Roving Rods – Spotty and Thorny by Martin Wood
With the weather now changing and spring starting to creep in seeing green shoots on trees in the garden and plants coming out, I figured it was time for a fresh approach to my fishing.
Fishing now for a while with not much effort put in just cobbing out two baits one large and one small, I had become lazy and stagnant, almost complacent so I gave myself a kick in the butt and started to formulate some goals and targets to go and get.
I knew I needed to do some homework and walk beaches at low tide and see how the sea bed has changed and what is now laying around etc.
So I made a target to go and catch some rays I wanted a spotted ray, a small eyed ray and a thornback ray to kick off the ray part of my season.
After doing my homework with some nice walks with my camera and going along the beaches snapping the info and writing in my beach diary with marks and information and then storing some pictures on my laptop.
With everything reviewed I decided on a certain mark in Minehead staying local but just past gasworks beach where there were some gulleys that hold fish and food and would decided to fish here for some spotted rays and a small eyed ray if they have moved in as well.
With the plan set, I remembered when last fishing with a friend Ben who hasn’t long been fishing he said he would like to catch a ray so got in contact and invited Ben along.
With our baits bought from Speedbait run by local nice guy and charter captain of Teddy boy charters Michael Webber we were set, I had sand eels and squid as my chosen baits.
We got to the mark and we had a short walk of just a couple of minutes.
I said to Ben where and why we were fishing this mark and gave some advice on ray bait presentation and sorted a couple of rigs for Ben which was a pulley dropper and one up and over and a running ledger all with 3/0 hooks.
After a clamber over the boulders to our position I put Ben in the most advantageous position that I have caught well on quite a few times when the beach sits like it is now.
It looks like we had just set up in time as a few more anglers had also come along and set up just down from us so obviously done the same as myself and done some homework.
With the rods all set up and baits on we started to cast full power and get the rigs as far as possible to make sure we were on the sand and not the snaggy boulders with the tide still quite a way up the beach its normally 2 down and 2 up but it wasn’t going to be possible with midnight curfew with the current Covid 19 regulations in place.
It was the largest neap tide we were fishing and pushing the boundaries of our casting we were fishing 3 down and one up.
I was using an up and over rig and a pulley dropper rig, one so I could cast distance and two to keep my baits hard on the bottom where rays would be feeding I didn’t want my baits flapping as there is a very strong current here that runs across the mark.
Ben was using sandeel and squid as well on an up and over rig and running ledger to start with.
With both baits in the water and not in the boulders it was a good start to the evening, dusk was fast approaching and I could see a couple more anglers silhouetted in the distance with dusky pinks and yellows behind them.
Some time had passed, a couple of new baits in the water had come and gone with no signs of any fish for anyone and with the tide fast ebbing away it was time for a move forwards with all the gear compact I moved forwards and then the rods as well with Ben following shortly afterwards.
A couple of hours had gone and not so much of a twitch of the rods and I was wondering if my homework was horribly wrong!
I walked over to Ben to have a chat and see if he had any bites at all.
Ben was the same with no movement except a small bite that never developed into anything, then as he turned around to get something Bens rod gave a great rattling bite but unfortunately was missed and no fish returned at all which resulted in Ben bringing it in and baiting up again.
It was a shame as it was a cracking bite.
After Ben had recast it went back to the standard of the last two hours …. twitch less tips.
Back by my rods it was now 40 minutes to low water and I messaged Ben it should pick up just before low and got a thumb up back.
Sure enough one of the guys to my right caught a small whiting or codling and seemed happy at breaking the blank whilst his mate went over for a look as well, good good our turn next!
Another 20 minutes passed without any movement in the rod tips until suddenly out of the blue the rod tip ducked over slowly and stayed there before rattling away good and proper which woke me up!
A typical ray bite! I was on the rod quicker than a fat kid on cake and lifting into the bite and hooking up nicely, I could feel kicking which was a ray flapping away on the end it wasn’t massive but was enough to play up in the current coming through but it was a short battle.
I got it to the surface about 30-40 yards out and could see a small ray surfing across the water towards me double time, a quick call to Ben so he could see a ray and it was on the foreshore a lovely little male spotted ray and full of attitude flapping away with added light from the left as others were interested to see what was landed.
