There are four main species of Ray that are targetable in and around the Solent, and all require similar baits and tactics, but location is the key. Rays give the opportunity to catch some large fish that feel very heavy during the fight and can really test tackle and knots to the limit ... so be prepared!
Starting with 'Stingers' which are the largest of the local Ray species; fish to 70lb have been caught on rod and line in the Solent and there are reports of fish to over 90lb caught in nets. Sting Ray are often caught in fairly shallow areas with a muddy bottom in the height of summer when the water is very warm. Tackle needs to be reasonably heavy with 20/30 class boat rods and 30-50lb braided main line. Terminal tackle is usually a simple running lead with 50lb+ hook length and strong 4/0 to 6/0 hooks, these fish will easily straighten light gauge wire hooks. Bait is primarily big ragworm baits with a couple or more large worms being the order of the day, worm baits can be tipped with a small piece of fish or squid. As the name suggests these fish do have a sting on their tail but this is not their only defence, the slime that covers the fish is also noxious and excessive contact with your skin will leave you with a tingling, itchy, burning sensation for several hours. If you are unsure about handling these fish let the crew do it for you.
Blonde Ray (Blondes) are another big Ray and probably the most targeted, with fish over 30lb caught every year. 20lb fish are not uncommon. Blonde Rays like sandy banks and are often caught on the sheltered side of the bank when the tide is running hard, they can be caught in a variety of depths from 30-120ft+. Generally, tackle will be 20/30 class rods and leads to suit in fast, deep water. Terminal tackle is a simple running lead with a 40lb+ hook length and a strong 4/0 to 6/0 hook. Successful baits are fish and squid with Mackerel or Bluey and Squid cocktail working well as does large Sand Eel and launce. These fish are fairly abundant in February when many other species are scarce but they are also very successfully targeted throughout the year. A high double figure Blonde in a strong tide will give you a real battle and test your gear and your arms!
Undulate Rays are a fish success story around the Solent, ten years ago the undulate was quite a rare catch, yet recently they are probably one of the most commonly caught ray species. They are found over flat mud, sand and shingle as well as on the banks and at a variety of depths. Double figure Undulates are the norm with a fish over 15lb being a nice one. They are often caught when general bottom fishing or when targeting Blondes as baits are very similar, you can increase the chance of an Undulate when general fishing by baiting with a strip of fish and squid. A 12/20 class boat rod will handle these fish and a running lead with a 30lb hook length with 2/0 to 4/0 hook size will do the trick.
Small eyed Ray (Painted Ray)
The Small-eyed or Painted Ray as it is also known is probably the prettiest of the Rays, they live and feed on soft sandy or sometimes muddy bottoms. They will readily take worm and fish strip baits but fresh or frozen Sand eel are the top bait. Fish of 4 to 8lb are the norm but they do grow to around 20lb a double figure Small-eyed is a very decent fish. Again a 12/20 class boat rod will handle these fish with a running lead and a 30lb hook length with 1/0 to 3/0 hooks.
We also catch other Rays including Thornback Ray and Spotted Ray. Thornbacks are not as Common in and around the Solent as they are in other areas such as the Thames, where they are known as Roker, but are still caught every now and then whilst targeting other species, they are generally under 10lb but larger specimens are becoming more frequently caught, with many decent 15lb + fish reported every year, the Thornback Ray will take most fish, squid or worm baits.
The Spotted Ray whilst being reasonably common they are the smallest of the local Ray species with a 5lb specimen being a nice fish they are usually 2-4lb. They are often caught when general bottom fishing or when targeting flatfish or Bream.