- Scientific name: Raja microocellata
- Also known as: Painted Ray, Small Eyed Skate
- Size: Up to 3ft and 20lbs. UK shore caught typically 2 – 6lbs.
- UK minimum size: 16ins/41cm from wingtip to wingtip.
- UK shore caught record: 15lb 11oz
- IUCN Status: NT (Near Threatened)
- Distribution: Found mainly around the south and west of the British Isles. Small, isolated populations can be found elsewhere around the UK but they are absent from much of the North Sea.
- Feeds on: Mostly fish but will also take worms and crustaceans.
- Description: Short pointed snout and (unsurprisingly) small eyes with spiracles just behind. Colour can range from grey to green and brown with small dark dots and lighter lines crossing the body. Spines and spikes run down the central section of the body and tail, but these lie almost flat against the body. Tail is slightly shorter than the body and the underside is white.
Small eyed ray grow to a maximum of 20lb, although this is the maximum size they reach and specimens of 10 – 12lb can be considered large, and a 5lb specimen is a good catch from the shore. Small eyed ray will come into shallow water to feed, and prefer to hunt around sandy, muddy and light shingle seabeds, and have been known to come into estuaries. Small eyed rays feed on fish and to a lesser extent squid. They hunt as an ambush predator, burying themselves in the seabed and launching themselves at prey as it passes by. They will also opportunistically take other small marine creatures such as worms and crustaceans and also scavenge on dead fish.
Like many ray species the small eyed ray has suffered from a reduction in numbers in recent years. It is currently classed as Near Threatened by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) on a global basis with a declining population trend. In areas where the small eyed ray is found in high numbers – such as the Bristol Channel – it is targeted by commercial vessels, but in much of the rest of the UK it is caught as bycatch. The slow growing, late maturing nature of this species, its vulnerability to trawling methods, and the disturbance and destruction of small eyed ray habitats due to dredging explain why small eyed ray numbers have declined. As this species is under threat most anglers fish for it on a catch-and-release basis.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Small Eyed Ray
As stated small eyed ray live over soft seabeds and so open sandy beaches are the best place to target this species, although they can also be caught in large estuaries as well. Even though this species comes into shallow water (by ray standards) casts of a decent distance (around one hundred yards) can be needed to reach feeding small eyed rays. For this reason clipped down rigs should be used with a single hook to maximise distance. Hook size should be 1/0 to 3/0 in strong patterns as this will allow larger rays to be landed. When it comes to bait peeler crab and ragworm can catch this species, but fish baits such as mackerel strip, herring and squidcan be more effective. It can also be worth trying species which the small eyed ray is more likely to come across in its natural habitat as bait such as pouting, poor cod and whiting.