The annual Tag-A-Ray competition in Tralee bay is one that draws anglers from all over the country in search of the fantastic ray fishing to be had in the bay. Unusually for a competition, it has both shore and boat sections to cater for anglers of all disciplines. We hope to add a kayak section in the future for the event in order to attract an even wider group of competitors. Insurance, which has proved problematic in the past, has prevented kayakers thus far but there is always hope of a resolution. Originally, we set about tagging as many of the bigger stingrays and undulate rays in order to try and gain a better understanding of their migration patterns. A lack of funding for the tagging project lead to its cancellation but we have continued to run the competition and instead of tagging we have gone to a system to record length, sex and species. This gives an indication of the health of the bay and with so many anglers spread all over the bay any pollution/littering or fly tipping is more likely to be spotted.
In the weeks leading up to the event there were some exceptional catches from all over the bay. Thornbacks to 12lb, undulates to 13lb, tope up to 35lb, smoothound to 11lb and massive stingers touching 60lb.
Hopes were high for another great competition after the enforced 2 year absence and the field of competitors was bigger than any other year.
As with prior years, the West End Bar would be our HQ and it was a hive of activity all weekend with some anglers sampling the Guinness on the Friday night as a warm up for the weekend ahead. It really was brilliant to arrive on the Saturday morning and to see the gangs of anglers eagerly chatting and trying to not give away their plans of action for the day. The early risers had already staked out their spots on the pier with some opting to sleep in the van in order to be in their favourite spot. Kick off was 10am and a huge thank you goes to Alison, Fiona and Susan for looking after the check in for the shore and boats. Once checked in, the anglers headed off in all directions to their favoured marks. When you’re used to pegged matches and generally knowing exactly what’s happening in a competition, then the great unknown of a rover is a shock to the system! Not knowing who’s gone to the right spot or what area is fishing well is a frustrating aspect but it all adds to the excitement.
For our troubles, we headed to Derrymore point to try and fish the slack water over high before the inevitable onslaught of seaweed as the tide ebbed. While things started out as a ray only competition, the Tag-A-Ray has evolved to now allow tope, skate, monkfish, smoothound and spurdog (limit of 2) to count. This allows anglers to target the real heavy hitters of Tralee Bay.
The Derrymore plan was obviously a popular decision as all the boats went there too. Aside from some rapid fire rays by the lads on Richie Kelters boat it seemed to be disappointing for everyone. The same was going for the people that decided to fish the pier with Fiona Ryan and Barry Connolly both picking up fine undulates in and amongst the plague of dogs. Worse than the dogs though is the scourge of Tralee Bay… spider crabs. These pesky crustaceans menaced anglers all over the bay for the two days with some of them more resembling Alaskan king crab than spiders.
A phone call to Gordy Hardman to see how their gang was going was a peculiar one…
…He said that they had had five rays between three anglers but, when I guessed where they were (pure luck), he went into incognito mode and Alan Turing couldn’t of deciphered the rest of the conversation. That really put the cat among the pigeons! Do we move? Do we stay? We opted to stick it out but only a few dogs, some flounder and spiders showed.
At 17:30 we were all packed up and the gear washed down when my Yuki Sublime pulled down and popped up slack. Now, any other time I’d of been thrilled but this had happened tonnes of times that day with weed and dogs, so I cautiously lifted into the slack and immediately knew I had more than a dog on. The tide was starting to fill and the ray used this to its advantage, popping to the surface early before going to ground again. After waiting all day for this I was now fairly nervous as a few rays had come off for the boat anglers. Luckily, my brother David eventually heard me shouting against the wind and came down to assist. I was a relieved man when he had his hands on a fine female undulate ray of 78cm and approx. 9lb. With pictures taken and the ray documented she was released and we headed for Fenit and the West End.
Word at the check in was quiet and it seemed that the fishing had been poor enough for most except for the Leinster raiding party that is. Gordy had managed 3 good thornies, Ian Daly 2 and Kevin Daly 1. This was by far and away the best fishing of the day and gave the lads a commanding lead going into day 2. The boats were very frustrated too with swarms of dogfish ruining the best of the tide for the rays.
Johnny Boyle and his crew tried multiple marks with the usual reliable marks being noticeably quiet but, there is not much that beats experience and in the end they managed to get amongst the tope to claim a day win and 2nd on the boat with Matt Hopper taking 3rd with a fine double figure thornback.
