We all have a species of fish that evade us yet everyone else seems to catch with relative ease. No matter how often we go and how hard we try it just doesn’t seem to happen. For one of my closest friends, Logan Broadhead, this bogey species happens to be the humble thornback ray. Logan has spent countless hours in pursuit of these spikey critters along our local beaches and further afield, fishing countless tides and marks along the Solent over the last four years. Despite all his efforts the pursuit has proven fruitless – until now.
With the storms pounding our coastline constantly throughout the early part of this year and the water temperature remaining constant, everything seemed to pave the way for a good head of thornbacks to push into the shallow bays of Poole and Christchurch. We typically tend to get the odd stragglers roaming inshore rather than numbers, yet this year things were different and the ray seemed unusually plentiful. With this in mind, Logan decided to try his luck once again. After so many disappointing results in the past, maybe things would finally fall into place for him.
After some discussion and hearing that our local pier had been seeing its fair share of thornies, we settled on this as our first choice venue. Alex Rowland, another friend of mine, had managed to catch a very substantial ray into double figures only a few nights before so it seemed to be the obvious place to go. As both Alex and Logan suffer from health issues, the straightforward access to relatively easy fishing would be a big plus.
We arrived at the pier around 6pm, to our surprise finding it relatively empty despite the forecast being extremely favorable. There was also a great deal of colour in the water, making conditions ideal for this relatively shallow venue. Logan headed to his normal spot on the top left of the pier head, with me choosing the top right spot and leaving Alex fishing in the centre. Baits of choice were bluey, herring, squid and sandeel. Alex selected a standard pulley as his rig of choice, Logan opted for a pulley dropper and I went for a mono version of the Bagnall bar rig.
The fishing wasn’t exactly going off and we sat on our baits for some time before Alex’s rod slowly pulled down seaward and then stopped almost as soon as it started. Confident that the fish was sitting on the bait, Alex struck and soon enough a pretty thornie found its way to the pier. Motivated by Alex’s success, a bait change was in order. I picked up my rod after preparing a fresh bait only to find I’d had a ray sat on it for some time. This was quickly landed, photographed and returned. Surely it was Logan’s turn now, or so you would think.
An hour passed and once again, Alex’s rod had some interest. This turned out to be another thornie and it was obvious that frustration was beginning to set in for Logan. His tone quickly changed from optimism to despair as almost as soon as Alex returned his second ray, he managed to find a third! I then had a promising looking bite and maybe got a bit over excited and hit it too soon, as after a brief tussle with what felt like a decent ray everything went light. To say I was gutted was an understatement but that’s fishing.
All went quiet over the slack as we waited impatiently for the tide to start moving again. This gave us time to convince Logan into trying a solid lump of bluey on his pulley dropper as it seemed to be the most productive bait. After what seemed like an eternity, the tide began to move and with that signs of life appeared on Logan’s rod tip – a decent pull down with line peeling off his reel. It looked like it was game on and Logan, if nothing else, would beat the blank. He sat at his rod for some time before checking on the inquiry, only to find the fish had gone after pulling the bait up the snood and crushing it to bits. Now I’ve seen broken anglers in the past but the look on the young lad’s face said it all. He was heartbroken and despite our best efforts to keep him motivated with offers of different rigs and baits, it was obvious that the battle of attrition was done. Once again the thornies had beaten him whilst others around him had caught, and talk of giving up targeting them echoed from Logan’s mouth. We left the pier consoling him and promising him that it will happen one day.
The next afternoon my phone sprang into action with a reinvigorated Logan on the other end stating that he’d made a batch of new rigs and was up for trying again. After a quick call to Alex en route, we returned to the site of the previous night’s crime. Upon arrival, the colour we’d been so pleased to see in the water the night before had vanished and our first thoughts were that this would be a tough session. This time Logan had come better prepared with an assortment of different rigs. He selected a long up and over, baited his hooks with a large bluey bait and quickly set about his work.
I was the first to see action in the form of a dogfish, then Logan found one of the unwelcome bait-robbing rascals too. Better than blanking but still not a good start. The tide was slow in making and the bites stopped almost as soon as they had started. We started to wonder if we had missed the boat and if Logan’s best opportunity had passed. We waited a while longer in the hope that something would happen before an excited Logan announced that he had a bite – not an obvious ray bite but a bite nonetheless. We all watched patiently as a series of slow pulls and tugs gradually intensified and eventually the rod leaned seaward.
With that, Logan wound down and struck into what was obviously a ray but was it his first ever thornback? After a very tentative few minutes, a hard fighting and lovely looking thornback breached the surface and flopped straight into the waiting drop net – not a beast of a fish but that really didn’t matter. The lad had finally done it! After years of searching for a thornie, it had happened for him at last. With a few excited expletives, we finally got that trophy shot with a delighted Logan. It’s moments like this that make angling special for all of us and keep us coming back for more.