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raja clavata thumbnail pic, courtesy of Dr Ian Lawler BIM

Thornback Ray, Raja clavata

Irish Record Fish: 37 lbs 16.78 kgs
Caught: Kinsale 1961
Boat Specimen: 20 lbs  9.07 kgs
Shore Specimen: 12 lbs  5.44 kgs
Photo Credit:   Damien Warren / Dublin Telesport SAC
Damien is showing a nice Thornback ray caught off Cahore, Co.Wexford. "After fishing for Tope we decided to move to another mark and try our luck for Ray. We had 3 in an hour, with this one the heavest at just under 10lbs. The others were a Thornback of 9.25 lbs and a Spotted Ray just over 7lbs. Bait on the day was fresh mackeral cut into large chunks on a single 6/0."

Introduction: The most common ray in Irish waters, the Thornback Ray can weight > 40 lbs (17 kgs), but any fish > 8 lbs ( 3.5 kgs) is a good catch.  It lives up to its name and requires careful handling.  Found on sandy banks around estuaries from March onwards, the Shannon Estuary around Scattery Island shelters huge shoals of relatively small fish, especially from late spring onwards.  As the name implies the top surface is covered in hard and abrasive thorny plates so gloved handling is essential.  All rays (with the obvious exception of the Sting Ray and the Atlantic Electric Ray) can be handled by holding them on their "shoulders", either side of the mouth.  A bony hollow allows for a firm grip for each hand between fingers and thumbs. Let the skipper do it!

Boat tactics: As with most rays, the standard is a 20 lbs set-up when fishing off a boat.  Given the potential for kiting against the current, the conditions and the specific mark being fished may encourage you to bump up to the 30 lbs gear.  A wire trace is essential given a mouth holding powerful rasping plates that will make short work of mono or braid, and the skin on this species lives up to its name!  Most baits including fresh mackerel strip attached to 2/0 to 4/0 hooks will work, although if you suspect the presence of bigger fish , moving up to a larger bait like a flapper and a 6/0 hook is appropriate.  Given their preferred habitat we feel that different baits such as half a Flounder or a Dab would work well, fluttering in the current on a long trace on the drift. 

Shore tactics: Rays are being caught with increasingly regularity from Irish shore marks - on all the coasts - and this is down to Irish anglers becoming more aware of their presence and the sport they offer anglers.  All rays prefer calm conditions and will come into very shallow waters, especially in or around broad estuaries. A standard beachcaster allied to a good multiplier reel will give you a fighting chance against a standard sized thornback, but they grow very big and troublesome!  The bigger fish hunt alone and mostly over mixed ground.