(Raja Clavata)

Easily distinguished from other ray varieties by the prominent thorns that run down the centre of the back and tail the thornback ray favours open ground where it can easily camouflage itself by burrowing into the soft sand and mud. The mouth is positioned on the underside, allowing it to move over the sea bed and cover its selected food item before passing it through a set of grinding teeth, which are powerful enough to crush shells and molluscs. The eyes are set on the top side and it is thought that eyesight is very poor; instead the thornback relies on an internal radar system thought to be triggered by a form of electromagnetism and vibration. Directly behind the eyes are two holes which are breathing vents, or spiracles. Colouration of the body varies depending on the type of bottom the ray is living over. The adult thornback is usually a pale brownish-yellow and is coated in patchy black speckles. Towards the rear of the body and extending down the tail there will often be a brownish-red pigment to the skin. The thornback will eat a variety of small fish including whiting, dabs, sandeels and herring which it is able to catch by pouncing from its hidden position. Thornbacks are found around the coast of the British Isles and Ireland and can grow to up to 20lbs although fish weighing between 10lb and 15lb are more common.

They are not caught in huge sizes and are the second smallest species in the ray family. A specimen of 15lb is a good catch, and thornbacks above this weight tend to be females. They are often found close to estuaries and even travel up into the estuary to feed on sandeels.

Where To Find Them

Found throughout the British Isles, Ireland, North Sea, Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean, thornback rays are not commonly found in very deep water, preferring the inshore clean grounds of sand and mud. The Thames Estuary and Bristol Channel are famous for their thornback ray fishing.

When To Find Them

March through to the end of October.

Natural Food and Best Baits

The thornback is a predator and it thrives on small fish such as young flatfish, sandeels, herrings, sprats and crustaceans. Early on in the season the top bait is a chunk of fresh herring. As the summer approaches, fresh peeler crabs take over as the number one bait. On the east coast, hermit crabs are another favoured bait.

Tips and Tactics

Thornbacks are a popular target for both boat and shore anglers both should take time when striking at a thornback bite for the ray to work the bait well into its mouth.

UK Records

Shore: 21lb 12oz

Boat: 31lb 7oz