Saturday, 20 August 2011

Pompey and the Pop Art Ray

The undulate ray is perhaps the least common of the ray species targeted by anglers, indeed all undulates must be returned by law. Marine biologists are currently in the midst of a scientific survey of the undulate ray in the Solent to understand more about this rare and beautiful fish. The albeit limited data collected so far, suggests that these rays stay in the same general area throughout the year, much like their bigger relatives the common skate.

I travelled down to Portsmouth the night before as I had an early start ahead of me. My hastily booked bed and breakfast turned out to be a recently decommissioned care home complete with emergency night nurse alarms, that story will have to wait for another day!

I boarded Sea Juicer skippered by Rob Hicklin ready for a 6.45am sail. Portsmouth is an interesting place to sail from, as there is lots to see on the outward journey. There are a number of naval craft including the oldest commissioned ship in the navy, Nelson's Victory.

As well as the ships there are some interesting buildings. The Spinakker Tower at 170 metres in hight dominates the skyline as you leave Portsmouth Harbour. The Palmerston sea forts were built in the Solent to protect the eastern approaches to Portsmouth Harbour in 1859. One of these forts is apparently being developed as luxury apartments, presumably complete with helipad?

On the way out we stopped off to catch some mackerel for bait, however despite trying three marks only a handful of mackerel rewarded our efforts. I am convinced that substituting the lead weight for a shiny pirk improves the catch rate, especially when the mackerel are thin on the ground.

We drew lots for our fishing position and I drew a peg at the stern of the boat, generally considered the best spot for downtiding.
Rob explained that we would be anchoring in sixty foot of water over an area of broken ground off the Isle of Wight, where we could expect to catch smoothhounds, thornback and undulate rays. We arrived just before slack water and were told to expect rays in the first hour of the flood and again when the tide slackened off at high water. I tackled up with 20lb class gear and a four foot trace of 80lb line with a 4/0 hook which was baited with a fillet of mackerel.

Within a few minutes I had a series of vicious bangs on the rod tip and landed a small tope. We were to land several small tope between us during the day and lose a couple through bite offs.

You can usually tell when a ray bites, as there are a few gentle knocks as the ray settles on top of the bait, followed by the rod pulling over as the fish moves off. As Rob predicted an hour into the flood I landed a specimen 16lb undulate ray. The markings are exquisite, indeed Trevor Housby called them the "pop art ray". Other anglers added a couple of small thornbacks to the bag.

Rather than stick with the rays I decided to change tactics hoping for a common smoothhound. As we all know, smoothhounds love crab. These hounds hadn't read the rule book and my crab was ignored whilst squid produced. Baiting up with squid (a la Colin Penney) I didn't have to wait long before catching a couple of starries, the largest at 9.5lb was my best to date. I had a couple more smaller hounds including my first common before the bites dried up. Despite fishing through the flood the easing of the tide towards the end of the afternoon failed to produce the expecting run of fish.

Once the tide eased I unsuccessfully fished baited hokkais hoping for a tub gurnard. Other anglers who fished light had some black bream, scad, mackerel and a red gurnard between them. It was one happy angler that sailed back into Portsmouth Harbour that evening.

I spent a few hours fishing at Brighton Marina the following day hoping for a Red Mullet or Twaite Shad. Ideally I would have liked an evening tide rather than high tide at 4pm. I fished a two hook flapper with lugworm on one rod and floatfished mackerel strip on the other. Mackerel and garfish are great sport on light tackle, and although not numerous, I caught enough mackerel and garfish to feed the family and supplement my bait freezer. One of the problems with trying to mix styles is you do neither well and I missed a couple of bream bites on the legered bait. To avoid the wrasse I fished about twenty yards out and landed four small black bream, the angler next door asked me to ID his gurnard which turned out to be a small red mullet! With the wind strengthening I called it a day at 4pm as waves were starting to crash over the breakwater.