Turning around and unhooking him I put the ray on my fishing box and took a quick photo and one with it with Ben taking the photograph after a quick look it was time to let him go….The way not Ben.
Gently releasing back into the water he swam away very strongly and disappeared into the murky soup that we call the Bristol Channel.
Ok not a blank! Now for Ben to catch one he was on the same tactics so looks good and letting him know it was the small squid bait I was using that it was taken on.
Rebaiting the same way with half a squid as I show in the snags Youtube videos it was again a overhead lob to about 60-70 meters.
A quick wipe of the hands and it was coffee time pulling out the flask and cup I made a brew and as I was about to take a sip the other rod was banging away, a typical dogfish bite putting the cup down I lifted up the other rod and I was in he had self hooked himself!
With a lazy fish on the end it was the typical dogfish manoeuvre, with the doggy in and unhooked it was a quick photo and then released.
a couple of sips of strong coffee finally and I was then reaching for another sandeel snipping off the head by the gill plates and snipping off the tail then threading it onto the Aberdeen as you would do a worm and using some elastic to hold it in place, hook into the splashdown clip and out it went again to about 100 meters.
It was a few minutes to low tide and the action had all died off making for a peaceful coffee and unfortunately Ben still waiting for a fish which I hate when inviting someone along I always like them to do well if not better than myself.
Low tide came and went with some chatter about fishing and rays before we moved the rods back a touch ready for the incoming tide which had just started.
Around ten minutes into the tide flooding another bite on the sandeel at range and it was another dogfish so again a quick unhooking, a photo and released to bother someone else.
Not seeing fish from either side of myself I thought I was clearly on a sweet spot of the gulley maybe it had changed slightly which got me thinking as Ben should have been doing a lot better, but as soon as the grey matter was ticking to get Ben on the action as well again the nearest rod with squid just pulled over well and flung up again and started heavy rattles.
I jumped up and was on it quickly and lifting up into the bite I reeled down on the battle II’s handle and the line was taught and I could feel the ray flapping away on the end would this be a small eyed ray? for another species? It wasn’t a heavy fish but made its presence known.
With a bit more of a bend in the rod than the dogs make and Ben came over again.
A minute or so later it was another Spotted ray landed on the foreshore a little larger this time and again a male with lovely markings and in pristine condition shining and glittering away in the headlamps beam.
Turning around and walking a few meters back to the box I unhooked the spotty which was hooked neatly through the lower jaw and with the hook and rod out the way It was again a quick photo on the box and a photo from Ben as well, then walk back and gently released into the water lapping the shore a couple of skims as he flapped and then dived down and swam off.
With the two guys next to me obviously having enough packing up and leaving I was back to thinking.
I pulled in both rods and changed my one rolling lead to a gripped weight and cast out to my left slightly and went over to Ben ad said to cast to his left some more so he is fishing where I was or as near as can be to see if we could pull a ray out for him and also break the blank that was unfolding.
Twenty minutes or so went by with no movement just the wind picking up slightly when my rod gave a double heavy hit on the tip, again lifting into the rod and winding down I wasn’t sure what was on the end it wasn’t big either way so reeled in nice and easy and it turned out to be a small codling and a third species for the night.
Looking at the rig it was damaged on the main rig body and I wasn’t happy casting it back out so changed my rig and first to hand was a pulley rig so on it went and a new bit of squid and it was back out to 60 meters which was working out well tonight I must be right on the channel.
As I turn around after releasing the codling back to grow bigger to catch again in a few years I saw Ben was in!
Great! Rod tip over and reeling in it came in and was a dogfish, ok not target but broke the blank and hopefully a good sign he was in a better patch of seabed.
Again both of us casting to the left we waited again it was a long stretch of silence with nothing happening except changing the bait and moving backwards with all the gear as they sea was advancing and pushing us up the beach.
We were near curfew time and I packed down one rod, had a small chat with Ben about the time and then Ben gets another bite great! Straight on it and lifting up striking into the bite and then reeling down it was fish on!
Reeling down not giving any quarter this fish was going to be landed!
