Also known as Small-eyed Ray ( Raja microocellata)
My one and only experience with Painted Ray was many years ago during my match angling days. The event happened to be a Master-Angler shore match in Cork, and during the evening session, a handful of these fabulous creatures turned up to the guys that had greater experience and local knowledge. On that particular, flat-calm evening, it was the “big chuckers”, the anglers that were able to put a reasonable size bait over the horizon that found the quality fish.
Unfortunately, I did not fall into that category at that time, and watched with envy as an angler several pegs to my left guided a sand-coloured “dustbin lid” in with the surf. This was one of those moments when I realised that my desire to catch certain species far out-weighed my desire to win competitions. On that night over fifteen years ago, I vowed to return to the shores of County Cork and Kerry, with the necessary gear and ability to use it to the full, and hopefully find one of these stunning, warmer water species for myself.
Between those early days and now, I had the opportunity to run several casting events over grass, and met casting legends such as Sean Neill and Andrew Gormley, and the guys from The Ulster Casting Club. After some expert casting tuition from Andrew and the lads, I cracked the two hundred yard barrier to my utter astonishment! They presented me with an official certificate, two hundred yards and six inches, which I cherish to this day. With advice on reel position, hand spacing and stance, my twenty minute lesson added sixty yards to my cast!
The two hundred yards was a one-off it has to be said, but I can now confidently cast a baited clip-down paternoster one-forty plus on most occasions if required, usually well within the rays target area. With this added “string to my bow”, all I had to do was get off my back-side and go exploring!
As the years rolled on, other species and venues always seemed to take precedence, and my passion for Painted Rays faded, until this winter, that is! My constantly reliable angling mate Sid Kennedy gave me a call, having found a mark that was producing some sizeable fish. His statement was reasonably blunt but perfectly clear. “If you want your Painted, get your arse down here now, no argument”. I did what I was told! Andrew Wolsey agreed to join me on this mini-adventure, and by the following afternoon, we were well on our way to the GPS mark Sid had forwarded by text.
On arrival, his GPS mark was about three hundred yards off-shore, which he thought was quite witty. I reckon he was hoping I took it literally, leaving two less specimen hunters in Ireland to worry about! Wasting no time in putting the gear together, 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 our bid to find the species I longed for and dreamt of catching so many years ago.
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.
Whist chatting with Sid, but always aware of my starlight-lit rod tips in my peripheral vision, my Abu Atlantic gave a small nod. I decided to leave it and see if the bite developed. Fifteen minutes passed, but unfortunately there seemed no further interest. As I thought about refreshing the sandeel bait, 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 twice, with steady pressure to set the hooks, the fight was extremely enjoyable, especially as it has been so long since I have had the opportunity to target anything decent on beach tackle. These rays have a surprising 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!
Nothing until sun-set, then challenge achieved
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, but more importantly, I realised my promise I made to myself many years ago on this very beach.
A smaller, but harder fighting male
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!
Our second Irish Specimen on the night session
Always...safe handling and careful release
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.
A tag added, for future data
The bitter cold and long drive south finally caught up with me and I had no option but to crash out in the bivvy, totally exhausted but completely satisfied at our success, and we still had a second night to go!
Males have patches of sharp spines each side
Eye patterns are amazing
Day two and the conditions looked even better than the previous day. The sea state was flat calm, normally the perfect scenario for ray fishing, and better still, no sign of the rafts of weed from the previous evening. The winter sun shone warm and bright, and apart from a half-hearted attempt at plugging for bass, Andy and I lazed on the bed chairs like two aged crocs gathering heat and conserving energy for the night session ahead.
We took this opportunity to re-assess and fine-tune the rigs amidst mugs of tea and standard issue Ulster fries! Our only concern was the dramatic drop in temperature, possibly severe enough to send most species further out into deeper water, it really was that cold. Only time would tell.
As the sun set, Mother Nature treated us to a dramatic and fiery back-drop with conditions seemingly perfect. I could hardly wait to drop a sandeel Pennell rig out amongst the waiting rays. However, throughout session two, as it transpired, and is so often the case, our target species failed to show. This was extremely disappointing, especially as we were given such a fabulous taster of how beach angling can be when a plan falls into place.
There were “coalies” and “dogs” to break the monotony of course, and a bonus three-pound pollock, but with every pull on the rod tip, the hope was that another Painted Ray had picked up the bait. It wasn’t to be, and I really think the extreme cold snap had done its damage.
But how could we complain? If I had been offered prior to our trip, the end result of four Rays landed, including two specimens, I would have broken your arm off for it! We fished the tide down to low water, then back up to high, and by 2am, called it a night. A good kip in the bivvy was called for, with a fresh run home the following day.
There have been many species that I have targeted over the years, some of which 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 ensuing 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 addictive 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. The pulley rigs are primarily designed for “snaggy” areas, but Sid reckoned the added movement in a pulley rig gave rays confidence to take the bait. An interesting thought.
Hooks used were Partridge Salt-water Specials, size 3/0, a perfect size for sandeel-mackerel-crab cocktails. The impact shields from Gemini were as always, fool-proof. They can handle a large 3/0 hook; just about, and always keep the snood clipped throughout the cast, never failing to release on impact, such a fabulous accessory for distance fishing.