December 2012), all that was left to do was hope for some favorable weather.

When the day came to make the long trip up North, the excitement from us all was clear, but after 7 hours in a car, I was drained and the others seemed a little shattered as well. Having switched our charter boat from the Thurs to the Friday due to a bad forecast, the first day was spent searching out a sheltered mark on Loch Etive. After first being blown off a mark in Aird's Bay, we found a spot the seaward side of Oban that was out of the wind. It was also a spot where Scott had been told was a good area to target thornback rays, a species he was dying to catch after watching me haul them in on our previous Etive visit. Anyway, all four of
us got the rods out with a variety of baits (macky fillet/heads, sandeel, bluey and squid) and the short wait began. I was the first into a fish, a thorny of course and I could see Scott was ready to throttle me, well that was until his rod buckled over just as I was landing my fish. Legging it to strike his rod it wasn't long until his fish was up on the surface and he had a thornback of his own, happy days! Then came the surge of the doggies, I think around 25 between us but during the onslaught Ed did manage a thorny of his own leaving just Ad to land a ray. Having had enough of the doggies I packed up the bait rods and switched to lure fishing and was quite happily pulling out a good number of small pollack to around the 1.75lb mark. Myself and Scott then decided to pack it in for the day and headed off for some chips leaving Ed and Ad to fish on. No sooner than we'd left though, my phone rang and it was Ed on the end to say Ad had landed a Cuckoo Ray, a species that is high on my list and I just knew I wouldn't hear the end of it :) It wasn't until the following morning after all the taunts from Ad, we'd find out that it was just a thornback with a very cool pattern, Ad was silenced.

Ed bends into a Skate
Eds monster at 208lb
Then it came, the morning we had all been waiting for, it was charter boat time. Up at 6am, we made our way down to Crinan to meet Archie, the skipper of MV North Star and at 8am we steamed out to the mark. All rods were set up with 4lb of lead, a large boom and a 250lb mono hook length and then baited with either a whole coalie or mackeral and dropped down 450ft to the depths. The suspense was killing us and all on high alert we watched the rod tips as if our lives depended on it. Sure enough though, an hour after dropping the baits down, the first run came and it was Ed that was lucky enough to get the first shot at landing one of these giants. Around 40 minutes after the hook up we gained our first glimpse of the fish and it was huge, it also didn't like the sunlight and had one last dive for freedom, effortlessly ripping line from the spool on it's way down. After a further 10 minutes gaining the line back the fish was back up on the surface and the skipper managed to gaff it nicely and bring the fish on board. With Ed's previous best sea fish weighing 12lb, this skate absolutely destroyed his PB, weighing a huge 208lb, a fish of a lifetime and the 2nd biggest Skate taken on the boat this year, well done that man!

Ad bends into a Skate
150lb Skate caught by Ad
To makes things fair, we had all made an agreement to take it in turns to hit the runs, so after spotting a good take on one of the rods Ad was the next in the line of duty. Ad took a different approach to Ed, opting to take the strain sat down. Unfortunately for him though, this meant that he struggled to gain much line back at any speed and so was stuck in a tug of war for around an hour and twenty minutes. When it did finally surface though, it was another big fish. Again the skipper did a great job of gaffing and boating the fish so that we could get a few photos and after taking the necessary measurements the fish was confirmed at 150lb dead, the second specimen of the day and we were only just into the slack water prime period.

Scott feels the power of a Skate
Scott's 45th Species of the year!
Next up to take a run was Scott. Again it looked as though it was a big fish, putting a large bend in the rod and occasionally showing its power with a strong run, to all our despair though disaster struck after a 10 minute tug of war and the hook pulled. Then things were made a little better for Scott when one of the other rods started nodding. With it being my turn for a run, I got kitted up with the reel straps and butt pad and prepared for chaos but after hitting the fish it wasn't the skate I was after. Thinking it may be a Conger, Scott was given the rod to winch the fish up from the depths. When the fish neared, the death rolls started and it was confirmed as a Conger, another fish that Scott was itching to catch. This fish was a milestone fish for him as well as it meant he had achieved his goal of 45 saltwater species in a year, congratulations mate!

There was now just myself to hit into a Skate and I have to be honest, with just an hour left before we had to steam in, I was beginning to regret not taking one of the earlier runs. But after rebaiting all the rods again, this time with very large mackerel and salmon fillet baits I had a renewed sense of optimism. Luckily for me, I did get my chance and I was soon bent into a very powerful fish. I managed to winch her off the bottom fairly quickly but after gaining 10 metres or so, the fish dived straight back down to the bottom, ripping line from the spool and leaving me feeling rather powerless. But, I didn't want to let this fish get the better of me and again hauled it from the bottom shortly after. This time, it was just a constant pump and wind action, giving the fish no slack at all.
Species 70 -  A 181lb Common Skate
After just 15 minutes of hauling the fish up, the line started kiting out from the back of the boat indicating it wasn't far from the surface and then she appeared. I had a minor panic attack when I saw that the hook was only just in the scissors, but the skipper eased my worries and did a fine job gaffing the fish before it could throw the hook. This was a huge relief and sure enough the hook popped before the fish was boated, very lucky! After taking measurements and some good pics it was time to watch her swim off, a truly magestic fish and such an amazing site. Then the skipper gave me the good news, my fish weighed a monstrous 181lb, a fish that is more than fitting for my 70th species of the year. This was to be the last action of the trip and once again it was time for that horrible drive home but my god it felt good.

The release - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGBaWCicznA

So 900 miles travelled and around £170 spent in total, I guess the question is, was it worth it?
Very simple answer - Hell Yes! So much so were already looking into booking a return trip in January.

A last big thankyou to Archie MacGilp who was an absolutely brilliant skipper, joining in with the banter and providing us with excellent advice as well as a cracking brew. I would recommend his services on board the MV North Star to anyone. This youtube video is what got us excited and I'm sure will excite you as well if your thinking about going up to Crinan for a go yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu6T6T4bszY

Thanks for reading and I hoped you enjoyed it,
Tight Lines,
Ross