Skate
Typical Size
14-16" (1/2-3/4 lbs.)
Decent Size
17-18" (1-2 lbs.)
Nice Size
18-20" (2-3 lbs.)
Record
21.3" (4 lbs. 2 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

N/A
Genus/Species Raja erinacea
Common Names hedgehog skate, common skate, summer skate, little skate
Hot Spots Green Harbor, Scituate Harbor, Hingham Harbor
Best Time June - September
Best Baits seaworm, clam, squid
Best Method Bottom fishing with bait
 
DESCRIPTION :

Not being a marine biologist, I simply list "skate" as the name for this fish. However, there are several varieties of skate, but most likely the one you'll catch on the south shore of Massachusetts is the "little skate." This is a fairly small skate, typically sandy brown in color with numerous dark spots scattered on it's upper side. It has two rows of small spines located on either side of the middle of the tail, which are not that sharp. The underside is pure white with some pink tones. It has two dorsal fins at the end of it's tail and the tail and head section are nearly equal in length.

Skate
The skate on the right is typical size, the one on the left is large.
HABITS & HABITAT :
You can catch these skates off the beach or as deep as 200 feet down. They range from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas and can tolerate temperatures from near freezing to over 60 degrees. They live in a variety of habitats but seem to congregate in broken bottom areas of gravel or shellfish. Rarely taken from areas of heavy structure, but they are not uncommon on mud bottoms. Large numbers of these skates move inshore in the summer where they are often caught while fishing for flounder.

Skate have rather stable diet consisting of mostly crabs and shellfish, but they will eat most anything that presents itself, including small fish, squid, and starfish. Beachgoers often run across the dried eggs cases of the skate. These are black capsules with four points and are locally known as "mermaid purses."

Spawning takes place in the late spring between the offshore and inshore grounds, although there is evidence that the same fish may spawn at other times of the year as well. Precise fecundity is not known, however it is not that great. Each egg is layed inside a case where the juvenile skate develops. Once it has outgrown the case (approx. 4" long) it exits via a small opening at the end of the case which has the longer points. This process often jars the case loose from its anchoring point and allows the case to float freely until it ends of being washed ashore. The juvenile skate swims with an attached yolk sack slowly to the deeper offshore waters where it will winter over.

FISHING FOR SKATE :
No one purposefully seeks out skate. They are disdained by most fisherman as a nuisance when flounder fishing or baitfishing for species such as striped bass or cod. They are easy to catch, but tough to get the hook back from. When being reeled in, skate curl themselves up into a ball, making it feel like you've caught a boot, not a fish. They offer absolutely no fight at all. They do not spook easily and will greedily accept a wide variety of baits. Seaworms are likely the most common bait used to take them because the angler is actually trying to catch flounder. Any bottom bait rig will catch skate, with a 2-4 ounce sinker sufficient for holding bottom. I have never heard, nor seen, of skate being taken on artificial lures.

Fishing for Skate is an neither important commercially, nor recreationally, mainly due to their ugly appearance and preparation required. However, skate are edible and there are those who punch out small circles in the wings and cook them like scallops. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, most skate end up thrown overboard or used as bait in lobster traps.