A date with a skate

Duncan lives in Inveraray and runs Fishinguide Scotland, a guided fishing service providing hassle-free trips to lots of hidden corners of Argyll. Trained as an biologist and then as a teacher, Duncan has found the perfect blend for his skills in guiding. In his posts he'll be sharing his infectious passion for fishing and the wildest kinds of outdoor adventure.

Duncan Pepper

Argyll and The Isles, while blessed with a vast number of freshwater lochs and a good few rivers, is better known for its impossibly complex coastline. Rightly so, for it's in this maze of sea lochs and islands that some of Scotland's most inspiring corners and gob-smacking fishing can be found.

I'm a predominantly freshwater angler, with trout, salmon and pike taking up most of my attention, but, on occasion I venture to the salt to have a go at some of the numerous species that inhabit Argyll's coastal waters. My target species on salt water trips is usually pollock, which come to a fly or lure with gusto, and put up a very strong, if brief, fight.

However in March this year I felt like something different. For a long time I've wondered what it feels like to fight a fish that's stronger than me. And so I got in touch with Ronnie Campbell, the skipper of the Laura Dawn II, out of Oban. Little was I to know that my curiosity would be answered, and then some.

The skipper’s instructions were to meet outside the Regent Hotel in Oban at 9am. It was a driech morning on the day, with intermittent showers and a moody looking sea. I was to tag along with a group of five other 'rods' who had travelled up from Ayr for their day's fishing.

In unusual circumstances for me, I was the only one without his own equipment, so Ronnie kitted me out with a very sturdy looking rod and heavy duty reel loaded with 50lb mono mainline and a 250lb leader. As we left the relative shelter of Oban's waters and headed out to sea it became clear that there would be a bit of swell for our legs and stomachs to contend with. Not that the others seemed to notice as they hooked dead mackerel onto their rigs.

We came to a mark 40 minutes from the jetty, and the skip dropped anchor. Within 20 minutes of our baits being on the sea bed one was picked up and we were into our first skate of the day. A forty-minute battle ended with everything going slack and back came the line, unencumbered by either fish, or terminal tackle. A broken mainline for an angler who hadn't taken the skip's advice on the length of leader; his was too short, and a flashed skate's tail might have caused the mainline to be severed. A new rig with a much longer 250lb leader was set up by the unlucky angler, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the same.

Fish two came shortly after the first; not a skate this time but a spurdog, (also known as a spiny dogfish) which was briefly admired and then returned unharmed. The next was our first and smallest skate of the day.

Then it was my turn to commence the most strenuous battle I've ever known. Two hours and forty five minutes of grappling with a rod which seemed to be attached to a submarine, a submarine insistent on going in whichever direction I didn't want it to go.Two skate were hooked, fought and brought to the boat by other anglers while mine just took more and more line.

After an hour and a half the other rods started looking concerned, this wasn't normal, after two hours murmurs of it being a sixgill shark started. It's a species known to exist in Scottish waters but not often seen, and very rarely caught; not incidentally, they reach 16ft in length.

Shortly after the two hour mark the skip came to help, he'd pull on the line and I'd wind, and together we gained twenty or thirty yards, before the leviathan reclaimed them - and the rest, this went on and on till at long last, and under extreme pressure, the mainline snapped. You would think I'd be disappointed, but at the time it didn't seem like such a bad thing; especially when you feel like it's either the line, or your spine.

The fish had taken its toll on me, and then the rolling swell did the same, my sea legs were shown to be more suited to wading in a river, as the other rods watched me turn green and offload into the sea. After my embarrassment some of the other anglers confessed that they took pills to prevent their queasiness.

Three more skate came to the boat before the day was done, the biggest two were exactly the same weight, at 194lbs. Impressively Ronnie and the Laura Dawn II haven't blanked once in over a year. When speaking with the skip after my mega-battle he said he'd never seen a fish do what mine did, and he doesn't seem like the type who goes in for hyperbole. It could have been in the 300-400lb range if it was a skate, or it could have been a sixgill shark.

We'll never know, but it's plenty of food for thought.

Wading your way slowly down a pool gives your imagination a chance to run wild with thoughts of those silver powerhouses just out of sight. The action of Spey casting a fly to the far bank waiting for that fizz of line snapping out of your hand as a salmon takes hold is exhilarating in the extreme. When it's a river as beautiful as the Orchy it's a delightful experience.

Most years the best trout fishing happens in spring, and then again in September but when spring is cold, the best of the action moves into the early summer. The Mayfly hatches this year were so delayed many anglers thought they weren't going to happen, but eventually in late June, and to my and my guests' delight, they appeared. Suddenly lochs which are normally dour (a word meaning uneventful) became hives of activity and where it seemed there were very few fish there were trout showing all over the surface.

The saltwater fishing that I most like to do is for pollock. They're big brassy beasts that can tear line off the reel like there's no tomorrow. You can catch them on the fly or with lures and when you find where they're congregated it can be a fish on every cast. There are masses of excellent pollock marks on the Argyll coast, and given that coastline is as big as France's there's bound to be a secret bit of pollock heaven just waiting for you to find it. I strongly recommend looking for your own marks, just the process of exploring is really enjoyable and you're likely to find a decent spot, that you can have to yourself. Pollock can be caught almost anywhere where there's a steep drop off and a kelp bottom.

Now I'm off to have a cast and I encourage you to do the same, enjoy the summer