What to Catch


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Date updated: September 2013

Season: all year

Socio-economic Importance: 

Ecological Importance:  The Thornback Ray are predominantly feeders of small bottom dwelling crustaceans when juveniles but extend their diet as they grow larger to include larger crustaceans such as swimming crabs, sandeels and small gadoid species. Thornback eggs form an important food source for some fish, while juveniles are preyed upon by larger fish species and adult thornbacks.

Minimum sizes:

Fish should be measured wing tip to wing tip

Legal Minimum Size: 40cm

Average Breeding Size: 41cm

Where and when to catch them:

Thornback rays (sometimes called roker) are the first ‘summer’ fish to appear in the district, usually sometime in March.Shallow beaches, such as at Leysdown, Warden Point, Sandwich and at low water in the gullies near Birchington are favourite marks.

On the Essex side, they push up river in May/June and can be caught in the Crouch, Blackwater and Stour.

Boats find steady catches around this time, initially in deep water but as the summer season progresses they make their way onto shallow sandbanks in large groups that will feed for most of the tide.

What tackle to use:

4/0 hooks pennel-rigged and standard beach gear capable of casting a fair distance are the standard gear for beach-fishing thornbacks.

The rays will flop down on the bait and may be spooked by wires in gripper leads, so a long trace of 3-4ft is advised of at least 50lb mono to survive rubbing against the skates rough body.  This is best fished using a pulley-rig system.

(Because the rays flop down on the bait before taking the bait into their mouths, delay striking until the rod tip pulls down, or the line goes completely slack, both signifying that the fish has moved off with the bait).

What bait is best to use:

Oily fish, herrings or blueys, neatly attached to the pennels with bait-elastic.  It doesn’t need to be too fresh.

When the male peeler crabs moult in May, Rays will be looking to get their share, especially close in shore.Some anglers fix a rubby dubby bag to the anchor full of chopped oily fish. You can hold a group of Rays around a boat for some time with this technique.

Best conditions for catching them:

Neap tides seem to produce better than springs.  Patience is needed and blank sessions are to be expected.


Skates and rays will usually go back well.