Bad Moon Rising ?

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Wind, tide, temperatures and different weather patterns are all an integral part of any Sea Angling and are highly debated as to which is best, with many anglers preferring a certain combination of them all to ensure success for their intended target.  Another aspect I and many others also take into account are the phases of the moon and admittedly in certain conditions for a particular species I’ve found a full or large moon to be a complete waste of time as it kills the sport .. One example of that over the years has been when targeting rays on shallow beaches with a clear sky, as soon as that shiny disc hits the surface all activity has ceased for me.. definitely a no no where I fish!

Rays are a favourite of mine and ever since viewing their beauty and graceful movement in aquariums many years ago, I’ve longed to catch a particular one of the many species, the Undulate Ray, and have for the past 2 seasons spent many hours in the South of the UK in search of them only to be thwarted each time by unfavourable conditions.

Reports had come back from good friend Steve Perry that the ‘Undis’ were showing again and the tides were good for a few marks, so we planned another full weekends onslaught, only to then realise the forecast was for showers each day but with clearing night time skies and a waning full moon.. “sod it! I’m still coming down” I said.

And so, despite the threat of very hard fishing and a great feeling of trepidation, I set off at 4am on a Friday morning and arrived at my usual camp site outside the New Forest some 6 hours later.

The plan was to fish the evening and night tides and so after pitching camp I met up with Steve and we headed out for a few supplies. A very accomplished and knowledgeable angler, it was a pleasure to listen to his advice and past experiences for a few hours before later getting my head down in the tent during the predicted showers.

On waking to a very heavy down pour I decided to check the forecast again.. the update now showed a period of cloud through the night. “Yes, get in!!!” I couldn’t contain my excitement as I hurriedly text Steve, and his was obvious in his reply. A meeting time was agreed and for the first session we decided to check out a mark for a few hours where neither of us had tried before.

Arriving at dusk, we were greeted by a fine sandy beach and the gentle lapping of waves. As we sent out our first baits the darkness grew and the moon shone through the occasional gap in the welcome cloud.

Stood watching our rod tips, “Wouldn’t it be just great if we landed one against all odds on a new mark in the moonlight” I said..

Within minutes, as if answered, a pull down registers on Steve’s rod and leaning into it he’s into a fish on his first cast!

A short tussle later produces a fine low double figure male Undulate Ray…

Unbelievable!

“They’re here!” says Steve and with hopes raised we will our rod tips into action .. a cast later Steve curses a missed take and then hits into a second fish on recasting.. this time  a stunning female of 13lb 2oz .. awesome!

Going back to my rods, eyes transfixed on the reflective tip tape, I mutter “c’mon fish, pleeeease”… I turn to see Steve approaching for a chat and as I turn away to bait up another rig.. “oh! Something showed interest on your right one there then mate”.. We watch for a minute or so, nothing, “You sure it wasn’t just a crab?” and as Steve replies “that was no crab!” the tip slowly pulls down! Heart in mouth and thumping in my ears, I hold the rod, awaiting one more indication..as it pulls over again in my hands I lean back and instantly feel a weight meet me… fish on!

The following few minutes feel like an eternity as I tease the fish to the shore, praying all the way in and backing the drag off so much that a dab could take line if it needed! Once in the surf Steve takes the leader and smoothly but swiftly glides the fish into our feet… there in all its glory, like a slab of beautiful marble lies my first ever Undulate Ray a male fish and a double at that, pulling the scales down to exactly 11lb.. we scream and dance like excited kids! I’m sure someone back in North Wales must have heard me!

All the frustration, and previously hard fished hours instantly disappear in a haze as I proudly hold my reward.. but we have little time to admire it though as Steve’s rod bursts into action and gives up a third ‘Undi’.. perfect timing, which presents us with a truly memorable brace photo.

Sport quietens down quickly after this but I don’t care.. job done I’m more than happy.

