Magnum opus of an abject failure

Fishing lines
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The Independent Online
This is really embarrassing. On the same week as I received an invitation to be the guest speaker at the annual dinner of the Old Blankonians, a club dedicated to abject angling failure, I catch two fish with a combined weight of 300lb.

Over the years, this column has been a shining light for unsuccessful fishers. On waters where others have made mighty hauls, I have consistently let the side down. Even excursions to exotic locations such as the jungles of Ecuador or the foothills of the Himalayas have failed to turn the tide. Excuses? I could fill a trawler with them.

So it is with amazement that I report on my weekend jaunt to Oban after giant skate. Far from being just another chapter in Big Fish I Almost Caught, I shared in a nine-fish catch of skate totalling more than 1,000lb. My bigger fish was 160lb (about 150lb larger than my previous best), the "baby" 140lb - and on the following day I lost a big one.

Much as I would like to claim that this achievement was down to my angling ability, that would be stretching the truth even further than I normally do. Though I hate to say it, a total duffer could have caught those fish. In fact, one did. Donald Wilson, a Glasgow company director who had never held a rod before, clocked up a 100lb skate. The credit goes to the Big Game Club of Scotland and their personal boatman Stan Massey.

For years, the club have been trying to catch big fish off the Scottish coast. But they had been hampered by rotten boatmen, poor boats, and skippers who wanted to be home in time for tea. So they simply built their own pounds 200,000 craft and installed Massey as captain. The result of two years' work, Magnum is not just another fishing boat. It is undoubtedly the best in the British Isles, with equipment superior to most trawlers and sleeping accommodation for eight. Amazingly, the club members built the 52ft craft themselves, though none had any boat-building experience. They simply bought a steel hull and worked it out from there.

"We just got a few friends to help, and sorted it out as we went along," says their chairman, Kenny Leonard. "Now we can prove that we've been saying for years: there are fish here that will break not just British records but world records, too."

The 25-tonne boat, which is available for chartering, is licensed to travel up to 60 miles from shore. "This gives access to the Gulf Stream and some of the world's most exotic species," Massey says. A former charter boat skipper, he says people mocked him when he argued that big sharks were around in Scottish waters during the winter.

But in February, a world-record 500lb porbeagle was caught, and Massey is convinced there are several species of tuna, swordfish, mako sharks and perhaps hammerheads waiting to be caught. I'm not going to argue. Over the weekend, we fished two unexplored spots which produced 13 skate. We lost nine others, and at one stage four people were battling fish. Pulling them up in 600ft of water is like competing in a tug of war against an industrial fridge that's facing downhill. The one that got away broke free after 40 minutes - I still hadn't got it off the bottom.

All the fish were tagged and returned. "These fish are a Scottish asset. If they are killed, the asset is lost. Claiming records, which means the fish has to be killed, is just an ego thing," Leonard says. Fortunately, the club's conservation-minded approach saved me a significant problem. Can you imagine what those fish would have cost in excess baggage at Glasgow Airport?

And without proof, maybe the Old Blankonians will think it's just another fisherman's story.

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