Big Skate

Cartilaginous Fishes—Class Chondrichthyes — (A skeleton of cartilage that is not true bone)

Subclass Elasmobranchi—Sharks and Rays

Skates — Family Rajidae — Big Skate 

A big Big Skate taken from the Paradise Park Pier in 2007

Species: Raja binoculta (Grard, 1855); from the Latin words raja (skate), bi  (two), and oculata  (eyed, referring to the markings on top of the skate).

Alternate Names:  Skate, barndoor skate, and Pacific great skate. Called raya gigante or raya bruja gigante in Mexico.

Identification: The only skate with a notch in the rear edge of each pelvic fin. The nose is long, bluntly pointed, and broadly triangular. The body is flat with two separate dorsal fins near the end of the tail. Their coloring is gray, brown, reddish brown, olive brown, or blackish, with smaller white spots and two prominent eyespots above; whitish with a possibility of dark spots below.

A small Big Skate taken at the Paradise Park in 2006

Size: Reaches eight feet in length and to over 200 pounds. Those caught at piers rarely exceed 100 pounds in size although two big skates, one at the Cayucos Pier in July 2004 (estimated at 5 feet by 5 feet) and another one taken at the Trinidad Wharf in the summer of 1996 (4 1/2′ wide and 5 1/2′ long), seemingly were over the century mark.

Range: Cabo Falsa, southern Baha California, and Gulf of California, to the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, at least west to Unalaska Island; also eastern Gulf of Alaska. Rarely seen south of Point Conception.

Habitat: Generally found in water of moderate depth although ranges to a depth of 2,200 feet; luckily for pier fishermen, they’re also found over sandy-shore beaches and in bays.

A Big Skate taken from the Cayucos Pier in June 2007

Piers: A few are caught each year, generally at piers north of Point Conception). Best bets: Pismo Beach Pier, Morro Bay T-Piers, Cayucos Pier, Seacliff State Beach Pier, Santa Cruz Wharf, Pacifica Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Paradise Park Pier, McNear Park Pier, Fort Baker Pier, Del Norte St. Pier (Eureka), Trinidad Pier, and the B St. Pier (Crescent City).

Shoreline: An occasional catch for northern California fisherman in Humboldt and Arcata Bay.

Boats: A few are reported from boaters and kayakers fishing in Humboldt and Arcata Bays.

A Big Skate taken from the Pacifica Pier in 2006

Bait and Tackle: Due to their potential size, medium to heavy tackle should be used. However, most biggies are caught by anglers seeking other species, few anglers fish specifically for skates. Most any bait will tempt a skate but squid, clams, ghost shrimp, marine worms, and small fish seem to work best.

Big Skate taken at the Berkeley Pier in 2004

Food Value: Like guitarfish, skates when used for food are really delicious. The most common method is to cut off the skin around the wings and then use cookie cutters to punch out pieces of meat that are very similar in taste and texture to scallops. Many stories tell of skate being sold in stores as scallops. Deep-frying is the most common method of cooking for skate prepared in this manner. Another common recipe says to pan-fry the wings in butter (yes, of course after the wings have been skinned).

Big Skate taken at the Berkeley Pier in 2004

Comments: Far less common than bat rays but the average big skate taken is fairly good size. According to the CA DF&W, “skates have paired electric organs along the sides of their tails, which generate weak, low-voltage electric currents believed to be of use in intra-specific communication, possibly for mate recognition or to demonstrate aggression. These electric currents are not harmful to humans.”

A really big Big Skate taken from the Cayucos Pier in 2004

One of my favorite stories is about Rosie and The Creature From The Black Lagoon. The story’s main characters were Rosie, who used to work at Salty’s Bait and Tackle in Trinidad, and an unidentified creature that fell in love with our heroine. Well, not exactly! That might be a slight stretch. The actual incident took place during the summer of 1996 when Rosie decided to get in a couple of hours of late afternoon fishing down at the picturesque old pier in Trinidad Harbor. She was using an Abu-Garcia outfit loaded with 20-pound test line, and for bait she had brought along some herring. Maybe a salmon would grab her bait.

Rosie cast her bait out to the waters on the north side of the pier and began to wait for a strike. When it came, she was in the fight of her life. Something grabbed the bait and took off on the start of a long, long fight. Rosie was soon joined by friends and onlookers who shortly thereafter dubbed her unseen foe, “The Creature From The Black Lagoon.”

It actually wasn’t anything quite so exotic but you never know until you see your quarry. Eventually she did see the fish, a large 100+ pound big skate (and a name was never more appropriate) that measured 4 1/2′ wide and 5 1/2′ long.

It took Rosie, and several of her friends, 45 minutes to land the obstinate critter that apparently did not want to end up in Rosie’s kitchen (but it did). It may have been, in fact probably was, the largest fish ever landed from the pier. Although local boaters have brought in some huge salmon, lingcod, and Pacific halibut, I doubt if any was as hard to land as Rosie’s big skate. Keeping the fish out of the rocks and kelp that surround the pier, as well as keeping it out of the pilings, had to be a combination of Herculean skill combined with a good amount of luck.

A Big Skate taken from the Cayucos Pier in 2000

A Big Skate taken from the Belmont Veterans Pier in Long Beach in 1998

A Big Skate taken at the Berkeley Pier by promethius in 2002

Posted in Daily musings... and tagged with , , , , , , , , , , . RSS 2.0 feed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>