My Year on the Ray’s from the Shore
I have always had a serious passion for Rays ever since I caught my first one back in the late 80’s, the sight of that first Ray coming in, in the beam of my headlamp, through the surf and onto the beach will be something I never forget, I still get the same excitement today as I did back then.
I still get that adrenaline rush when sitting watching the tips of my rods and get that typical tell-tale first pull down on the tip of my rod as the Ray settles over the bait. That’s when I have to sit on my hands (as I get too excited) as you need to give the Ray a little time to engulf the bait. This is when I normally roll a fag and pour a coffee, eyes stilled glued to the rod tip, then as the Ray has engulfed the bait it moves off, either pulling the grip lead out and giving you a slack line bite, or moving off and pulling the rod tip right down (if not careful taking the rod off the tripod). This is when I pick up my rod and lean into the fish, such a satisfying feeling.
We are very lucky to have excellent Ray fishing along our beaches, we can catch most species of Ray from shore marks here in Hampshire and Dorset, I have been asked by many people why I have had some success on Rays from our local marks. Patience, determination, and sticking to my game plan the duration of the trip is always my answer…
One of the biggest problems I see with anglers is that they know how to catch Rays, but, they give up to quickly. Example – most anglers just want to catch fish, any fish, just want to get bites, now with Ray fishing, success come's with sticking to a game plan.
We will take Small eyed Rays for an example, best bait to catch them on is Sandeel, now if there are no Small eyed Rays about, you aren’t going to get to many bites during that trip fishing with a Sandeel bait, so, what most people do is get rid of the Sandeel bait and revert to the 1lb of ragworm they have brought along and start catching small fish.
To be successful with Rays you have to stick with a game plan when you arrive at a venue for a trip, stick with the right bait and rigs and wait, you may blank, not even get a bite, and the angler next to you fishing with worm baits is pulling in a steady stream of small fish, don’t give in, for when it all goes right, you will be in for a trip to remember on Rays from the Shore……..
Anyway here is my little guide with a few hints and tips that hopefully will help you catch a few rays from the shore…….
Tackling up for Rays
Rods - I use fairly powerful beach rods for my Rays fishing, Rays may not be the most spectacular of fighting fish but they can use there bulk size to their advantage buy either burying their wings into the seabed or just kiting and using their size to hang in the tide. Either way I find a powerful beach rod helps to get them in.
Reels – I use multipliers, but fixed spool are OK, the main thing is what you load your reels up with? Now for most of my Ray fishing I will use 15lb BS mono (0.35 dia), the reason for this is that most Rays are caught at range (100yrds or so), this line will help with getting your baits out at range. There are times when distance casting is not so important and then I will increase line to 20lb BS (0.40 dia).
Rigs – Now there are a multitude of rigs out there you can catch Rays on, fixed paternoster, pulley rigs, up and over rigs, etc. Everyone will have their own favourite that works for them, I personally always use an up and over rig, and always use a spiked breakout style weight, and the main reason for this is that I can fish a long trace (Hook snood 4-6ft long) on an up and over rig. The reason I use a long trace (hook snood) is because of the make-up of a Ray, the Rays mouth is on the underside of its body and has to settle over the top of the bait to eat it, this means that if the trace is to short I believe the Ray when it settles over the bait feels the spiked lead on your trace, thus putting them off. Now there is no scientific proof of this, but it is something I believe in, hence using long traces so to get the bait well away from the spiked weight.
Different variations of the up and over rig, but all working on the same principle
The make-up of the up and over rig I use will consist of a least a 60lb mono rig body, 60 lb Hook snood and a pair of strong forged 3’0 Hooks Pennell stile. Many people ask why I fish with such heavy mono hook snoods, the reason for this is that Ray have no teeth but have very strong crushing pads/gums in their mouth, which can quickly were through thinner breaking strain mono snoods.