As it broke the waters edge it was a lovely deep orange and almost leopard printed 3 bearded Rockling.
I was gutted it wasn’t a ray for Ben but he was chuffed none the less as he hadn’t caught a rockling before so was a new species for himself , the 4th species tonight and a new personal best for Ben to be beaten soon!
We packed down and as I started to pull in my rod I must have missed a bite when with Ben as I had a dogfish on the end again quickly releasing the doggy back it was pack down and a quick traipse back to the car over the ankle breakers as I call them.
We discussed about coming out again soon and see if we can get a small eyed ray as well but was a great evening and both happy with the outcome I got a ray which I was after and we had four species between us.
I was at work the next day thinking about rays as I have a fish brain and thought I haven’t targeted a thornback in a few years and was my next target for my next trip out with my four year old son who is also turning into a fellow fish brain!
It was a large High tide due tonight and I’d finished work and went home to collect Daniel for a few hours at Blue anchor wall, I could target my thornback ray and Danny can fish easily enough for his “brown spotted sharks” as apparently that sounds better than dogfish!
It was a slow three hours fishing but great fun with father and son time then Daniel got excited as his boat uptide rod was rattling away and wasting no time at all he was on the rod lifting into the bite and reeling down double quick time and not stopping until the dogfish was up and over the wall absolutely chuffed with it he holds the fish as I have to use the T bar to unhook it, he demanded a quick photo then released the dog back through the railings off the steps with myself right behind him.
Brushing his hands off I get the “I’m beating you again daddy” with one of those smug smirks slapped all over his face.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
It got dark quickly with again not so much as a whiff before I got a dogfish then two then three!
My child was amused that daddy was now winning!
He demanded the next fish on my rod at range was his so I agreed and it started rattling away to which Daniel jumped on the TTGSM and started winding the Penn battle II 8k like a pro totally unfazed by its size!
But I ended up just holding the rod with one hand above the shrink wrapping as I didn’t want the rod bouncing off the railings.
Sure enough it was another dog and this time boy wonder was a bit more tired bring it in from 140 meters out but proceeded to winch it up over the wall and was emphatic at the score now being 3 -2 and back in the game and gave me his comedy wink and three wiggles of the eyebrows before saying I could rebait and that rod was now his if anything else bites on it.
I agreed and then fired it back out to where it was before with some fresh squid on as bait.
I had been using small size 1 thin gauge wire hooks on pulley dropper rig and a pulley rig to fire out as far as possible one being sand eel and one squid.
So far all the squid had done was collect dogfish but it kept it interesting for Daniel and the competition alive.
It was nearing the end of the night when the other rod went over strongly and stayed down no lift or rattle so lifted into it and it was hooked it was fish on and a better stamp of fish and not a dogfish!
It was fighting it felt like a thornie! Result!
Reeling down there was quite a bit of current out there and was putting a healthy bend in the top section of the rod it was holding bottom and although I was winching it in was taking it easy so the size 1 hook didn’t bend out!
As I lifted it I got a flurry of flaps where it was trying to get back to the bottom and by now I had two passer bys looking on and anglers either side paying attention.. I looked at Daniel and said I better not lose this one and he laughed.
With my one man cheerleading giving it “come on! Get it in” all excited and the passer bys smiling at his excitement I finally got it in and finally got the ray to surface just at the walls edge about 10 yards out I walked down the steps to land it and glided it safely to a landing position.
Danny was jubilant and let out a fist pump and a “yes!”
I said”this is a chunky Thornback ray mate” and got a “you mean flat shark dad” which got a couple of chuckles nearby.
I carefully unhooked it and showed Daniel its teeth and thorns to watch out for then we got the sling and scales out and weighed it and it came in at 6lbs 2 ozs.
It was very nice way to end the night and again target achieved! Last minute but achieved!
A quick couple of photos and one with the ray from Daniels toggy skills and it was time to release the ‘flat shark’ back again.
I packed all the gear down and loaded it into the car along with a very tired little man for our drive home and a late bedtime and lots of chatter about how I have to send granddad his photo and how he almost beat me and its now one all.
Nothing beats time like this when you can spend time with your kids sharing an interest and having quality time.
Tight lines & Happy Easter all.