On a recent late November night I headed out with fellow Dorset angler Shane Munford in search of a blonde ray, a species which over time has become my nemesis, typically owing to the vast amount of undulate rays that have populated areas which were once consistent marks for blondes. So, unfortunately they have eluded me for a few years now.
Considering the time of year, with the usual potential quarry to be had, Shane and I hit a surprisingly empty beach. Far from the usual situation of arrive anything other than 4 hours early and you’d have to slot in to whichever space is left, we had the relative luxury of choosing our spot.
My first cast found me a small codling. Not a bad start, but not really what I came for! Not that one of bigger proportions would be unwelcome. Soon after I heard a yell from longshanks himself! “Fish on!” Hoping to see a blonde ray breach the shingles I promptly made my way over to assist Shane in landing his fish, resulting in an unfortunate bitter sweet moment as a 13lb undulate hit the beach!
My first thoughts were of ‘oh here we go again!’ The recovery of the species has been quite astounding in recent years to the point of now being considered little more than pests on some marks. Mind you, a 13lb one is still a decent fish and it got us off to a decent start.
My rods remained quiet apart from the odd solitary strap conger and small bull huss. Shane on the other hand was soon into the prize that he came for, his first ever blonde ray! A cracking fish it was too at just over 11lb. After calming his nerves and taking a few pictures he went back to it it and soon after landed another blonde ray! The guy was on fire! This was followed by another a fish of around the 9lb mark to really start putting me to shame.
Surely it was my turn next!? If not I really would have had to look at what I was doing so drastically differently, but just as doubt began to creep in my right hand rod arched towards the sea, slowly peeling line away from the the reel! Immediately I thought this is the one I’ve been waiting for! I set the hooks and the fish tore off out to sea! Feeling very much like a ray I turned the fish and started making headway edging her closer to the beach! Then disaster struck! The hook length managed to find a sharp snag and ping, in a millisecond it was gone!
Before I could get too disheartened the next rod went and I quickly piked it up to set the hooks! Surely this time it was game on! No, it just wasn’t going to happen for me tonight, ping! Again another fish gone!
Optimistically resigning myself to the third chance is a charm, I set myself back up, composed myself and carried on about my business. The rod tip then slowly dropped away leaving a belly of slack. I quickly wound down and was relieved to connect! Making tentative but great progress towards the beach it looked like I was on the winning side of this one, but if I didn’t have bad luck I’d have seemingly had no luck this night. The fish threw the hooks and as it did, it left a broken man on the shingle. It was at this point I lost myself fairly considerably. I won’t lie, I seriously turned the air blue, threw tackle across the beach & head-butted my rod for some strange reason. Still can’t work out my thought process behind that one to be fair! This just wasn’t going to be my night!
Whilst all this was happening Shane sneaked another blonde ray up the shingle hoping I wouldn’t see. I think he felt my pain as offers of his bait and rigs and any other assistance he could muster came my way, which I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt over and take as general compassion and not rubbing salt into wounds…
After I calmed down I got back to it once again with renewed hope. Things couldn’t get any worse after all, could they? Well, all depends on how you see it, but the next bite resulted in a sensible size conger. A nice fish but not what I was looking for and even this fish didn’t seem to want to come to shore, as when it was mere inches from my feet it let go of the pout that it had latched onto and made a dash seawards! Trying to quickly beach the fish before it made it’s escape, I managed to fall over and get soaked, but with he night I’d had I wasn’t seeing a semi respectable eel getting away!
About 30 minutes later, just as the tide swung, my rod slowly pulled down and stayed there. Not thinking much of it I struck into to what looked like a seemingly tentative fish bite. Then all hell broke loose! After a mad tussle getting the fish to the shore, even more fun and games begun once it was within striking distance of the beach. This time, a considerably bigger eel came looming out of the depths! After some fun and games getting it up the beach we put her on the scales and and she went just over 40lb! It really was a fantastic eel for the beach, but still not a blonde ray! As far as consolations go I think I’d take this one though!
After some photos and Shane trying to make me feel much better about the whole situation, he then announced we should go home! So I quickly put on my spare baited rig and pinned it out to sea with very little hope of anything happening at all!!
Shane then packed up and came over to me just as I picked up the rod, with my hopes of the target species for the trip dashed. I tried to break out the lead and as I did a fish hit me back just as hard as I’d hit it! I found something! After a few frantic moments and praying it would find the beach Shane announced it as a blonde!
In my head I wondered what else could go wrong and pictured the fish somehow slipping the hook and gliding gracefully back into the depths of the sea there and then. My luck had clearly turned with the eel though, and a lovely female blonde hit the shore and Shane quickly gathered it in his arms and carried her up the beach! It was not the biggest fish in the world but the biggest blonde of the night and at least the pair of us could now leave safe in the knowledge that our targets had been achieved. Not fully content, given the missed fish, I decided I would return at the earliest opportunity.
In very short order I returned to the scene with my old mate Big Alex Rowland, getting to the beach three hours before high water, though the fishing was pretty slow to be fair, verging on abysmal!
After two hours without a bite I got my first tell tale sign on the rod tip as it slowly dipped and before long line began to peel from the spool! I struck, made a decent connection and it was the return of the curse from the previous evening falling upon me as after about 35 yards I found a sharp snag which snapped my hook snood!
As I quickly sorted that out, my other rod folded over in its rest and line began to sing off the spool! I struck and the fish flew out to sea! I quickly called to Alex for assistance, even though he is very incapacitated he made his way down to the water’s edge and after what seemed like an eternity a absolutely massive blonde ray appeared at the water’s edge! After getting dumped by a wave trying to wrestle the fish to the beach and then swamped by another as he bought it up the shingles, it was clear this fish was an extremely special fish and I was indebted to Alex for his help in beaching it.
After staring at it and taking in in just how stunning the fish was we put it on the scales and they went down to 25lbs 7oz!! I’ve not had a personal best fish in over a decade and this fish may only be 5 ounces bigger than my previous best but in an instant I remembered how good it felt to achieve something so special!
After releasing her I went back to my rods not worrying if I saw another bite again all evening, however, 20 minutes later the same rod folded once more and I was in again! This time into a smaller fish and once again poor Alex made his way down the shingle to land my fish for me and once again he got slapped with a wave and soaked as he landed a stunning male of 17lbs 3oz! An absolute whopper for a male.
we carried on fishing for quite some time after in the anticipation that the fish would come on the feed and Alex would finally get his reward for the evening, which given his committed landing efforts would have been a just reward. Unfortunately this didn’t happen, but we will certainly be back!