Thursday, December 24, 2015

San Diego Bat Rays

During my visit, Ruoxi and I met up with some guys from to fish for bat rays.  It was incredibly generous of them to take us to one of their spots, share their bait, teach us how to fish for big rays, and let me reel in a couple of fish on their gear.

Ruoxi and I arrived at the fishing spot about 45 minutes before anyone else.  I fished a few lures and soaked some squid while we waited, but there wasn't anything biting at low tide.

Tom and Steve arrived and got to work setting up their rods.  They use heavy conventional gear with braided line around 40 lbs.  After they cast out their baits (cut mackerel), they set their rods in PVC tubes and turned the reel clickers on.  As the tide came in we waited for bites.

Steve was the first to hook up with a nice bat ray on his surf rod.  Tom I missed most of the fight because one of his rods went off, but when the fish that took Tom's bait came off we hurried back to help Steve land his ray.  It looked to be the start of a good night!

Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica)

Tom's rod went off again.  He was closer, so he grabbed the rod, set the hook, and then insisted that I reel it in.  It was a fun fight, and we landed the ray, but I didn't set the hook so I didn't want to count it for my lifelist.

By this time the sun had set, and it quickly became dark.  Steve had another nice bite, and this time he reeled in a butterfly ray.  It was a big one too!  We were all very excited to see this less common species.

California Butterfly Ray (Gymnura marmorata)

A few other people showed up and set up their rods as well.  I had pieces of squid cast out with my small travel rods.  One rod had 10 lb line and a #4 octopus circle hook, and the other had 4 lb line and a #8 octopus hook.  My 10 lb rod went off, and to my dismay I had a fairly decent bat ray on the end.  It would have been awesome to catch my official lifer on my own gear, so I kept my drag loose and fought it as carefully as possible.

I was fortunate that the ray didn't wrap my line around anything, and after a long and slow fight I had it up in the shallow water less than 10 feet from shore.  You can see its tail in the photo below.  However, once its belly began scraping the sand bottom, I had to tighten the drag to bring it in further.  As soon as I did that, my line snapped.  Bummer!

Next my 4 lb rod went off, and I pulled something tiny in, more or less dragging it along the surface of the water.  It was a salema, a small fish in the grunt family.  Tom was surprised to see it this far in the bay.  I was happy to have my first lifer of the night.

Salema (Xenistius californiensis) - new hook & line species #315

Ruoxi focused her attention on cooking brats for the group.  We were impressed with her skills using locally sourced cooking tools.  The brats really hit the spot.

Tom let me grab his rod when it went off again, and this time I set the hook and reeled it in so I could count it on my lifelist.  It wasn't a big one, but I was excited to have the monkey off my back.

Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica) - new hook & line species #316

My 4 lb rod went off again.  This time is was an adorable round stingray.  You can't tell the size from this photo, but I assure you that it was VERY small.  It would have been more sporting if I had used 2 lb line!

Round Stingray (Urobatis halleri) - new hook & line species #317

Tom caught a few fish on his gear, and then he let me have another turn.  This time it was a much larger fish!  The fight was fun, but the ray was no match for the heavy gear.  Still, by the time we landed it my arms were pretty sore.  I can't imagine what a really big shark or ray would feel like.  This one measured 43 inches across its wings.

Tom caught the biggest ray of the night with a wingspan of 50 inches.  Their bodies get really thick at this size!  Tom also caught one with two stingers, which was pretty cool and freaky at the same time.

I received the honors of catching the smallest bat ray.  It had an adorable wingspan of 15.5 inches.  Ruoxi and I agreed that this was a good fish to end the night with.

California once again left me both humbled and impressed.  Humbled at how generous the fishing community is and impressed with how productive and varied the fishing opportunities are.  Tuna fishing with Eli last October was without a doubt my best boat fishing experience, and bat ray fishing with the gang in December was easily my best nighttime shore fishing experience.  Check out their website and online forum.  They're a great bunch of folks.

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