South coast big-fish enthusiast Steve Harder gives us an insight in to how he tackles the stingray in todays blog post…
As the day’s lengthen and the clocks go forward heralding the arrival of spring, most anglers thoughts begin to turn towards the impending arrival of some of the summer species, such as Black Bream and Smoothounds, that are migrating towards our shores.
However, one species in particular that I have developed an affinity for over the years is the Stingray. These fish are essentially summer visitors to UK shores and can be caught from a number of locations, particularly around the South and South East coasts, from mid to late April through to August or September and I generally begin to target them from early May, at a variety of South Coast marks such as Sowley and Park Shore in Hampshire and from Pagham through to Bognor Regis in West Sussex.
When I first started targeting Stingrays back in the mid to late 1980s, the shore caught record stood at around 51lb 2oz caught from Sowley. This was subsequently beaten in 1991 by fish of 54lb 9oz from North Wales, then increased to 59lb 12oz in 2003 from Whitstable and 67lb 12oz in 2008 from Pagham, although the current record stands at a whopping 78lb 8oz caught in 2015 by Guy Spriggs from Chesil Beach.
My first ever Stingray weighed in at a much more modest 5lb 12oz (from Sowley) and a few years later I’d increased that to 17lb 6oz, which, despite catching many dozens of other Stingers in the meantime, remained my pb until 2013 when I finally managed to push through the 20lb barrier. However, it was always my dream to catch one of the bigger lumps in excess of 40lb that everybody else seemed to be able to catch but me.
So the quest continued and in 2016 I absolutely smashed that target when I finally managed to land one of 67lb 8oz from the Western Solent, a pb I thought I’d never get to beat but, amazingly, followed that up last year with an even bigger one at 71lb 6oz from the Bognor Regis area and to date, I have now been fortunate to land six over 55lb from the South coast’s shores.
An impressive ray at 67lb 8oz
Bigger still at 71lb 6oz!
To target these Rays I use standard beach gear with my rod of choice being a Century Eliminator T900, paired with a Penn 525 loaded up with 18lb Varivas yellow sport line. As always, rods and reels are down to personal choice but despite the potential size of these fish, it’s unnecessary to fish ultra heavy gear and any standard beach rod capable of casting 6oz should be up to the task.
Rig wise, my choice is an up and over running leger tied using 100lb Varivas Heavy Rig Nylon with a 5ft hooklength of 50lb Amnesia, and a single 3/0 or 4/0 Varivas Big Mouth Xtra hook. Despite their size, Stingrays have a relatively small mouth compared to any of the other UK Ray species, so larger hooks are unnecessary. I also never use a pennel rig when targeting Stingers, as they are quite confident feeders and often swallow the hooks right down before you actually notice the bite.
Bait-wise, I usually use 6 or 7 large ragworm all pushed down into a 6 or 7 inch sausage but they can also be caught on Squid, Mackerel and Cuttlefish.
A tray of freshly dug king ragworm and all baited up ready to go!
When the bite comes, it can be anything from a sudden slack line to a full on run pulling the rod tip right over and dragging line off the spool, so it’s essential to make sure your ratchets and drags are set, much the same as you would if fishing for Smoothounds or Tope.
Once hooked they can set off on some pretty spectacular runs, very similar in fact to a decent Smoothound and very often with the more modest sized Stingers, you could be convinced it was a mid double Hound instead. Steady pressure and letting the fish run when it wants will eventually see the fish at the waters edge, which is where the real fun can often begin!
The best thing to do when landing the fish is to take your time and let it beach itself on a wave, then either gently haul it clear of the water on the trace, if it looks small enough to do so without snapping the line, or gently pull it clear by its breathing holes just behind it’s eyes, all the time keeping low and forward of the fish to avoid that tail. They’re not called Stingrays for nothing and they will slash around with that tail trying to stab you, often stabbing themselves in the process.
The business end of a 55lb Stingray… you certainly don’t want that stuck in you!
There’s never any real justification for using a gaff on these fish and I’ve not needed to use one on any that I’ve caught. Once out of the water, if you want to weigh it, a weigh sling is a must in order to support the fish properly, as is a tripod to steady the scales. Never hang them up by their mouth or lift them by their breathing holes as you can cause them serious damage by doing so.
A weigh sling is essential for weighing fish of this size… this 58lb’er is resting on my lightweight Rapala sling but any decent carp or catfish type weigh sling will do.
Some people wrap a wet towel or cloth around the sting to offer some kind of protection but as long as you don’t stand within the swing radius of the tail or lean directly over it, then it can’t sting you. Just be wary and use common sense at all times when handling them but be sure to seek medical attention if one does happen to catch you out. Whilst the sting itself isn’t poisonous, it is covered in a mucus layer containing bacteria that can cause a very nasty infection if you get stabbed and leave it untreated.
Beautiful blue sky and a settled sea – perfect!
Hopefully we’ll have plenty of blue skies and settled weather so we get a good run of them this year…. who knows, I might even get to increase my pb a bit more if I get lucky!