The second day of the competition had an earlier start at 9am. This meant an early start for all the anglers and from the success of day 1 most anglers either headed to the pier or west in search of the rays. The day was barely 30 minutes old and the sausage pans still warming when Darren Mulvihill tempted a fine undulate from the pier. Once netted and recorded, Martin from the Angling Hub shared the good news. This put the whole place second guessing and wondering if they should of gone directly to the pier. For our troubles we headed to a rarely fish mark on the west of the bay thinking that the wind and tides might of pushed the rays over to that side. Little did we know that the doggies were there before us!
Cast after cast, bite after bite, dog after dog. After 2 hrs and countless dogs we decided to head for the main beach in Derrymore for high water in the hopes of a painted ray or a rogue stinger. Just as we were ready to go, Finn got a fine pull down and rattling bite. Fishing eels at distance it didn’t look like a dogfish bite. Giving it time to develop he lifted in and was looking very confident as he began to retrieve. With my gear already packed away I looked on nervously as a white belly showed 20m out. As Finn slid the fish up the bank he was the picture of mixed emotion. ‘Bloody turbot’ he exclaimed! Then recalculated ‘PB turbot… two of them!’ and they were fine turbot for the shore. 31cm and 37cm approx. 1lb and 2.5lb. He released the smaller one but retained the bigger one for his Grandparents dinner.
Revitalised, we headed for Derrymore where a litany of bad luck befell our raiding party. First of all, Steve Glynn and Johnny Grey were fishing exactly where we wanted. Secondly, Jim Dalton was in the back up area. They say bad luck comes in threes and when I lit the travel stove buttered the bread and cut the sausages it was complete… the frying pan had been left at home!
Gutted, I went back to the fishing. Finn, Figgs and David all had dogs on. Despite our best efforts we just couldn’t get away from the dogs and spiders so decided to head for the pier for a last roll of the dice. Chatting to Liz and Shane they had a worryingly similar tale to tell. Right down to forgetting the frying pan! So it was that we all headed for the pier.
We arrived just before 2pm and an hour into the drop. Just too late to witness Liz get an undulate on her first cast at the Oyster hut and Leonard get a cracker of an undulate off the main pier. Leonard had persevered on the pier with Aidan, Martin and Paul and got his reward just as the call for home began to really get strong. This lit a fire under all of the pier and there was a redoubling of efforts. Word trickled through that Peter Bolger and Ian Daly were on the rays again and that Noel Fogarty had put his tremendous back cast to use to snare 4 thornback rays.
As time ticked to a close some word from the boats began to come through.
Terry Caffery making a long awaited return had a fine thornback around 12lb, Richard Rutland had depleted most of the doggie shoal from the bay but had a tope for his troubles. Last years winner, Martin Reidy, had a fine undulate to claim 3rd on the day. Terry’s big thornie was enough to take 2nd and long lost member Neilus O’Shea claimed the day win with two fine tope, one of which was a specimen. On the shore, Noel took the day win with 4. Peter Bolger with 2 painted was second and Leonards specimen undulate was 3rd.
The best shore ray of the weekend was Leonards undulate of 82cm while the best from the boats was Terry’s 84cm thornback. We also ran a mystery pairs from the shore that was won by Fiona Ryan and Gordy Hardman.
Day 1 shore
3rd Chris O’Sullivan 1 ray 83pts
2nd Ian Daly 2 ray 138pts
1st Gordy Hardman 3 rays 202pts
3Rd Matt Hopper 1 ray 89pts
2Nd Pat O’Carroll 1 tope 95pts
1st John Boyle 1 tope 120pts
Day 2 shore
3rd Leonard Foley 1 ray 87 pts
2nd Peter Bolger 2 ray 145pts
1st Noel Fogarty 4 ray 259pts
3rd Martin Reidy 1 ray 88pts
2nd Terry Caffery 1 ray 90pts
1st Neilus O’Shea 2 tope 385pts
1st Ian Daly
2nd Noel Fogarty
3rd Gordy Hardman
1St Johnny Boyle
2nd Neilus O’Shea
3rd Pat O’Carroll
A last special word of thanks to Martin and Tonya in The Angling Hub Tralee for looking after the junior prize won by Caiden Moriarty. This was very last minute and very generous.
Thank you all for your participation and support in person and online and we hope to see you in the flesh next year.