Lessons learnt on lines

heave sarahA personal view by Sarah Brown – @sarahc2w – www.c2w.org.uk

It could have been quite different. The day Willie invited me out fishing was in late October 2015 and given that we are talking the west coast of Scotland here I was prepared for the worst. I had the down jacket, waterproof trousers, hat, coat and boots. I was ready for pretty much anything that the elements could throw at me and so I was somewhat surprised when the day dawned clear, calm and utterly stunning. Time to go FISHING!

I should take a step back. The Sound of Jura has always been a favourite sailing ground for me, I love the tides and the scenery. I like the pubs and the anchorages. It has wildlife and drama and yet is close to safe havens aplenty. I also like to drop a hook or two over the side and try to catch dinner but I had not yet, no matter how hard I tried, landed anything bigger than a fat mackerel and to be honest I was beginning to doubt both my skill and the amount of fish down there.

That was until SSACN, and Willie in particular, took pity on me and took me fishing.

There we sat, not far off Crinan, in about 130m of water, lines in the water all day hoping to catch a Common Skate. Feeding the fish with bait all day. Freezing hands pushing freezing fish onto freezing hooks ALL DAY. I caught 4 dog fish on a set of feathers at one point but nothing more. On the last drop of the day Willie’s experienced hand felt a weight on the line and with no heed to my pleading calls for leniency he handed the rod to me and the game was on.

Common skate rThe light was fading and Willie’s warnings about it taking an hour or more to land a common skate were on my mind and so I heaved and puffed and I leaned back into the harness and pulled and wound 130m of line up to the surface six inches at a time and to my delight, a mere 25 minutes of toil later, a beautiful male Skate weighing an estimate 110lb was landed on the after deck.

I was in awe of this amazing, critically endangered, creature. His shining muscular wings had so nearly had me off my feet moments before and now here he was a flapping heap on the deck. We measured him, took the nasty blood sucking parasites off his wings and, as gently as you can with a beast that size, we eased him back into the water where, with a substantial ‘readjustment of gases’, he gracefully headed once again for the deep.

The engines roared and we headed for home. I was left to reflect on this amazing day. I can honestly say it has changed me. I’m not a fan of all sport fishing, not the sort which could result in death by exhaustion of the prey species at any rate and that hasn’t changed – I don’t include most of the cold water angling in that category mind you. No, what changed me is twofold; firstly I discovered a new body of knowledge waiting to be tapped. How much a good angler knows about the sea is impressive – from tides, weather, the behaviour and idiosyncrasies of the wildlife to their favoured habitat and preferred dinner, it is verging on encyclopedic.

The second change in me was discovering this massive fish for myself. I’d seen photos of course, talked to many fishermen, but I had never laid eyes, let alone landed, my own 110lb fish before, never felt its power pull me downward as it headed to the seabed. The change is that when I think about marine protected areas now I think of them in the context of that huge Skate. I think of it as his habitat, his space, his livelihood.

I know the arguments for and against MPA’s so well that I dream about them but I do now have a new voice in my head which is not about quotas and gear types, it is not about tourism and climate change and biodiversity – it is about THAT Skate. My Skate. Thanks Willie and SSACN.

Sarah is the principle consultant at C2W – Cradle to Wave – a small but perfectly formed consultancy based on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. 

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