Fishing Methods for Catching Skates and Rays
The smaller rays seem to be pretty much omnivorous, but thorn-backs are particularly partial to sand-eels, which in fact are the best bait for most rays. Crustaceans like hermit crabs are important : lugworm, sand shrimps, and bivalves are also taken. Small fish, in particular the bottom-dwelling ones like dabs and small plaice, are picked up as well. A strip of an oily fish, such as mackerel, is another useful bait.
The big skate are most exclusively fish eaters, preying chiefly on the bottom-swimming species. A 4.5 kg (10 lb)is not too big to be taken, while gurnards and whiting, pouting, small skate, and various species of flat-fish undoubtedly figure prominently on the menu.
A whole mackerel is by no means too big a bait, and if bait fish are plentiful that is what to use. A half mackerel, split from head to tail is more usual, however.
Tackle – Ray
If you are fishing especially for ray – and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it will be thornback that you have in mind -abandon the heavy boat or pier rod and fish with surf-casting gear. Thornbacks can fight very well, running and boring in a manner that one does not usually associate with skate, and the surf-casting tackle gives them a chance to show what they can do.
Tackle – Skate
Big skate vie with conger for the credit of being the toughest of all British sea fish to bring to the. If you are fishing for big skate on one of the classic marks, do not risk the disapproval of the boatman by bringing light gear. The heaviest grade of saltwater rod with a roller tip ring is needed, and your reel, either a deep-water multiplier or a big single-action model, should be loaded with 36 kg (80 lb) Terylene. (I am assuming you are serious about catching a big skate). The lead should be fished above the hook (a running arrangement is preferred). The hook should be on a wire link and should be very strong; the crushing teeth of a big skate are formidable. A should connect the trace to the main line.
Fishing Methods — Ray
If the fish goes to the bottom and stays there, using the pressure of its wings to keep it down, there is no need to strain the rod tip. Get hold of the line between the first ring and the reel and pull it backwards and forwards in a sawing motion. This hardly ever fails to shift the fish. Watch out for the spines when you have landed it.
Fishing Methods — Skate
Skate-fishing does not require much finesse; it is largely a matter of strong tackle, brute strength, and staying power. Since skate are almost exclusively bottom-feeders, it is essential that the bait be on the bottom. For this reason, it is much better to fish from a boat than on the drift. Generally the bait is legered or paternostered. Men who have never caught one sometimes refer to landing a big skate as if all one had to do was haul it up from the bottom. It is true that a skate does not usually run, but it uses the great spread of its wings in conjunction with what tide is flowing to get down to the bottom, and once it is there it is very difficult to shift. A big skate can give a prolonged, exhausting, and exhilarating fight.
Thombacks are pretty generally distributed around the coasts of the British Isles. There are some places where they can be taken in numbers however. I have usually struck these a couple of hundred yards off a sandy shore. Carmarthen Bay, near Tenby, can give excellent fishing for thornback, as can the waters off the Burrow Shore, Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford. There are probably dozens of other spots where local conditions favour the presence of these fish in large numbers.
As for the other species of rays, it is difficult to know what advice to give, since they do not figure much in the angler’s catch — or possibly are not always distinguished from thorn-backs. However, one place from which blonde ray are reported fairly regularly is the Isle of Wight.
Common skate could, I suppose, turn up in most places but specialist fishing for them is almost entirely restricted to Irish waters, and if you want a big skate very badly, you should go to Kinsale, Ballycotton, Dingle, Valentia, or Westport. There are undoubtedly big skate in Cornish waters, but little real fishing for skate is done there — the visitors are more interested in blue shark. L
If you are even harder to please and insist on a white or a long-nosed skate, Westport, Co Mayo, has produced most specimens in recent years.