Targeting Painted Ray from the shore
For the past three seasons I have been lucky enough to target and land specimen Painted Ray from the Cork Coastline. They can be quite “hit or miss” at times but we have always managed to tempt a couple of specimens (over ten pounds in weight) over a weekend session. This is in no small way due to local knowledge generously shared by my good friends Sid Kennedy and Ross Macklin.
Towards the end of last year, a call from Sid let me know that rays were making an appearance and a hastily organised plan was soon hatched. Andrew Wolsey would join me as usual and with everything “good to go” we found ourselves en-route to southern shores. We arrived late afternoon but the squally showers and strong gusts made angling difficult on the usual beach marks. The heavy weather had churned up quite a lot of weed which also made angling almost impossible.
However, further along the coast and in the lee of the headland, conditions were superb, with temperatures pleasant enough that simply jeans and a sweatshirt were enough to remain warm throughout the night and into the early hours!
Casting clipped-down sandeel and eel-crab cocktails one hundred yards plus, rod-tips soon nodded accordingly and we were into our first fish of the session. I managed some sizeable Dogfish but the lads cruised ahead, landing not only our target species we sought but some easily managing to break the Irish specimen barrier of ten pounds. Maybe I was trying too hard on our first night, but landed Dogfish, Coalfish and Codling and three perfect little Painted Rays, unfortunately all very small. By this stage Andy had three specimens and quite justifiably looked pretty smug!
The inclement weather during daylight hours would make angling almost impossible, but with a fair forecast for the afternoon ahead, winds began to ease and we decided to venture onto the beach. Whiting and Coalfish showed, along with an immaculate “schoolie” Bass that was quickly photographed and released. By half tide (dropping) and just as I began to imagine the scenario of not finding a specimen on this particular trip, my rod-tip nodded and held over with steady pressure. This is the text book bite indication of a sizeable ray, making off with my peeler crab-sandeel cocktail.
Setting the hooks, I could feel the ray scurrying across the sea bed, using the tide to work its way along the shoreline. I love targeting this exciting species from the shore, one of our few species that give a great account on balanced beach gear, sometimes even taking line off the reel. Eventually this large female broke the surface through the surf’s water table, and in the light of the headlamp, I guided it into the safety of shallow water. At well over twelve pounds, she was easily a specimen, and with a quick measurement, photograph and fisheries tag in the wing extremity, I guided her out into deep-water to run the gauntlet of the commercial nets.
As the evening continued, and the tide ebbed, our beach session grew extremely busy, and Sid, Andrew and I easily managed our specimen quota, landing over twenty rays between us, many in the double-figure bracket.
With two sessions from three fulfilled, we climbed back into our bivvies’ for some much-needed kip. Andrew declined the early morning tide on the final day, needing his beauty sleep it has to be said. Sid and I are both beyond that stage now, being older and much uglier not worry about such things, and agreed to grab only three hours shut eye before hitting the dawn tide. Leaving Andy snoring away, we made our way to another one of Sid’s hotspots for my final beach session of the year.
As it transpired, this was the best session of the three, with plenty of ray action, and most fish showing over the magical ten pound specimen barrier. I was kicking myself for not bringing more tags with me. Best fish of the session was a female of slightly below fourteen pounds to one of my sandeel baited Abu Atlantics, and a personal best for me. Bearing in mind the Irish record is a tad over seventeen pounds, these were quality fish indeed. The larger females really kick back and certainly get the adrenaline pumping.
A quick tally-up showed that between three anglers, over three tides, we managed more than sixty rays landed, twenty of which were specimens and seventeen having received a fisheries tag for posterity! All fish were released. What an amazing session.
Standard beach gear is sufficient, with a rod and reel capable of taking the pressure of controlling a decent ray, prising it off the sea bed and “bullying” if needs be in the tidal flow. I use a pair of Abu Atlantics 15’ teamed up with the rugged Penn Mag 525’s for a perfectly balanced set up.
65lb B/S Berkley Crystal braid as mainline, although not entirely necessary, eliminates the need for a shock-leader and knot. I find this handy when there is weed about, as fragments of weed will normally collect on the shock-leader knot and pull the grip lead free. With the non-stretch properties of braid, any bite indication is also extremely dramatic leaving the shore angler under no illusion that a decent fish has attached itself to the hook! Failing that, a good quality mono of 18lb-20lb will easily suffice, coupled with a 60-80lb shock leader.
A robust beach rest will keep the rods in position and protect them from falling onto the sand. One with adjustable legs will lift the rod tips high over the surf tables or help to keep the mainline away from any nuisance surface weed. Don’t forget a headlamp for night fishing.
Although Painted Ray will take standard fish baits, the main choice is good quality large sandeel and or peeler crab. Nip off the head and tail of the sandeel prior to threading on the hook. This will make life easier but also allow attractive scent and juices to escape down tide. Once the eel or cocktail is “hooked”, whip with fine elastic thread to hold the bait in position during a powerful cast, and also for longevity once in the water, as shrimp, crabs and small Whiting will attempt to tear it to shreds!
With such a large bait, I prefer to use a Pulley Rig tied with a Pennell set-up, two hooks, one each end of the bait. It is important that the point of each hook is sharp, and not obscured by the bait.