The Mark Of Spurro
It was raining from the start of the trip, and that's how it would be on and off all day. But the fishing was so good we hardly noticed. The St Andrews-caught mackerel bait we had to offer the fish was third-rate, backed up by some frozen squid - but it didn't take long before Gareth boated the first spur at about 9lb. I soon followed suit with one just a little larger, then Linda, Davy's girlfriend, got the first 10-pounder of the day. But somewhere in among the landing and returning of my spur, a lot of blood appeared on the gunwale. I assumed the fish had been responsible, but when I wiped my hand, it became obvious the joke was on me and that I'd 'been done' by the fish's lethal dental cutting plates - without feeling a thing!
Though blood gushed from my left index finger, in reality I was lucky - as from what Davy tells me it takes only a touch to sever part of your finger on the teeth, which are sharper than razor blades. Linda did a great job patching me up with plasters and antiseptic, though she spoiled it all by saying (after I was forced to wear a single glove all day to protect the wound) that it made me look a bit like Alvin Stardust! The early pace slowed, though a couple more spurs and spotted dogs, plus a 3lb. thornback for me, meant we were never allowed to get bored. Yet Davy knew we could do better, so he moved us to a new mark - and here we witnessed the truly piranha-like qualities of the spurs. There was a brief lull till the scent of our baits wafted to the wandering spurs, then they descended on our hooks in ever-increasing numbers - and in an ever more worked-up state!
Three times tangled fishing lines were bitten through by gnashing fish on the boat - I lost 120 metres of line both times it happened to me - while Gareth had his waterproof trousers cut in several places, and our skipper decreed we'd have to net each fish to keep them under control till they were returned. Now you might argue we got what we deserved for catching the fish - but as the spurs got more rabid at seabed level 360 feet below, those we boated began to appear with distinct bloody cut marks on their flanks. Davy explained the reason - when spurs get in a frenzy and see another
In the final analysis, Gareth - who has caught more spurdogs than I've had hot dinners - had top-caught with 28 spurs, while I managed 20 (double my previous best tally), Linda had 16, Davy 15 and Albert five. Davy and his dad tend to take a back seat, of course, so though we visitors invariably outcatch them, we're always left with the feeling of having been toyed with!
Our mark this time was just around the corner from port - I hadn't even got my reel attached to the rod as Davy dropped anchor - but there were no concerns as the water was 408 feet deep. I had a minor problem in that one of Gareth's unruly spurs had chomped off my only braided line the day before - so I had to fish stretchy 20lb. nylon on my light rod and 'spare' reel. The result was that I barely saw a bite all day on that one, even though ultimately it landed four spotted dogfish and a spurdog. In other words, braid is a must, and I'd have caught far more 'littlies' if I'd had some. Things were slow for a while, the five fish mentioned above mirrored, catch-wise, by Gareth. Then, just as he had retrieved a bait to find it eaten down to nought but a skinful of water and crawling with 'crispies' (nasty little beasts like woodlice that munch into the baits), my skate rod's tip folded over.
Just as well from my point of view, as it was Davy's girlfriend, Linda, who would have been thrown into battle if any of the 'communal' rods had attracted the fish. However, the presence of a former St Andrews coalie as bait proved crucial, and I was soon being fitted out with knee pad and kidney harness - variations on the themes of butt pad and shoulder harness respectively, but less work! I wound down onto the fish, the 25-40lb. class Penn Tuna Stick and International 12 taking the strain with ease. It was soon moving, and from this fact I surmised it wasn't the biggest of skate. Yet Davy had only ever boated titchy ones this early, so it was still a worthy adversary. The fish came up with little fuss, and soon we were boating a lovely little 83-pound female skate that measured 66 inches long by four feet wide. Gareth and I had doubts about the weight (we thought it looked less) but both Albert and Davy checked the weight chart and it was spot-on. Female skate, of course, are far weightier than males, and when I tried to grip the fish for a photo I was reminded it was indeed a bulky beast!
We waited for another skate to show, but there was no quick action - though the skate rods, each bearing a 12/0 hook and whole fish and squid baits, were being tugged at mercilessly by something or other which we assumed to be small spurs like we'd caught earlier (we'd landed three of 3-4lb). However, when Gareth finally made contact with a fish, what popped up but a conger of 6-7lb. - no monster, but enough to get us paying more attention. The thing is, congers are usually sticklers for quality bait - and since ours was somewhere between dodgy and rancid, we'd expected them to take a rain check. Yet sure enough, another eel soon came along - and Davy struck into what looked a quality fish. It dived powerfully, putting a skate-like curve in the heavy rod and taking line. However, there was no happy ending as a tangle of lines on the way up saw the fish escape. Probably an eel in the 30-40lb. class, we were all dying to see it, so it
Not long after, I returned from collecting a cup of coffee from part-time galley slave Linda, and noted a bit of a bend in my skate rod. I wound down in hope, not expectation, but soon ascertained there WAS excess weight there.
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