CATCHING RAYS

Very closely related to skate are the rays. Although they do not reach such a size, they are very similar in appearance. The most common ray is the thornback, which can weigh over 30 lb, although rarely exceeds 20 lb. Fish of over 40 lb are regarded as specimens (females are always longer than the males). Other rays encountered by the sea angler are the stingray, the blonde, the smalleyed or painted, the spotted or homelyn, the undulate and the cuckoo. Fish such as the eagle and electric ray are caught very rarely by the rod and line angler. Apart from the stingray and the thornback, rays have a localized distribution. The method is the same for catching all the species.

Much lighter tackle can be employed to gain the maximum sport. A lively, hollowglass sea rod is quite adequate, except in deep water or in fast tides, where very heavy leads are necessary. If more than 1lb of lead is to be used, select a 30 lb rod. For fishing from a dinghy, the rod should be 66jft, but a 6|7ft rod is generally better for charter boat use. Because relatively light rods are employed, it is pointless to add massive, weighty reels. If you like multipliers, choose the Mitchell 624 or the Penn Long Beach 60 or 65.

The hook

The weakest link in ray tackle is the hook. This must be very strong or the ray will grind it to powder. Thick wire, stainless steel hooks of the kind considered too rank for general fishing are ideal, as long as they are sharpened. Large hooks are seldom required because rays have relatively small jaws, and therefore swallow moderate baits more quickly than they could a bigger helping that needs to be crunched down to size. The smaller the hook, the sharper it is, and the easier to drive home.

Bait needs careful attention, for it is the key to success. Rays feed on herrings and mackerel, crabs, sandeels, worms and small fishes like blennies and tiny dabs. The common denominator is absolute freshness. It cannot be overemphasized that the bait must be freshly killed or deepfrozen. All rays are extremely sensitive to smell and taste, and ignore any bait that is less than perfect. It pays to collect your own baits or to obtain supplies directly from commercial fishermen.

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