The undulate ray sports distinct dark wavy lines margined with white or sometimes yellowish spots over a generally light to mid-brown back. This unique colouration has earned it the nickname of the pop-art ray in Ireland, which is an accurate description.
Its common sizing is from 3 to 8lbs in the UK and Ireland, but fish over 10lbs are not uncommon. It is a fish that can be very localised in its distribution, being caught in one specific area but rarely or never from marks close by. It is found mainly along the mid-English Channel coast and from the southwest of Ireland, principally Cork and Kerry.
With changing climate and milder winters, this ray has become an almost year-round species in some areas, but there is a more defined season ranging from late April to November with the principal months being from June onwards. September and October have a habit of throwing up the biggest fish.
They are found off beaches over clean sand or shingle, but they are also found in the mouths of larger estuaries with a sandy muddy bottom, such as at Fenit in Ireland. They are a typical ray and seek small depressions in the seabed that the tide flows through that they can lay in to wait for passing food and prey.
They are usually found in water over 20-feet deep, but will work shallower if the food supply warrants it and light levels are low.
Weather and Tides
In shallower water, try to pick the more settled periods when the sea swell and surf is not too high. They will tolerate lively seas, but do not like rough seas and will push out deeper looking for more comfort. A gentle wind between force 2 and 4 off the sea is ideal. One thing rarely mentioned is that undulates seem to be more prolific on the beaches when there is a wind that blows onto a beach from an angle, not directly at it. This will reduce the surf and swell, but it will also relate to how the food source will be distributed.
They can be caught by day, but overcast days and night tides tend to give the better catches.
They like some tide run, so the best period of the tide to fish are the middle hours when the flow is strongest. Bites are less likely as you approach both low and high-water slack. They will also feed on the ebb, again with the middle hours best, but their activity levels during ebb tides tends to be less than on the flood.
Beachcasters capable of casting lead and bait up to 7ozs are a wise choice, such as the Competition Naga and Blackout, the Xenon C6 and Power Series or Banzai Power matched to either a 6500 sized multiplier reel such as the Guerilla Mono Mag. Reels should be loaded with 19lb Tronixpro Blaze or AXIA monofilament with a 60lb Xenon Shockleader.
For fishing with fixed spools, three-piece rods such as the Competition Match HT or Xenon Quartz, matched with an 8000 sized fixed spool such as the Banzai LC. Again, load the reel with 19lb Tronixpro Blaze with a 60lb Xenon Tapered Leader. For anglers who prefer braided lines, 30lb Tronixpro X8 Power Braid and a 60lb Shockleader is ideal.
A pulley rig is perfect for undulate ray situations. Start with a 50-inch section of 60lb Xenon Shockleader. Tie a Tronixpro Big Bait Casting Snap Link to one end. Slide on a 5mm bead, a Pulley Rig Bead and another 5mm bead. Measuring up from the tag end of mono 22-inches, tie in a figure-of-eight knot for the beads to butt up to. On to the tag end of mono slide on a rig crimp, a 3mm bead, then an 8mm bead. Now tie on a size 4/0 Tronixpro Beast Hook. The crimp, 3mm bead and 8mm bead form the bait stop and this needs to be crimped in place about 2-inches above the hook. This stops the bait flying up the hook trace during the cast. Clip the hook in the wire hook of the Big Bait Casting Snap Link for casting.
The best choice of weight is a release wire grip lead, though if you have space between you and other anglers, a plain lead left to wash slowly round with the tide can help find those depressions the rays will sit in.
The best overall bait for undulates is squid cut into sections or a whole small squid. Make sure you pass the hook in and out down the length of the bait, then bring the point out by the head. It’s best to remove the tentacles or bind them to the head with Tronixpro Baitex, as rays can sometimes bite off the tentacles yet leave the main bait alone.
Other baits that will catch are peeler crab, especially in or around estuaries, and less so ragworm and lugworm, though these will pick up smaller fish on beaches and are most effective in the autumn. Mackerel is another secondary bait that will work, but is better if freshly caught. Sandeel is also worth a try over sand, especially as a cocktail with squid.
The best and least known bait for big undulates is a fresh fillet of pouting or a whole small pout, which are often common on undulate ray grounds. They will also take a small fresh whiting in the autumn period.
Undulates can be present for short periods of time, then disappear. It’s best to use local catch reports and try to get a trip in within a couple of days of undulate rays being reported. If you must pre-plan trips, target venues where undulates are consistently caught and choose the tides rising towards the higher spring tides, which is when the higher numbers of fish will be inshore.
Undulates are frequently caught at long range and seem loath to venture too close to the tide line, preferring the deeper water. Fishing two rods is an advantage, putting both out as far as you can cast them initially, but if nothing happens, try one rod at mid-range.
Two rods allow you to use different baits too. Undulates can be bait fussy and prefer only one bait, typically squid, so it’s worth experimenting on the day. Also try a combination bait of squid tipped with fresh mackerel, or squid tipped with bluey or peeler crab. Having two baits relatively close together also helps to maximise the scent trail and will pull fish in from further afield.
Take note of exactly where you’re fishing on the beach and the distance cast, as undulates are predictable fish and will return to the same patch of ground tide after tide.