It’s funny how plans come around and can change so quickly. After fishing the Tralee Bay open on Inch strand one Saturday night and getting a fine bass of 55cm (approx 4lb), I had bass fishing firmly on the mind and for good reason. In recent years, bass have appeared in good numbers during March and April. The average size is between 2 and 5lb but the odd double figure fish appears every year. Better still, all you really need is a good supply of lugworm to target them. With a nice few left over from the competition I had decided to fish on Monday morning before the evening shift at work. 

While scrolling through Facebook though, I came across a short video of a specimen undulate ray being released. This got the old neurons firing! A quick message to Darren Ryan and I’d established that the video was a current one and not one from the archives being used to tease Ronan Doherty who was watching closely from behind his desk in Dublin.

Chris getting bent into a good fish

After a quick chat we decided to have a go at the rays instead of chasing bass for the morning. Darren is usually found harassing the shoals of whiting on Arklow but does occasionally head west to chase the rays in Tralee Bay a couple of times a year. We will also be team mates this year heading to Weymouth for the Home Nations as part of Team Ireland so there was plenty of excuses to get out and practice. Not that we needed any convincing! We set off on the short trip to the mark and chat quickly turned to the rays.

We both agreed that it was far too early and that even one ray would be a great result. Obviously Darren had caught the specimen the day before, but it wouldn’t be unusual for there to be a large female in the bay that had stayed over the winter. There was another aspect too.. Darren is a member of the Akios/Inova ‘radicals’ while I am ‘Prostaff’ with Yuki. It was a battle of the brands, but all in good spirit in the March sunshine.

A bit of friendly competition

Upon arriving it was obvious that the tide was really ripping out and some ominous large black shapes were apparent. This is one of them marks where seaweed can completely ruin the fishing. To literally test the waters, we both lobbed out only to be dragged along the beach almost immediately. The second rod was placed firmly back in the stand safe from the weed and run of tide for the time being. Thankfully, after around 30 minutes, the weed and tide slowed allowing us to get both rods in and really have a crack at the rays.

Almost immediately Darren was into a fish and backing along the beach to keep contact with the fish and keep the leader knot from jamming the tip eye of his Airpower rod. I ran over and quickly grabbed a nice male undulate ray of over 6lb. We were buoyed up and the 25 minute casts became 15’s. The care while  baiting up also increased massively too.

Darren was off to a flyer with this male undulate

My rod was next to go and I was quietly delighted to be retrieving a nice bit of weight and when I glimpsed a tail in the surf I was thrilled! That was short lived as a stalk of kelp appeared. Maybe I was hoping too hard for a ray. During my pondering Darren was in again with a slightly bigger male undulate this time coming to large sandeel. After a few pictures I went down to find my line slack only to get a dogfish for my efforts. Darren added a small thornback to his growing tally and his ridiculous grin grew larger!

By now, the wind had come southerly after originally being a stiff easterly. Finally, my rod dipped low and the line began to make its way up against the tide. Using my new Yuki Bosforus 4.5m I was able to take up the slack and retrieve the angry undulate  of between 8 and 9lb without too much grief from the fine weed that had started to return. Next up was Darren with another undulate approaching 7.5lb and his best of the day. We honestly couldn’t believe it and the early arrival of these magnificent rays is surely a great sign for the year ahead. 

A good indication of why the rays are in the bay

By now, the weed had began again in earnest and some sort of a snag appeared to be uncovered which twice cut Darren off. Approaching last cast termitory I had a solid bite followed by a very odd rattling type bite. I assumed I had picked up a plastic bag or a length of weed so set about retrieving only to have a few more odd pulls along the way. Darren spotted the confusion and as I walked back with a line of weed he signalled a fish on and began chuckling.

What appeared next was a double shot of a small thornback and a large dogfish on a pennell rig. The dog had taken the large hook and the circle had somehow hooked the ray on the cheek area making for a very odd double decker and explaining how the bite and fight didn’t match the usual. We managed another couple of casts but in truth it was just too full of weed to continue.

Coming in paired up

We headed off with a total of 6 rays landed and 2 dogs. 4 fish each but bragging rights certainly went to Darren on the day with his 4 rays vs my 2 rays and 2 dogs. Top baits on the day were large sandeel and frozen mackerel fished on a mix of loop rigs, up and over rigs and pulley rig. 6 and 7oz grippers were the order of the day to hold bottom in the run. 

It was great to get out chasing a few rays and even better to actually nab a few. Hopefully now they will stay in the bay for the next few months. No stingray on the day but that really was just greedy thinking.  Thanks again to Darren Ryan for the fishing, banter and photographs. With any luck we will get a few more sessions in before the end of the summer. 

Lovely to see so many rays this early in the season
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