At the start of this year, like every other year, I set myself a few angling goals to achieve by the end of the year. One of those goals was to catch my first sting ray in Irish waters. Up until recent years I didn’t even know we got them in our waters, until I seen posts on Facebook of lads catching them in Tralee Bay, Co. Kerry and I knew then I had to get one of these beasts on the end of my line.
My first port of call was seeking local knowledge from the lads in Tralee Bay Sea Angling club. I was told they were holding a big competition called ‘Tag a ray in Tralee bay’ and that it would be a good time to get down and get talking to lads who have caught them, find out what tackle they were using and I’d also have a good chance of getting one myself. The options were to fish from a few different shore venues or from one of the charter boats. I opted to fish the boat, as I’d fished the shore venues a few times before and been plagued with weed if the wind conditions weren’t right and I wanted the best chance of a good days fishing. The aim of the competition was to catch as many ray as we could, tag them and release them. Adding the competition element meant that many angler would turn up and enjoy a great days fishing and at the same time there was a chance of winning a few quid. Target species were Tope, Undulate, Painted, Thornback and Sting Ray.
Myself and the brother James arrived onto Fenit harour early Saturday morning and met with my good pal John Marshal who was with Eugene Farrelly a local man with a wealth of knowledge of the bay and was to show us the ropes. We met up with the skipper and made tracks for the first mark. We had 3 other anglers aboard who seemed to be all well versed in catching the 4 different types of ray caught in Tralee Bay so I was in good hands.
We got to our first mark and no sooner had the anchor set, one of the lads was into a fish. A sting ray of about 15lb. I finally got to see my target species in the flesh. Eugene demonstrated how to remove the hook in the safest way for the fish and of course for ourselves. Attached to their tail is a barbed spine with a serrated edge and sharp point, coated with venom, so it’s important to wrap a towel around the barb immediately then your safe to remove the hook. To lift the fish, hold the towel around the barb and put your thumb and index finger in the gills located above the eyes.
We released that fish and within 10 minutes the same guy was into his second fish. Just as that fish was landed we noticed a angler on another boat anchored about 100 yards from us was into a serious fish. His rod was nearly bent in half and the fish seemed to be stripping line from is reel. He got the fish to the surface about 5 times but every time the net came near him he’d take a dive back down. After about 20 minutes he got the fish in the net and even we could tell from our boat it was a monster. The skipper shouted over to ask if we had a scales but none of us did, I wouldn’t mind, I usually never go anywhere without mine but it was in getting tested and certified. This fish was definitely worth weighing so they lifted the anchor and drove back to shore to weigh it and talking to the guy back In the pub he said it maxed out a 55lb salter scales so we will never know how big that one was… Maybe a record breaker.
After that myself, my brother James and my mate John all landed our first stingray and to say we were happy was an understatement. They were only small, mine and James’ about 5/6lb and Johns over 10lb, but it was a start, we were chuffed.
That day we landed about 10 ray. Most in or around low water. As the tide started to rise it got hard to hold the bottom, I had to up my weight to about a pound of lead. We also had a few runs from Tope, but they seemed to be very picky with the bait and none were landed.
We returned to the shore and after dinner and a few pints in The West End pub it was off to sleep in the back of the jeep before another day on the water. The next morning started much the same with everyone hitting fish in quick succession over slack water. We were happy to see a bit of variety on the second day with the first fish being a painted ray falling to Brendan an American fly fishing guide whose first day it was fishing Irish waters. Brendan didn’t know what was about to hit him when he dropped his next bait into the water, his rod doubled over and his ratchet made that screaming sound that to an angler is like a 1 Direction song to a teenage girl. He lifted into the fish and immediately we knew it was a decent fish. A Tope? A specimen Stinger? We rambled on about what it could be for the 10 minutes he fought the fish. Finally the fish broke the surface and everybody on the boat was shocked and amazed to see a huge monkfish gracing the side of the boat. I grabbed the net, scooped him up and struggled to lift it into the boat. Even if I caught nothing else that day I was just privileged to have seen a monkfish being caught on the same boat as me. Seeing the fish swim off after the skipper tagged it and took a quick picture with its capture, was a sight to behold. It was estimated to be over 50lb.
The fishing didn’t end there, Eugene hooked into another stinger of over 40lb and I got myself my second ever sting ray. Over all there was over 20 fish landed on our boat that day, not a bad day at all. We had the four species of ray, a tope and to put the icing on the cake Brendan had the monkfish which made him like a local celebrity back in the pub.
Apart from the craic, the amazing fishing and me catching my target species there was some major conservation work being done at the same time. There was 99 fish landed over the weekend on shore and on the boats with most of them being tagged and all released. Hopefully over the next few weeks ill be back down to Tralee to try catch one of these graceful creatures from the shore and maybe even tip the scales over the 30lb mark for a specimen…