Species spotlight – Rays

To continue the species spotlight is another popular target, the rays. One of my more regular targets on conventional beachcasting gear, they can be caught almost year round on the island of conditions allow. For the purpose of the article I’ve lumped them all together, there are 4 realistically catchable species and 2 that turn up very occasionally that I’m yet to encounter.
Thornback rays are by far the most common species found and encountered around Anglesey and North Wales. They are found close to the shore somewhere almost right through the year, however they turn up in biggest numbers from February to May, then again around September and October. The early part of the year I am usually fishing deeper rock marks around rhosneigr. Finding a gap in the weather can often yield several fish in a single session, one memorable session I had 8 fish to 8 and a half pound, although the fella who beat me to the mark had 20! I believe that the fish are so concentrated this time of year to either breed or lay their eggs. Once over they start to spread out and can be caught almost anywhere on the island that you are casting onto open clean ground. I have seen reports of them caught from the beaches in April and May but so far I haven’t been able to establish a pattern through my own attempts. Summer months catches seem to be almost accidental but they are around, seemingly at shallower rock marks, again casting onto open sand. The later run sees fish caught from both deep marks and beaches. While not the numbers as in the early part of the  year, catches are pretty reliable. November to February catches become occasional again but possible in the right conditions. My preferred conditions for thornies are calmer the better, certainly off the beaches. At deep water marks a bit of chop or swell doesn’t hurt but 3-4ft + swells and murky water seem to put the rays off. Through my catches of the last couple of years, I actually feel more confident fishing clear water for thornbacks. When I target them is entirely mark dependent, certain places fish better on neap tides, others springs but I definitely would try for them at night rather than daytime.
A tough call for the next most common, but I think it is arguably the spotted ray. Not the biggest of rays, a 2lb fish is good for this area, but from certain marks they are a reliable catch through late spring and summer. The odd one is caught in amongst the thornbacks early on, but mid April onwards to late August seems to see better numbers caught. While they do venture into shallow water I’m yet to encounter one in the intertidal like the thornbacks, so I tend to focus on deeper marks in the Trearddur bay and Rhosneigr areas. Like thornbacks I feel confident catching spotties in calmer conditions. I tend to target them in daylight as they seem to feed quite happily, and though I’m sure they would feed at night, the marks I find them tend to be crawling with dogfish at night, and I’d rather wait 3 hours for 1 ray bite than have doggies robbing the baits every ten minutes. The best point in the tide seems to be as the current is picking up or slowing down to about half full strength, so around 1.5 and 4.5 hours into the flood or ebb, but again it is mark dependent.
Small eyed rays are the next most abundant, while they are around there can be big numbers of them, but this is often for fairly short periods of the year. The most reliable time I’ve found for them is from September to early November they run the west coast beaches. I’m convinced they also run the beaches early in the year in April and May, but despite Paul catching one in April a couple of years ago, attempts since have been thwarted mostly by the weather. They can be a bit picky with the conditions. Too calm or too rough seems to put them off, if you turn up at the beach and there white water as far as the eye can see I would forget it. There is a chance but the conditions make fishing difficult and uncomfortable so I would save my bait for when the swells are between 1 and 3ft high. As usual on shallow beaches night fishing is more reliable but they are caught in the daytime also. I have also caught the odd small eyed from deeper rock marks but not regular enough to say for definite when and where to target them. As their name suggests their eyes are smaller, about half the size, of those on other ray species, and the wing markings are difficult to confuse with anything else.
Blonde rays are the most uncommon of the realistically target-able ray species around​ Anglesey. Realistic because they are there, and a handful are caught, or at least reported each year and this year I was fortunate enough to catch one myself, however small it was! I have been fishing mostly around Trearddur bay, but I have seen and heard off the occasional capture further south at Rhosneigr. It’s hard to try and advise on the back of one catch but the information I have read and been told suggests that bigger tides are better and night fishing may produce better fish. I imagine calmer conditions are better also, if only from a safety point of view at least. Small ones are distinguishable from spotted rays by having numerous small eye spots on the wings, and the black spots run to the very edge of the wing while on spotties the spots stop a little short of the very edge.
The other two species are cuckoo ray and stingray. I can think of one example of each being caught on Anglesey since I started fishing, which was a while ago! With a lot of planning and preparation stingrays may be a viable target for someone willing to travel, on or two are caught around Pwllheli and Llanbedrog each year, however I think visiting Barmouth and Fairbourne (where a one time UK shore record was caught) in mid Wales would further enhance a keen anglers chances. Certainly one of my future missions, it didn’t quite happen this year. Cuckoo rays tend to be found in deeper water than most of our accessible rock marks give way to. According to studies they do venture inshore for short periods of the year, and the presence of their empty egg cases washed up on beaches confirms this. However it would take many hours to find when and where they appear. One thing for sure if I do happen across one accidentally I’ll be writing everything down to see if it happens again!
My usual ray fishing gear is 4-8 oz beachcasters with medium size multiplier or fixed spool reels. 15 to 18lb line with a shockleader for casting up to 7oz is ample, with the weights on the heavy side to gain distance and combat the tide. I have caught rays on my bass rod and flapper rigs but in general I’ll use long pulley rigs (3ft hooklength) or up and over rigs around 3-5 ft hooklength to make sure the bait is nailed to the seabed where the rays are most likely to find it. Hooklength I’ll use 30lb amnesia usually if theres a chance of bass, occasionally using 60lb as instead of teeth rays have bony sandpaper like pads for crushing prey, and they make short work of light hooklengths. Bait wise I would never go ray fishing without sandeel or squid. Usually double sandeel or sandeel squid wrap does the trick but if bites aren’t coming whole squid on its own can catch the odd fish. Mackerel and bluey also have produced for me and I usually find myself alternating baits until I find what’s working on the day. Rays also love whiting so I might be worth catching a few on a flapper and filleting them ready for the session. Better still, if you see a whiting bite on your carefully prepared sandeel bait leave it out there, if not a ray, Huss and congers also have a taste for whiting. Just resist the temptation to retrieve too soon as you may rip the whiting away from the bigger fish before it gets hooked.
Hope this gives an insight into Anglesey ray fishing for those wanting to catch their first, or trust them more regularly. They are slow growing and reproducing so it would be great to see as many as possible returned. Cheers for reading!
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