If you want to win the National Lottery, then you must at the very least buy a lottery ticket. Many people waste time fantasising on how they will spend the millions and wish one day it would be them, but then never end up buying a ticket. I have occasionally dabbled with the National Lottery but I like to hedge my bets when trying to catch a variety of species and specimens. With it getting to the end of spring, my mind was on the big stinger lottery.
With all fishing, when setting your sights on a certain species or specimen, the right place at the right time with the right bait is your lottery ticket. As long as your gear is up to it and you have the relevant set up then you’re almost there. Get a few of these tickets and your chances increase tenfold. Maybe it wont happen the first few times or even the first few years, but with the above combination, every attempt is one cast closer to success.
On the south coast, there are a number of marks that throw up stingrays quite frequently. Rob and I had been waiting patiently throughout a long winter and lockdown for our first attempt. Well actually, I had a go a few weeks before. It was way too soon but more of a social. Nine hours passed on that first session with only a dogfish to show for it on my last cast. It could be viewed as an epic failure but in my mind it was one step closer to seeing my first stinger of the year, or you could say I got a scratch card whilst trying to win the lottery.
The build up to our first real attempt was approaching and we were planning the tides to dig for ragworm. A number of areas were considered, with Poole harbour being the most obvious choice as it’s on our doorstep. The bait fridge at home was switched on, a fresh supply of newspaper and cat litter trays prepared in readiness and I was ready to get out to collect the preferred bait.
The digging was hard going. There were not many worms around and the ones we came across were bright green from it still being the breeding season. A couple of sessions were needed before enough bait had been collected for that first session. Just under three pound of rag worm was stored in the bait fridge and if the crabs weren’t bad then that would be enough for two rods. However, just in case, I brought a cool box with frozen peeler, squid and mackerel.
Our chosen location for that chance of a specimen was Sussex. The date was pencilled in on the calendar and the anticipation of what may be was at the forefront of our minds. Having not fished together for a while there was plenty of build up chat. Have we chosen the right mark? Do we have enough bait? Springs or neaps? Building or dropping tides? With so many variables you can begin to over analyse your decisions. Knowing we were ticking the right boxes of time, location and bait, we just needed to get out there.
The day approached and unexpectedly the weather did a last minute turn for the worse. Strong onshore winds would reduce casting distance and sporadic showers would make it unpleasant, but at least when we got there it had deterred the crowds. No one else was on the beach and that gave us the option of setting up wherever we wanted.
Baits went in the water and the chatter began. The wind was holding a bow in the line and small waves were catching it, both making it difficult to detect any small fish or crab activity on the rod tip.
As the chatter flowed too well I checked the time and the baits had already been out for an hour. Big mistake, the chances are that the hooks would be bare from whatever was out there. It was the first cast and generally I do like to leave it a bit longer to see how long a bait lasts, but an hour was far too long.
Back at my tripod, fresh worms were being loaded onto a new snood when I noticed the left hand rod tip pull down. At first it looked like a larger wave catching the line but when it came back up it jerked down again and dropped back with the line falling to the floor. Now that wasn’t a wave.
Rod in hand I wound in the slack and then felt a sudden tightening of line and struck into what felt like a decent weight, followed by a couple of thumps which immediately cast aside any doubts. A quick shout to Rob and he looked back, wondering what I was trying to say against the din of the howling wind. After going over to re-bait and seeing me wind in whilst shouting and gesturing, the penny soon dropped and he was over in a shot. My over kill gear of a century T1000 and 60lb braided main line was no match for the fish, though I did take it easy in case of a hook pull. At one point the fishing started swimming in, making the line feel very light. I soon caught up and we had our first glance of the ray on a wave crest. She looked a beast!
This is where I generally like to play things carefully just in case of a bad hook hold. Using the waves to surf her in, Rob was straight in there, like a pro. Even though this was his and my first attempt at beaching a decent size stinger. He grabbed her in the blowholes and gently eased her up the beach. Wow, just wow. She looked in prime condition, with beautiful lines down her sides and full of life. What an achievement I felt, as a sense of enormous fulfilment rushed over me. This was our first proper trip this year and on the first cast I got one. What are the chances- it just goes back to my philosophy of you have to be in it to win it.
Quickly photographed, she christened the new weigh sling, bringing the scales round to 38lb, though I was a little doubtful of the accuracy. Looking so big and seeing other peoples 50’s and 60’s, we double-checked with a second set of scales. The second set confirmed the first set, which is good, but actually the weight is only a small part of chasing these beasts and I was still truly elated, just to see such an awesome creature at my feet.
This was a great fish for me to complete the common ray species set and with a specimen to-boot. It did cross my mind that I now only need a larger blonde and spotted ray to tick the ‘specimen’ box, but, for now, it was back to the job in hand.
The following eight hours went by with motionless rod tips but I was on cloud nine and still am from that achievement. The odd dogfish made a show but that session ended as quickly as it had begun and we were all-too-soon back on the road for the couple of hours journey home.
Since then we have put in a number of sessions at various locations along the Hampshire and Sussex coastlines, enjoying mixed results including a handful of smaller stingers, hounds and bass.
There is still plenty of time to chase that big one before they move off again though, but the crabs are now out in full force making short work of worm baits and with whisperings of tope being around, its about time to buy into that lottery once again.
Only time will tell if luck is on my side!