Welcome back to my latest fishing adventure. This month I did a few ray trips with one of Ireland’s top boat anglers. Many of you will know or have heard of Dan Lynch, who owns his own tackle shop called ‘Halfway Angling Centre’ in Halfway Co. Cork. Outside of running a tackle shop, he’s also very accomplished on that boat match fishing circuit, having qualified for the Home Nations 15 times and for the World Championships 6 times, including this year. As well as competing, Dan has also managed both the World Championships and Home Nation teams. His managing produced a gold in the Home Nations and 4th in the Worlds to accompany his European team gold medal and bronze individual medal.
With his team being back to back reigning Home Nation champions, they are going for three in a row this year. Milford Haven in Wales is a tough venue so it won’t be easy. He is also fishing the World Championships in Portugal in September. It’s a special year for him as a proud dad because his daughter Sarah is captain of the first u21 team that is fishing the Youths World Championship. His knowledge of boat angling is second to none so if you are ever in the area and looking for advice, just call in and he will put you in the right direction to catch fish. It’s a massive year for him so it was great to get a chance to fish and learn with one of Ireland’s best ever boat anglers.
Over the past few years fishing with Dan, I always peep into his tackle box because it’s full of competition traces and so organised! Because of this, he is able to change set ups quickly to maximise his catch rate of any species and it is something I have learnt from and aim to be as efficient at as Dan is. I always keep a close eye on what he’s using and why he’s using it. I was wondering what tactics he would opt for today, when in the midst of setting up the rods, we all pulled out Shamrock Tackle ‘Animal’ rigs. These are muppet rigs that fish 3 hooks below the lead. My dad and I put on orange while Dan put on the green ones.
With the baits out and a flat calm sea on a winters morning we sat back talking about the target species for the coming few months which includes the porbeagle shark, shad and a wreck trip for ling, conger and cod.
As we were filling the fishing calendar, Dan’s rod started to bend. Today we were trying to get some thornback rays. There are usually a few around at this time of year but it can take some effort to find out where they are feeding in the bay, location is everything. As he was playing whatever was on the end of his line, It seemed like a good fish from a number of dives it did. When it came to the surface it was a nice thornback of around 10lb. Not a bad start at all!
Then it was my turn but, to be honest, I thought I was just bringing up the lead until I saw a small ray behind it. As I lifted it into the boat my Dad said it was a spotted ray. It was a new species of fish for me and new species always puts a smile on my face no matter the size! These are few and far between in Ireland so it was a great surprise.
With the rod out it didn’t take long before Dan was bent into another fish, this time he had to tighten the drag a bit, as he was fighting it Dan, with all his experience, called it correctly, it was two thornbacks.
With the fish on board and unhooked safely he held them for a quick photo before putting them back. All rods were re-baited with mackerel and a few hooks tipped with small bits of squid. Dan checked his watch and advised us that the tide was now at the perfect stage for the rays for the next few hours. No sooner had the words passed his lips, both mine and my dad’s rods signalled a bite. With the two rods bending and my dad saying ‘who will be the first up?” I put my Penn fathom 2 speed into low gear and started to wind like a mad thing. Yet still, my dad had his fish up before me.
With my fish coming up I could see another flash underneath. It turned out be my first double shot of the year. No wonder it took longer to land! With the rods and us working hard and a few more double shots my dad pulled in the only treble shot of the day.
With a total of 23 thornback one spotted ray and a handful of dogs we pulled anchor and headed in. Any time you get to go fishing is a bonus and when that trip has so many rays it’s even better. Winter boat fishing can be a cold day on the water so remember to wrap up well and bring your flask.
I’ll leave you with a few tips for fishing for rays from a boat.
+ Life jackets are a must when fishing on any small boat. It only takes a small swell or freak wave to knock you in whilst leaning over to release a fish. Ensure you get a well fitted life jacket with a crotch strap, else it will be next to useless as it rides up over your head.
+ 20/30lb or 30/50lb class rods are typical, which class will depend on depth and strength of tide. A 30/50 may sound incredibly heavy for a ray, but you only need a few knots of tide running and a ray to curl it’s wings up and you’ll soon be glad of it.
+. We use a combination of Penn and Fin-nor reels in 2 speed options. These reels can be handy when using heavy leads in deep water or when the tide is running hard and you have a good fish on, as you can drop the gearing which slows down the line retrieval rate but increases the torque (which actually gets it in quicker under a load).
+ Braid really is the way to go in deep tidal water from a boat, as it cuts through the tide and you can get more line on a smaller more compact reel. A 40lb 8 strand braid is a good all-round line to start with.
+ Leads must sit hard on the bottom for rays, so err on a few ounces more than seems necessary so you don’t get any lift.
+ Ray are not fussy eaters and will gladly take nearly all fish baits. Mackerel, herring, squid and sand eel are my top baits and mixing them can be an excellent option.