Chasing Cod North East Scotland With Paul Johnstone

Cod Fishing North East Scotland January 2018

The Cod season is under full swing as I write this article, the best fishing is obtained when the predominantly shallow waters are carrying colour, kind that looks chocolate-brown and big waves, the best time is just after a big easterly wind the ground swell can be very dangerous and care should be taken as to which marks to fish. One of my favourite marks is a small harbour entrance and fishing at times on my own is reasonably safe.
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Shore Skate fishing with Paul Johnstone

Taming one of the UK’s largest fish

On the quest for large Common Skate in the North West Highlands of Scotland I have been lucky in finding friends who have help both myself and my fishing partner Paul Stewart make our dreams come true, both of us have landed fish of a lifetime. It was over a year ago that I first witnessed the capture of three common skate in one night with the best being 196lb falling to my friend Paul Stewart. Indeed a capture to fire the imagination.


I again fished with friends who were targeting Skate and again was lucky enough to witness another catch, this started to stimulate my interest in gearing up for a go myself. I’m lucky in having support from Century Composites who supply the finest fishing rods currently available here in the UK, I built my TTR model casting rod for fishing then went on the hunt for a suitable reel to accompany the rod. My friends we’re using various models of reels, one was using a two speed lever drag with magnetic brake control conversion that sparked my interest, low speed can be very useful when in deep water and big fish. ABU however had solved this particular problem way back with the two speed series of reels.


I was lucky enough to get a 9000C from a well know internet auction site and set about ensuring that the real was sound, the reel was indeed fine but new bearings were installed and new Carbontex drag washers fitted to ensure smooth operation of the drag when under large loads.

The reel was filled with 80lb bs braid and I pondered the problem of attaching a heavy nylon leader to the braid without the large leader knots required, a solution came when a friend gave me some hollow braid, a play with a boillie needle and a couple of attempts later I had made up a
loop to loop connector to braid and slid the 150lb nylon inside the hollow braid a spot of super glue over the joint to ensure the joint was stable and a solution was found. This 150lb leader gives abrasion resistance to the set up not only from rock but also the fish as they have sharp thorns on their tails.
Braid to braid loop to loop (white) can be seen at bottom of reel 150lb nylon leader top of reel.

I spent August and September this year gathering bait for this winters fishing season, feathering from the shore for mackerel is great fun and very addictive so it came around that it was time for me to target my first trip for Common Skate. We arrived at the mark on November 5th a clear cold night and it is bonfire night here in the UK so with fireworks going off in the background large mackerel baits fished on 10/0 Cox and Rawle
meat hooks and long pulley rigs tied in 200lb nylon were launched into the darkness and the waiting had begun. It took a while but at 20:30 my TTR tip bent over and the ratchet clicked over stopped then went again this time with me hanging onto the rod, I tightened the start drag and
hung on for dear life.

The fish took 40 to 50 meters of line off the reel as the drag gave line without any juddering as the TTR hooped over into its fighting curve, the fish stopped and the one thing that ran through my mind was advice I got from an old friend who has also landed many skate
from the shore….do not let the fish go to ground…..with this running through my mind I began to slowly put pressure on the fish, the tip of the TTR juddered and slowly slowly rose into the dark night sky, down and wind and so it went on for five minutes or so then I could feel the fish power
up and off she went on a ten meter run the reel giving line smoothly then stopped, I again applied the advice running through my mind ……do not let the fish go to ground……I once again started to pump the fish ever nearer and nearer to the shore line. I had been on the fish for about 20 mins
and she was nearly at my feet, the rig was 4m long plus 10m of heavy nylon leader and my white leader connector was about all that separated me from my prize, I slowly lifted into the fish to raise her up to the surface, lift and wind lift and wind and there was my white leader connector and down went the fish and my white marker, lift and wind lift and wind again and again my white leader connector about 1m above the water and again the fish dived reel drag gave line smoothly again.

I was at this point about 25 minutes into the fight and starting to get tired my arms were getting heavy so lift and wind again and again this time the white leader connector arose from the water up and up I had the leader over the tip rig of the rod now the connector went over the first guide and down she went again taking line back off the reel, I really was starting to begin to worry I could not lift her up, both my friends were shouting encouragement and with there voices in my ears I gave it my all pump and wind the white connector rose from the water again though the tip ring and on and on through the guides one at a time each pump and wind getting me closer and
closer to raising the fish, the leader was safely on my reel each pump was taking me closer to the fish the reel filled with leader then the weight popped out of the water.

The fish dived again likely spooked by the bright headlights shining on the water, again the reel gave line smoothly, the fish
took about 2 meters of line so back to work pump and wind the fish rose slowly slowly into view, my friend Paul Stewart expertly gaffes the fish in the wing and guided her ashore. She was ours, well we though she was, the gaff started to open up and eventually popped free from the wing of
the fish, both Paul and myself managed to get hold of either wing and get her a little more out of the water. The hook was removed using a three foot long homemade un hooking tool and the fish turned seaward and with a couple of graceful flaps of the wings disappeared into the dark waters
not the worse for her adventure. She came out at 172lb from the chart. So that was the end of my journey to capture my first Common Skate from the shore.


I must say that I feel extremely privileged to have got so close to such a creature let alone catch a fish of this size from the coastal waters of Scotland, it is a memory that will be with me for the rest of my life.
With out doubt the reel a 1976 model ABU 9000C handled the punishment that only a fish of this size can dish out with out a grumble or problem, it goes to show that quality will out when the chips are down and your faced with what could be the biggest fight of your life, credit where
credit is due my hats off to ABU for such a great work horse of a reel, I’m sure it will not be the last time my 9000C faces another battle with a large un willing fish from the depths of the west highlands of Scotland.