First blog post for some months as life has been crazy busy which, I suppose, is good! Most of the summer was spent finalising Destination Angler II, which was published early last month. Initial reviews have been tremendous and already over 150 copies have been sold. Get in touch if you would like a copy, cost is £30 plus £3.99 p&p to a UK address, overseas at cost. Easiest to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Last month I set off on what undoubtedly was the most adventurous charter trip I have ever been on in the UK. Here is an extract from my article, which is in the current issue of Sea Angler Magazine.
The trip had been conceived months ago, inspired by a conversation Kevin had had with a commercial fisherman who often fished gill nets in the area we were heading for. From the start it had the potential to be a truly groundbreaking adventure, as almost certainly the ground we were planning to fish had never before been fished by any charter boat. “Huge sixgill sharks frequently become entangled in our nets and there are lots of big skate around, too, especially blue skate,” Kevin’s contact had said, inspiring indeed inflammatory words to arguably the UKs most adventurous charter skipper.
“Blue skate,” I had remarked when Kevin had retold the fisherman’s story, “what on earth are blue skate, I’ve never heard of them?” Kevin explained that he hadn’t heard of this species, either but had since discovered that up until the 1926 blue skate were recognised as being an entirely separate species, before scientific opinion of the day decided that they were really just common skate.
Not convinced, a few years ago CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, instigated a tagging program and commissioned research to find out more about blue skate. Their results have confirmed that blue skate are indeed a separate species from common or flapper skate, Dipturis intermedius, and in 2010 blue skate were reclassified as being a separate genus, Dipturus batis.
Thankfully sea conditions were good and we enjoyed a comfortable night, each of us grabbing a few hours sleep when we could. At the break of dawn over porridge and hot coffee we decided that the capture of either a single sixgill shark or a blue skate would qualify the trip as being a resounding success, anything else would be regarded as a bonus. A couple of hours later Kevin eased back the throttle and when Size Matters came to a stop the anchor chain clattered out over the bow, and fell away to the seabed 450ft beneath us.
One of our crew, Phil Riley, who along with John Owen had charted Size Matters for this trip, had personally caught numerous sixgill sharks before, all of them over 1000lb, at Ascension Island where he owns a charter boat. Phil explained that at Ascension they only ever caught six gills at night, but we also knew that for many years Irish charter skipper Luke Aston has caught many grander class sixgills fishing during the daytime, off Loop Head on the Co Clare coast, so we really didn’t know what to expect. The fact was that a sixgill shark had never been caught aboard a British angling boat that had actually been targeting them, the few reported captures of the species have all been immature fish that had l been caught by accident. The current British record was held with a fish caught off Penlee Point, Plymouth in 1976, it weighed just 9lb 8oz.
With Size Matters settled at anchor one by one we very slowly lowered three super sized multi-mackerel baits down to the bottom, dropping these down too quickly would invariably result in tangles. Kevin’s strategy was that by using as much mackerel as we could throughout the day, given the undoubted attention of smaller species pecking away at the baits by dusk a strong oily slick will have drawn any sizeable sharks or skate to the area we were fishing.
A forth bait was set drifting beneath a float, with which we expected to catch a blue shark or two. We did not want to attract too many sharks to the area by using rubby dubby, as they would undoubtedly attack our bottom baits as they were being dropped. Finally with the four primary baits fishing I grabbed a light rod rigged with a set of mackerel lures, baited the small hooks with small pieces of mackerel, and dropped down to see if I could catch any of the unusual deepwater species we knew were found over the ground we were fishing.
As soon as I felt the lead touch bottom the rod tip registered a tip rattling bite, and a gentle bend when I lifted the blank indicated I had hooked a fish, albeit a small one. What was it, we all wondered as I wound it up through the water column, a Ray’s bream, perhaps a boar fish, possibly even a grenadier? When finally we got our first glimpse of the little fish in the clear water our questions were answered; I had caught a poor cod! Ditto the next couple of drops. Eventually I did manage to catch one of the iconic deep water species associated with the near continental shelf, a blue whiting, which I closely followed with a second. Very similar to a common whiting, blue whiting, Micromesistius poutassou, have a noticeably larger eye and when handled shed scales freely like a poor cod, revealing a body which is, as the name suggests, tinged with blue.
Less than an hour after starting to fish the ratchet on the reel fishing the suspended near surface bait screamed, as a decent fish grabbed it and made off on a short, fast run. John Owen grabbed the rod, eased the lever drag forward, allowed the tension to gradually increase giving the circle hook time to locate in the sweet spot in the corner of the fish’s jaw, then bent into the first of numerous small to medium sized blue sharks that we boated at regular intervals throughout the day.
As we released John’s shark the tip on one of the three bottom rods indicated a bite. Watching the rod tip intently as he buckled on a stand up harness and ‘Quint like,’ carefully clipped the straps to the reel lugs, Phil gave the fish plenty of time to take the big bait by free spooling a few yards of line. When he was satisfied the fish had eaten the bait he pushed the lever back to strike, reeled the line tight, and set the hook.
While Phil had clearly hooked a sizeable fish it was all too obvious that it was nothing especially large, and most of us suspected it was going to be one of the many spurdog we had been told were often prolific throughout the area. As Phil worked his fish up through the water column the remaining four of us leaned over the side, again straining for that first tell tail glimpse of the fish. You can imagine our surprise when rather than a spurdog a mid-double conger came into view, the first of several 10-20lb plus eels we caught.
