Spring Time Rays

Blond Ray

After my stingray hunt last year, this year I had set myself a goal to catch a few different species Ray, of which there are several that reside in the Bristol channel, the most common are Thornbacks, Blond Rays are possibly the second most abundant during the right time of year. The other types are Spotted Rays, which are quite a small species, Undulate Rays and Small-Eyed Rays, the latter two are more elusive, certainly to me!

A couple of years ago we put the big boat in earlier than usual, which would have been around the first week in April and I remember catching a couple of big blonde rays on a small sandbank out in the channel. I find it amazing how you remember these things when you get your game face on. So as soon as April came around and the tides and the weather had settled enough to put my “little” boat out, I was off, zooming about trying to locate the GPS point where I had caught them before.

April is a known time on the Bristol channel for shore fishing at certain points for blonde rays, the theory is that they come in closer to the shore at this time for spawning? However, the documentation says they should spawn between February and August, so maybe? Or maybe it’s just a time that they concentrate on certain marks, I really don’t know. Though it does seem that if you want a big one April is the time of year to go.

By far the best bait for Blond Rays are Launce or Greater Sandeel, these however can be tough to get hold of sometimes, luckily, I had a few packs in the back of the freezer thanks to Baitbox. The other bait they really like is squid, unwashed squid is the best as it has a good scent trail which lasts longer in the water. Obviously, you can have the best of both worlds by using a combo of both, but sometimes there is a preference, so I always start with Launce on one and Squid on the other.


Once I found the spot I wanted I motored up-tide and lobbed the anchor out, where I was fishing wasn’t really that deep at round 35ft on a dropping tide, which might seem quite shallow to most ardent boat anglers, but that’s where I thought the fish were, and if not I could always move deeper as the tide ebbed away.
The speed of the tide in the Bristol Chanel can be a shock if you’re not used to it, and it can also be weird with funny tidal streams. Weird in that where you would expect it to be slow it is not and where you would think it would be fast it can be slow depending on the state of tide.

Trial and error have taught me what speed the tide need to be for ray fishing, and I work that out my stopping the boat near where I want to fish and seeing the “speed over ground” as I drift. Anything between 1 and 1.5 mph is about right, anything more than that and for some reason you just don’t catch them, you can catch other fish at this rate however, but not rays. To make matters stranger, the flow rate will change during the tide. What this means is that when you first anchor it can be perfect but within 20 mins it could be too fast – it is all one big learning curve for me.

Sometimes, however, I get it right and the first trip out to the old spot I managed a good Blonde on the first cast! Which was a great first trip. I also managed a couple of Thornies and a Spotted Ray. All of which were caught during the first hour and half of getting to the spot before the tide got too much for them, I think.


The second trip was much better, armed with squid and launce, I knew I needed to get to the spot a bit earlier to make the most of the medium tide before it got too fast. I like to Up-tide on the channel its simply the best way to present a bait and keep it tight on the bottom. I nearly always use a long pully rig again to keep the bait tight on the bottom where the rays feed. The rods I have been using might be a bit strange! Currently, I have been using a couple of Westin W3 Powershad in 3XH, the casting weight for these is up to 180g so that more than enough with a big lead and some squid on a gentle lob! They also have quite a sensitive tip, and so far, they have been ideal for what I need on the channel.
I couple these with a couple of ABU 6500s and 50lb braid and let out as much line as I need to hold the bottom in the tide.


I wacked the first one out one side of the boat with squid on a pennel rig, I always put one out with squid as it’s a great bait for Rays, and if there are some Cod about, it’s one of the best baits for them on the channel. The other rod was put the other side with a whole Launce, this one was cast into slightly deeper water just on the back of the sandbank. This is the one I expected to go as the Rays tend to lay at the back of the bank as the tide runs out. Fishing an area like this I like to put the bait in an area of different flow and the change of depth at the back of the bank will cause this.

True to form I was just sorting the mess in the boat out and the rod at the back of the back pulled over and then went slack as a big Ray made off with the bait! Blonde Rays are a funny fish to fight, sometimes they swim against the tide, which is brilliant, and it gets them to the boat quickly. Sometimes they tangle up and it really is like pulling a bin bag in against the tide which is a pain! Most of the time for some reason they come to the surface and flap along! That what this one did, and it was soon in the net, a good fish I think was around 15-16lbs, which was a good start.


I put the rod straight back out and 5 mins later I had another smaller one around 10lbs. Nothing on the squid rod at all so I swapped the bait over and fished both rods on whole Launce. Which turned out to be a stupid move, as almost as soon as I’d re-baited and cast it out, the first rod was off, and it was obviously a very good Ray. This one started by coming up to the surface then started being awkward as the tide caught it and brought it round the back of the boat. It was a good 20lber, and I eventually managed to net it as the tide increased making it a bit difficult, but I got it in the bottom of the boat just intime to catch the second rod before it disappeared into the deep with another big Ray hooked up on it.


Now there was a dilemma, I’d already got a big Blonde in net on the bottom of the boat, and now I had another similar sized one catching the tide at the back of the boat. What to do? You can’t get two in the net at the same time with the tide, and it was awkward getting the first one out of it while trying to hold the hooked one away from the tide at the back of the boat, but eventually I managed it and swiped the second one in as well! Interestingly one was a male and one was a female, both probably around the 20lb mark! Can’t be bad!


After a couple of photos, I flopped them back in and watched them splash off like they always do. I was chuffed. Time for a quite tea then an untangle of everything before re-baiting and casting out. However, I could tell the tide was getting a bit strong, I usually judge it by how fast debris and bubbles on the surface go past the boat. Unfortunately, I was proved right, and I didn’t get anything else. So, it was time for move to get out of the flow. I moved a little closer to the shore, where the headland would slow the tide a bit and as soon as I got settled, I stated getting a few bites again, this time however it was a mixture of Dogfish and small Thornback Rays. I think the Blonde Rays prefer it a bit further out but unfortunately the tide was too strong where they were, and I had to be back at the slipway 3 hrs after low water to get in safely. Alas that is the nature of sea fishing, which means you need to maximise the “feeding window” and next time I’m taking two nets!