Also known as Small-eyed Ray ( Raja microocellata)
The opportunity recently arose, to take a trip south to the surf beaches of Southern Ireland, in search of Painted Ray. My beach-angling buddy, Andrew Wolsey agreed to join me on my quest, and with some hasty preparation in place, we were on our way, on another fish-hunting adventure.
On arrival, we wasted no time in putting the gear together, but it soon became apparent that a heavy presence of weed would destroy any chance of holding a bait in the area long enough to tempt anything. The prospects appeared grim in my bid to find the ray species I longed for and dreamt of catching for so many years.
We talked about the possibility of other venues, and although rays appeared from time to time on these back-up marks, it would be considered a long shot! I decided to stay put for another hour or so, as I have seen beaches in Kerry clear themselves of weed quite quickly with a change in tidal strength or direction. Finally, just as the sun set over the horizon, the weed presence diminished sufficiently, allowing the clipped down sandeel and grip-lead to remain stationary, hopefully long enough for something large to home in on the scent trail.
It wasn’t until the sun had set well beyond the horizon when the tip of the Abu Atlantic gave a small nod. I decided to leave it and see if the bite developed. Fifteen minutes passed, before the rod tip nodded once again and bent over, moving almost half a metre and staying put! A textbook ray bite if ever I saw it. Sometimes it pays to be patient.
Lifting into the fish with steady pressure to set the hooks, the fight was surprisingly powerful. These rays have an amazing turn of speed; so much so that on several occasions, I thought the fish had shook the hooks, only to find it swimming towards me faster than my multiplier could retrieve! Walking back up the beach kept contact with the fish.
With my headlamp focused on the point of action in the surf, I could see it was a Painted Ray, and a female at that. This was a good sign, as with most elasmobranches, the females are usually larger and weigh much heavier. Instantly, the three hundred mile drive seemed more than worthwhile! In the weigh sling, she pushed the scales round to eleven pounds. Absolutely elated to say the least, and another species added to my list of fish over specimen weight.
The night temperature was dropping fast, and this was turning into one of the coldest beach sessions I have endured, but with my new found species, I could not have cared less. A specimen on my first attempt, all we needed now was for Andrew to follow suit!
It was another three hours before Andrew took a hit, and as we gathered in the surf, headlamps shining in unison, a second female Painted Ray broke through the water table and was gently eased safely ashore. Andy held his breath while the scales settled, and his huge, cheesy grin spoke volumes. At ten pounds and four ounces, she was specimen number two, absolutely fantastic.
We persevered until 2am, and landed another Painted Ray each, males this time. Again, similar to most ray species, although smaller, they fought so much harder than the females, spectacular fun. Between the rays, coalfish, dogs and a bonus three-pound Pollack kept us busy.
There have been many species that I have targeted over the years, some of which, it has to be said were simply novelty factor, to fulfil a challenge of finding that species above specimen weight. Painted Ray are different. They are wonderful fish to target, great to look at, and not too bad at kicking back on the beach-caster. There is something extremely satisfying in ray fishing, the wild surroundings, the relaxed atmosphere, a rod buckling over when a bait is taken, the commencing battle and of course, waiting to see the prize break through the surf table. I am hooked and want more. If God spares me, I will be back again later this year for another shot at this extremely addict-able and delightful species.
On this occasion I used my Abu Atlantic 484 rod and Penn 525 Mag reel. At 15’4 in length, the rod could be held high, helping to avoid the rafts of weed that pestered us at the beginning of the session. Using this and the 525 combination, the kit casts extremely well, and with 50lb braid straight through, there was no shock leader knot to gather weed. Once the weed had cleared for the second session, I reverted back to 15lb nylon with a sixty pound B/S shock leader.
The end rigs were alternated between single snood paternosters and pulley rigs, and both worked well. Using single snoods allowed maximum casting range should it be required, but with sizeable sandeel baits, it was necessary to fish with a two-hook Pennell for greater hook-ups. Hooks used were Partridge Salt-water Specials, size 3/0, a perfect size for sandeel-mackerel-crab cocktails.