A little before midday Phil once again attached his stand up harness, only this time when he lifted the rod and set the hook it was immediately obvious he had hooked something much bigger than a strap eel. Five minutes, ten minutes then fifteen minutes ticked by before finally Phil’s fish came into view; a sixgill shark! We had only been fishing a couple of hours and already we had achieved our ultimate goal and boated a decent sixgill. As soon as the necessary history making photographs of the UKs first targeted sixgill were taken and it had been accurately measured it was released. When applied to the standard formula, length times girth squared decided by 800, it produced a weight of 204lb.
The sixgill or bluntnose shark, Hexanchus griseus, is the largest hexanchoid shark, growing to 26ft in length. It is found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide and its diet is widely varied, though essentially it is a bottom feeder that relies on scavenging. Its head is indeed blunt, similar to that of a bull shark, but in its behaviour the fish is more bull huss than bull shark. A strong fish, the fight is more dogged than exhilarating as the fish writhes and squirms, occasionally making strong, spirited dives back to the seabed.
We were still congratulating ourselves on the capture of our first sixgill when John set the hook in another decent fish, and once again five pairs of eyes strained over the side to see just what it was that he had caught. It is often said that a huge part of the attraction of sea angling is that you never really know exactly what you might catch, but in reality most days when fishing around the UK you do have a pretty good idea. That day, though, we really did not know if the next bite was going to result in another strap conger or a 1000lb plus sixgill shark; it really was an incredible experience.
Finally when John’s fish came into view we could see it was a skate and when it was boated our crewman, who has spent time working aboard commercial boats in the area, confirmed it was indeed a blue skate. Give away characteristic included a well defined pointed head and a distinct body colouration. It weighed 35lb, our second British record of the day. To absolutely confirm our capture the fish had, quite unbelievably, been tagged with a CEFAS tag. When Kevin phoned the information through a few days later a CEFAS spokesman confirmed that yes it was indeed a blue skate originally tagged in 2015, just five miles away from where we had been fishing. It was early afternoon and already we had achieved both of our primary goals but there was more, much more to come.
John’s next fish was our second sixgill which we measured and calculated to weigh 242lb, setting the bar for the species even higher. As both Phil and John had each boated a sixgill they generously asked whether I would like to take the next fish and, of course, I gratefully accepted their offer. It wasn’t long before I was slugging it out with my own fish, which turned out to be another very nice sixgill which we calculated to weigh 237lb; my largest ever British caught fish.
Not long afterwards we spotted a huge flock of shearwaters milling over the surface several hundred yards astern of us, with large splashes of white water beneath them: tuna! For several minutes we watched in awe as a vast shoal of bluefin tuna including many fish weighing well into the several hundreds of pounds gradually worked their way past us. If only we could legally target these incredible sports fish in British waters…
Soon enough the sun started to set, and once again Size Matters became shrouded in the inky blackness of nighttime on the open ocean. With her deck lights illuminated it wasn’t long before large shoals of fish appeared in the pool of light around us. At first these were minuscule 2-3in mackerel but these were soon joined by Atlantic saury, Scomberesox saurus, and it wasn’t long before these attracted a pod of feeding dolphin.
Kevin hooked the first fish of the night, and with three sixgill shark already boated, we were confident he had hooked our forth. As Kevin fought he fish a second rod bent over, and Phil set the hook into another fish; a double hook up! Both anglers quietly played their fish while the rest of us cleared the decks and prepared for what we hoped would be a unique double shot of sixgill sharks but no, while Kevin had indeed caught sixgill number 4, Phil had caught our second blue skate. It was clearly bigger than the fish we had taken earlier in the day, but in the excitement we forgot to either measure or weigh it.
When Phil Riley lifted into the next fish it was instantly obvious he had hooked something much, much larger than anything we had already caught. The savage bend in his rod as he leant back in his harness was evidence of great bulk, and when that fish came into view beneath the boat it was monstrous, an enormous great fish that took the combined efforts of four of us to haul her aboard. She only just managed to squeeze her bulk through the transom door, which was no surprise as when accurately measured we calculated her weight at 512lb, making her quite possibly the largest shark ever actually boated aboard a UK charter boat.
Sixgill number six was hooked soon afterwards by John Owen, and clearly it was another very good fish. By now a gradually increasing breeze was driving a cold drizzle in from the open Atlantic, as the distant weather front the clouded horizon around sunset had promised headed slowly but surely towards the British Isles. John eventually played his fish to the back of the boat, and she was boated and calculated to weigh 320lb. It was two o’clock in the morning and whereas our original plan had been to fish until dawn then haul anchor and head for home in daylight, a quick show of hands confirmed that each and every one of us was more than happy to call it a day and head in early.
It was a long run back and it was three thirty that afternoon before finally Size Matters was brought alongside at Plymouth. Rather than fatigue all five of us were buzzing from the incredible experience, with the reality of what we had achieved only just starting to sink in. Kevin has named the mark Jurassic Park, a fitting title, and I for one can’t wait until my next trip out to this incredible fishing ground. Surely this is one of the very last untouched marks off the British Isles; who knows just what else is lurking out there?
First ever successfully targeted British sixgill shark.
Unofficial British record for sixgill shark, 512lb.
First ever successfully targeted British blue skate.
Unofficial British record for blue skate, 35lb.
Almost certainly the largest shark of any species ever actually boated, measured and released aboard a British charter boat.
Kevin Mckie is now the first skipper to boat all three British species of skate, having caught common/flapper and a rare white skate, another unofficial British record, earlier this year in Scotland. Size Matters is now the first British charter boat to catch 5 x 100lb plus species in a single year including blue, porbeagle and sixgill shark, common and white skate.
To book a trip aboard Size Matters contact Kevin Mckie on mobile: 07999 628511; email: mckiesfishingcharters.co.uk; or visit: www.mckiesfishingcharters.co.uk You can find Kevin on Face Book at: mckiesfishingcharters