With strong NE winds forecasts, gusting up to 40 mph, we knew it wasn’t going to be the most pleasant of nights. As the time approached I re-checked tides, precipitation and any amendment to those winds and opted for a comfortable mark that would have the wind off our backs or at least cross-off shore most of the night. The final destination we choose was Chesil beach. Some of the summer species had started to show so a varied mixed bag was likely. Our target being rays, and in particular the blonde ray. This year both of Rob Stammas and I have caught small eyed, spotted, undulate and thornback rays. For the complete full set we need a blonde and sting ray each before the years out. To achieve that would be something and if we did, then a trip north to try for the ultimate set that includes a common skate might have to be organised. Well that was the plan, but the hardest one for most, including us, would be the sting ray.
Blondes are being increasingly caught year round along the Dorset coastline, not that they are common but the last couple of years we had seen them in the months that they weren’t present in years gone by.
Less than an hours drive away for us, we generally fish Chesil fairly often but both haven’t been that way for some time, this got the excitement going. Gear loaded and on our way by 5pm we were just in time for rush hour. A journey that on average takes 45 minutes is now going to take us an hour an half. After all the planning for the conditions we forgot about the traffic we would hit on the mid week drive! Oh well, our plan was to arrive early to fish over low, the flood, then high and the start of the ebb, so we had time to spare.
As soon as we arrived it was a race to get the first bait out. Competitiveness isn’t the word. I have been known to bait a couple of rigs up at home to save a couple of vital minutes upon arriving, to have that first bait out. Once we both had 2 baits, sat out as far as we could cast then the feathers came out. Fresh mackerel is a quality bait, so if they were there then I wanted one. It didn’t take long until we had some on the beach and a decent size too. Coming in ones and twos they were mainly 35cm plus with specimens of over 38cm as well. It was encouraging that we had found some, not just for fresh bait but also a few for the table. Rob wasn’t slow to add a third, fourth and finally fifth bait rod out!
Well why not if the conditions allow. Maximum chance of success with a variety of cocktail baits from sand eel, squid, mackerel, peeler, cuttle fish, worm and squid. No half measures here!
Apart from the mackerel, the day light period was pretty slow. Leaving baits out for up to 40 minutes and them coming back untouched, we didn’t loose faith. The rays can turn up pretty much anytime. Certain people prefer certain tides and stages of that tide, but I hadn’t built up that bank of knowledge for this exact location and haven’t figured out any specific patterns yet.
As soon as it got dark, that change of light, a favourite for me and should be for every angler, I noticed a little movement on one of my rods. I started to approach the rod rest and as I was doing so the rod arched over and started taking line from my loosely set drag, a classic ray style bit. Rod in hand, drag tensioned whilst trying to grip the spool with some fingers from the rod holding hand, I walked backwards at the same time to try and aid setting the hook. The fish was putting up a great account for itself, not wanting to come in easy, then kiting left across my other lines when in close. Rob, at the waters edge, informed me it was a small eyed ray. Not the target but a welcome sight non the less and hopefully the start of things to come. Quickly weighed (7lb 4oz) and photographed it was returned safely and swam off to fight another day.
Before I had chance to clip the next baited up snood on, my other rod, without warning was spewing off line. Same as before, tightening the drag, whilst walking back to keep the tension on, I was in to another. This one felt better and really fought hard. Once at the waters edge though I could see it was a spotted ray and at half the size. These fish really pack a punch, pound for pound. Once again weighed (3lb 7oz), photographed and quickly returned. I was now down to having no long distance ray baits in the water, a quick turn around of baited snoods were cast out in case this was a small window of opportunity.
Baits back out and fishing again, I decided to bait up some extra hooks to keep on top of any busy periods. It was then whilst I was content everything was in order that the line on one of the rods started to drop. That rod had a 6 foot up and over on, so it gives enough time with minimum tension on, for a fish to pick up the bait and move it before I see anything. Slack line retrieved until I had a little tension on the lead, I paused in case it had dropped the bait and to give it chance to get a proper hold on the bait. Then the line slackened again and I quickly wound to tension and struck into it. Another solid weight. Kiting left and right, whilst giving decent kicks. Could this be what we were after? After a brief fight I had it at the waters edge and it was another small eyed. Not the target but, a lovely fish anyway and this brought me up 3 – 0 on the rays to Rob. This one came in slightly smaller than the first at 6lb 10oz.
Rob had a flurry of strap congers, dogfish, pouting and a lovely red gurnard through out the night. I added a huss for a little more variety and at 0200-ish we called last cast on one of the rods and wouldn’t bait up of the others. With in the next half an hour I had packed my kit away and was waiting on Rob. He had only one rod left out whilst packing and then noticed something picking away at his bait. He picked it up hoping for that last chance but expected another dog or strap. It then lunged forward, ray style. I headed down to the waters edge to help out. Hoping he had a ray on, as it could be a quiet drive home, I awaited eagerly. This was another feisty one putting up the fight of its life. It stayed low in the water up until the last moment, leaving us in anticipation.
Surfacing a few meters out was a spotty ray, with a great mosaic covering of spots. Once ashore, Rob had a beaming smile, not wanting to be a ray blanker that night. This one brought the scales to 3lb 10oz, with the biggest spotty of the night I was happy for him. These fish have incredible power in the water, if only double figure ones were possible. After a picture we quickly finished packing and headed home. All in all a great session, no target achieved but getting out and getting a hand full of fish each cannot be complained about. Until next time that blonde is going to have to wait.
With Robs itch not truly scratched he was back out a few nights later on the rays. The tide and conditions aligned for a rock session that might just hold a few. What started out as a quick four hour session soon turned into an all nighter. With nothing over the first two hours and the tide not doing what he thought it would, it was like a switch had been flicked and the bites kept coming keeping him busy until sunrise. Tallying up a total of 3 undulates up to 12lb 6oz, a hand full of straps, One decent fish that cut him off on the close ledge and a screaming bite that he never connected with. This certainly made up for the previous session and left him satisfied, be it only for the short term I expect.