However for the next stage of the tide we move to another mark, a favourite of Steve’s nearby where we meet up with his friend Adam Fadli, who is setting up as we arrive. Quick intro and handshakes and we’re setting up again. Having prebaited a few rigs before leaving we are quickly fishing again and amazingly Steve’s rod is bent over into a ray within minutes of casting out again! As he guides in a male of around 9lb, I miss a take on one of my rods, and wind in the trace to find the bait mashed… before I can rebait another pennel set up, my line drops to the floor on the second rod ..

I’m overjoyed to land my second Undi of the night and look up to see Steve into yet another! Wow!! We’ve dropped right on them and they’re feeding heavily! For the following few hours it’s steady action with more than a few missed takes each and the occasional small Smoothhound and a Dogfish or two .. Steve, like a machine finds another 2 rays and myself a total of 2 Undulates for another great brace picture…

hectic fishing, at one point both rods being in and not able to bait up quick enough!  Sadly it wasn’t the case for Adam who was pestered with either Dogfish or small hounds all evening.

We fished on through the night until almost 5am and called it once the weed became impossible, great rafts of the stuff that were difficult to retrieve and weighed a ton. What a night it had been… mind blowing. I went to sleep at 7am one happy man.

I’d like to say I enjoyed a great sleep from that but as soon as the sun rose and beat down on my tent it was akin to sleeping in a greenhouse! So I managed a very uncomfortable few hours before a weather front then moved in.. very changeable weather but cooler for sleeping during the day, there’s something soothing about listening to light rain in a tent..

Awake again around lunch so an outdoor bacon and egg sarnie was called for (can’t beat them) before getting the gear ready for round 2 that evening, which we’d decided on giving it a go at a rock mark… once again the unsettled weather and thunder storms gave way to a clearer night and again we arrived at the spot around dusk and big baits were launched into the briny..

Tonight the moon was big and bright in the starry cloudless sky and it was soon apparent that the baits weren’t lasting very long as they were being ravaged by hoardes of sand fleas and returned looking like stringy bones with fleas dripping out of what flesh was left, 2 hours of this persuaded us on a move and we headed back to mark number 2 from the previous night.

Another good friend Dean Booker along with his friend Gareth Israel had also made their way down that evening on a phone call from Steve to fish the same marks and target their first Undi and as we walked onto the beach Dean greeted us with the usual handshake and a big grin as he’d already managed a new PB of 11lb 4oz from mark 1. Brilliant!

A “hello” and quick chat to Gareth and it was battle stations again. As before we had our traces prebaited and so we were fishing quickly again..

Although the moon seemed so much brighter this time the fish were still around and within 10 minutes I was into a good male of 10lb.

Shouts from our right alerted us to Gareth playing and landing another fish which gave him his first Undulate and also another PB..

… by this time Steve had missed a bite and landed another..

as well as a few Smoothies, whilst Dean battled his way through pesky Dogs and small Smuts too.

The fishing was quieter this evening but the banter was good and looking over from the group I noticed a slack line on one of my tips.. on tightening down, the tip nodded, then continued to pull over.. I was into a second fish and instantly I could feel it was a better ray with it boring for the bottom, strong wings catching the now pacey run of the tide.

Seeing the rod bent Steve hurried over just in time to once again expertly help land it..  it was a cracking fish and my best by far! “PB!!” I shouted ..

As the scales registered 13lb 12oz I was beaming brighter than that moon.. I could barely believe it and stood in awe for a good few minutes watching her on release, another dream come true!

The dinner bell must have sounded for the better fish as only 15 minutes later ‘The Machine’ is back in action and lands another stunner that goes 13lb 15oz.. amazing fishing!

But as quickly as it started, so it tailed off and a still silence settled. Everyone felt it and agreed it was time to finish what had been a fantastic evening with 3 personal bests caught, great memories between good friends, old and new, just what it’s all about… and for myself put a fitting result to over 1700 miles travelled, countless amounts of bait and approximately 80 hours in search of my first Undulate…

Who says rays don’t feed on a full moon?