There was always talk of skate around the Antrim Coast, but to me that’s all it was, talk. No one that I know had caught any. Then with the development of super thin braided lines and fishing at anchor a new dimension to fishing around the deep water marks had opened up, skate were actually being caught.
It was here that I first encountered blackmouthed dogfish (Galeus melastomus) around 10 years ago and incidentally, most were caught by accident when common skate fishing. It is hard to imagine why a fish of around a 60cms and weighing less than a kilo would try and eat a full mackerel on a 10/0 pennel set-up but they did regularly.
When trying to locate a potential habitat for blackmouthed dogfish, water depth is probably the most important factor with a depth of at least 100 metres over a gravelly or sandy bottom.
There are several marks along the Antrim Coast where water of this depth can be found relatively close to the shoreline unfortunately the weather more often than not limits the number of times “small boats” can access these deeper marks. Strong tides are common in this part of the North Channel, again limiting days at sea.
The depth of water and the strength of the tide where blackmouthed dogfish are caught dictates that the tackle has to be on the heavy side, as 2-4lb of lead is often the norm, also there is always the chance of catching “unwanted” common skate, tope, spurdogs, bull huss and congers.
The rod should be at least 30lb class and preferably 50lb when fishing the stronger tides. Reels should be loaded with at least 50lb braid and capable of working with large leads for all or part of the day.
On the business end a set of hokkais works but to be on the safe side I tend to use snoods of about 40cms with 3/0 heavy duty hooks dressed with anything luminous and tied to 150lb nylon, again because of the chance of hooking into other species present.
Bait can be mackerel, either frozen or fresh, herring, rainbow trout or squid. Some days a straight 3 up out-fishes everything and on others a short flowing trace produces the goods.
It is possible to catch blackmouthed dogs while drifting but anchoring increases catches, and on this precautionary note only attempt this when it is safe. Placing a bag of rubby-dubby on the anchor chain can also help draw fish to the hook baits.
Blackmouthed dogfish can be caught throughout the year with the largest females more abundant in the late summer and early autumn months.
For such a small fish bites can be aggressive, usually a lot more severe than that of the similar sized lesser spotted doggies, which at times will be a nuisance but unavoidable. Unfortunately there is no way of choosing which dogfish will lift the bait so perseverance is usually the best policy.
When reeling in the blackmouthed will open its mouth creating as much drag as it can in the tide thus giving the false impression of a much bigger fish but with very little fight.
Identification of blackmouthed dogfish is relatively straight forward. The soft feeling skin appears as a series of pale brownish mottled patches across the dorsal and lateral sides over a white base. The eye is relatively large and iridescent green in colour. And as the name suggests there’s the “black mouth”
I can imagine that it can be difficult to see how anyone can get excited about catching any dogfish but on too many occasions, especially to me, they have been the difference between catching and blanking, then again there’s always the chance of a real “biggie.”