|I was asked about blond ray fishing in cork harbour yesterday and as the peak season is approaching i decided to put up this piece i did for a magazine a few years ago.
The Blonde Ray is a deep bottom dwelling species that prefers sandy and muddy areas. They are a gold sandy colour with black spots similar to the spotted ray but the spots extend to the very edge of their pectoral fins. They can have some large white spots as well but most of all the blonde grow much larger than the spotted ray. They sexually mature around ten years old and only lay around a 100 eggs a year between February and August. Their eggs look a lot like thorn back ray eggs and it takes them around seven mounts to hatch. Their main diet is prawns, shrimp and sand eel but when fishing for them mackerel and squid work best. Their mouth is like every other ray but as they can grow up to 40lb you would have to step up the strength of your trace. I have only targeted them in Cork harbour from mid-summer to December but they can be caught any month of the year. The current Irish record stands at 36.75lb caught in Cork harbour in 1964 and the specimen weight is 25lb
When I started fishing for Blonde rays
I started fishing for blonde rays in 2007 on a small 14 foot skiff It was cheap to run and perfect for Cork harbour in good conditions. My first outing for blondes we landed five with the heaviest one caught by my son Derick it weighed 24lb 6oz it was so wide it nearly covered him.
Ross with our first guide boat that can be launched in one foot of water witch is deadly for bass fishing
Back in the day My son Derick at the age 11 with this 24+ blond ray, It was the norm for someone to catch a fish at this size when the conditions were Wright.
Our next trip was a week later with my friend Ross Macklin, And on his very first drop he landed a specimen blond of 25lb 9oz.
Ross Macklin with a 25lb 9oz blond back in 2007 the good years when blonds were plentiful but with cork harbour being netted and trawled to death i cant see to many fish like this getting through
We got another three that day on mackerel tipped off with squid but they were no way near specimen weight. Every session that year we caught at least 3 blonde rays and some cracking dab. There are a stunning looking fish especially when they are big, it says a lot when anglers from Britain come to Cork for a chance to land one. With the winter weather arrived it was time to rap and store my boat and write down my GPS hot spot marked for the blonde rays in my black book. With everything I had learned that year I was so looking forward to next session that I bought a larger boat with my brother and some new fishing gear, I filled my rig wallet with blonde ray rigs all I needed was some good weather and I was gone. The 2008 season was a cracker I was out every chance I could get and I was landing a lot of blonde rays but could not hook the big ones.
I landed this blond ray that was tag. i think tagging is a must to see were they go and how fast they grow, but when there is no safe place for a tag fish to move with out getting caught in a net it is a wast of time, cork harbour should be protected at all cost.
If you land any fish with tags take down the serial number and try to get a picture, length and it weight if possible. You then can email the inland fishery board the number and were it was caught, this will help the researchers to see how far it has traveled if it has traveled at all. With that good deed done they will send out a t-shirt with a logo on it.
Back in 2008 the heaviest blonde we had was landed was Dan’s 16lb fish
With the 2009 session started I was hearing stories of anglers landing up to forty blondes a day with fish up to 28lb, it was driving me mad, that this was happening when I was at work. I decided to take Thursday and Friday off that week so I would have a good few days at them. That Thursday morning I was anchored by six am waiting for the blondes to crawl up my line like they were in my dreams. A few hours passed without a fish, I started to wonder was I in the right spot until another boat passed and the skipper said they gone, a trawler man heard about the numbers of blondes being caught and he came out and netted boxes of them yesterday. In recent years there has been a lot of arguments between anglers and trawler men, but this time when the blondes were netted it lead to a shouting match that got out of hand. This lead to a full on attack on Cork harbour bottom feeding fish. You might not be aware; rays are worth little or nothing to the trawler men unless they get them in large numbers. So instead of working things out through the proper channels and stopping the name calling between the users of Cork harbour, the blonde rays and every other bottom dwelling fish that month got wiped out. As I said in my one of my earlier articles if we could only work together we could improve Cork harbour for everybody and help bring in money through tourism for the charter boats, B&B, shops, fuel, pubs, food outlets, hotels and the list goes on and on. Our government is only now starting to realize that sport fishing plays a huge part in our annual tourist attraction to Ireland and generates nearly 750 million euros each year, just think how much more it could be worth if we protected our fish stocks.