For the majority of Ray fishing from the shore you will need to use fish baits, usually a combination of Squid, Sandeel, Mackerel, or Bluey, and quite often I will use a cocktail of Squid and one of the mentioned fish baits. There are certain species of Ray and in certain situations, which other baits are needed to catch them, but I will touch on that a bit later when I tell you a bit about how to target each species of Ray. But for the bulk of my Ray fishing is done with frozen Squid, Sandeel, Mackerel baits, which are in my freezer ready for me to go when I get a window of time to fish.
The Ray Species
I fish for Rays nearly every month of the year, there is normally at least one species of Ray to target, Of course there is always exception to the rules but I will give you my personally run down on the individual species, when I fish for them, where I fish for them, what baits I use, and venues that have proved successful for me
Thornback Ray Raja clavata
I generally fish for this species from Nov – March,
Thornbacks can be caught on many different
types of bait, and my personal favourite baits are Squid,
Bluey, Mackerel, sometimes a cocktail of them. Local
venues that fish well for Thornbacks are Calshot, Lepe
and in more recent years Southampton water, places such
as Shore Road and Hythe marina. A nice target size ray
for Thornbacks would be 6/7lb and anything 10lb or more
would be classed as a good specimen size for them.
|Small Eyed Ray|
Small Eyed Ray Raja microocellata
I fish April – Sept for this species, they can be caught all year round, but this period of time is when there are at their greatest numbers. Small eyed Rays are quite selective on baits there are caught on, without any doubt Sandeel is the number one bait, but they can be caught on Squid and Pouting fillet. Local venues would be anywhere from Hurst Shingle bank, Milford on sea, Barton on Sea and Southbourne beach. Small eyed Rays don’t get caught inside the Solent; well I have never caught one or seen one caught. A nice target size fish would be around 5/6lb, a big Small eyed Ray would be anything over 10lb, but these are rare, I have only ever caught 1 double figure Small eyed Ray.
Spotted Ray Raja montagui
I fish March –Sept for this species, I tend to catch Spotted Ray at the same times as fishing for Small eyed Rays on the same baits, so tactics and venues are pretty much the same as that for Small eyed Ray. The only exception is that Spotted Rays can be caught in the Solent at venues such as Calshot, Lepe and Park shore. Spotted Rays are one of the smallest Ray species we get, with a nice target size fish being 4lb and a 5lb fish being a good specimen.
Stingray Dasyatis pastinaca
I fish June – Aug for this species, best bait for Stingrays is Ragworm, nice big bunches of them. Stingray are the largest of the Ray species, true heavyweights, every year fish of 40-50lb get caught from the shore with fish up to 100lb caught in nets of commercial fishermen very close to the shore. This species of Ray is the only species I have found that actually fishes better in daylight tides instead of night time tides, and with the weather the hotter the better. Obviously great care is needed handling Stingray as they have a poisonous barb on the tail, always best to fish for this species with someone who has experience in dealing with them. Good places to try for Stingray are Park shore and Sowley, but they can turn up on about any beach in the Solent.
Undulate Ray Raja undulata
I fish April – Dec for this species, but, this is one species that does seem to be caught nearly every month of the year. Best baits are Squid, Sandeel, Mackerel, Bluey, or cocktails of them. Undulate Rays have made a great comeback to our shores, back in 80’s and 90’s they were unheard of from our shores, except for one or two very secret marks. Now venues from Hurst shingle bank, Milford, right down to Bournemouth beaches all produce Undulate Rays. A good target size would be a 10lb fish, with anything over 15lb a specimen.
Blonde Rays Raja brackyura
I fish April – Oct for this species, but Blonde Rays are very rare from our shores, they occasionally turn up at Hurst shingle bank and Bournemouth beaches, best baits are any fish baits, Squid, Sandeel, Mackerel. I have only every caught one from our local beaches, so any size Blonde Ray is a good one in my books, but the species can grow big, so I would say 8-10lb a specimen from our beaches. The way to distinguish a Blonde Ray from a Spotted Ray (as they do look very similar) is that on a Blonde Ray the spot’s cover the whole fish and continue right to the edge of the wing tips, on a Spotted Ray the spots stop about an inch from the edge of the wing tips.
Hopefully by reading this article you will have found it interesting and hopefully help you to catch a few Rays from our shores!
Adam Wells - Noble's Fishing