When I target blond rays
I would start around June right up to December in Cork harbour on a filling tide. Last year when fishing for blondes ray I only got out a couple of times and only landed one small female on them trips.
Its sad to see these fish being killed for little money and no one that has the power to stop this seems to give a crap
Back in 2013 Dan landed a 22lb cork harbour blond ray that took mackerel tipped with squid It was the only blond ray of the session but well worth the stop. This is what cork harbour fishing should be like only if it was left alone by trawlers and anglers that are fond of eating them, if it was protected there numbers would multiply.
Tips when anchoring
This harbour has a lot of ships traveling in and out every day so make sure you don’t anchor in the shipping lanes. All you have to do to be safe is stay on the right hand side of the number 6 buoy as you are looking out at the open sea.
one of our naval ships using the shipping lane as it is heading to Cobh
When anchoring on a GPS mark in Cork harbour you need to know what way the tide is running and what depth of water you are in. with the tide and depth figured out all you have to do is drop your anchor up tide of the mark, the rule is twice the depth plus the length of the boat.For example if you are fishing 70 feet of water and your boat is 20 feet long the total length of your rope should be 160 feet. Don’t forget you need a good sand anchor on a length of chain.
Rigs and how to fish them
I use the same rigs that I used for Thornback rays the only difference is I would step up the trace line between 80lb and 100lb and my hooks to a 6/0 it might be over kill but when a large blond ray is near the surface and the tide is running hard you will be glad you put it on. Remember rays feed on the sea bed so make sure your lead is keeping your bait pined to the bottom. You might have to put on a pound of lead and let a good bit of line off your reel, this will help keep your bait in the path of the rays on the big tides, the small tides are a lot easier to fish and you can use a lighter rod for more sport.
When handling a blond ray
When handling a blonde ray there is very little to worry about, they have small thorns on their tail like their cousins and a mouth that you could fit your hand in. If you want to hold the fish for a picture you can lift them by searching for the indents towards their nose, if you look at the picture of how and where Dan is holding his 22lb ray it will give you a good idea where your hands should be. When your hands are in the right position and you are ready to lift make sure and don’t be afraid to grip it tight this will stop you dropping it and hurting the fish. If you have the ray out of the water to long the fish will start to go pinky-red around the sides, this is a warning that the ray is under duress and it is time to put it back.
Colour warning of a Blond ray starting to get stressed out
Rods, all depends on your budget any good 30lb class rod with a reel to suit loaded with 50lb braid for down tiding. I use a TF Gear Force 8 Twin Tip Up tide Rod, it’s a good casting rod of the boat and when the rays runs down tide the power of the rod comes into action.
Traces and how to fish them
I use size 5/0 hooks , these are tied to 25 inches of 80lb mono, below a silver spoon with another 15 inches of 80lb mono tide to a swivel above the spoon. Your lead is put on a long sliding boom that goes on your main line. Make sure you put a rubber buffer bead between your swivel and boom. When you are dropping these traces to the sea bed you have to control the decent, this stops it from tangling. Make sure your bait is on the bottom at all times you can do this by leaving out line every few minutes, do this until you are confident that you bait is lying flat on the bottom.
When using an up tide rod, you are casting your bait in the direction of your anchor making sure you don’t get caught on the rope. As your lead hits the water live out line until your lead hits the bottom and you have a good bow in your line this will help keep your bait tight on the bottom. If it starts dragging your lead could be too light but more likely you did not leave out enough line. Up tiding takes a bit of practice but it nice style of fishing.
Weever fish can be caught in cork harbour so be careful when taking them off the hook
Rigs bait and tips
 A good up tide rod or a 20 to 30 class
 A good boat casting multiplier and a 30lb class boat reel loaded with 50lb braid
 80lb swivels, 80lb mono for Thrace, 4/0 to 6/0 hooks some beads a large spoon for vibration
 10oz to 16oz leads to make sour the bait is tight on the bottom.
 Mackerel, squid and large sand eel are the top 3 baits for me.