Looking for a departure from your fishing routine? Catch a ray by mistake and don’t know if you should keep it or toss it back? Here’s a handy guide to all things ray: from identification to bait, and how to get it from the hook to your dinner plate.
What is a Stingray?
There are many different types of rays in our oceans and they’re often confused with another sea creature, the skate. Their bodies are roughly the same diamond shape and behave in much the same ways. Since they feed on crustaceans at the bottoms of seas and estuaries, they will bury themselves, leaving only the eyes peeking up from the sand. If you’re thinking of trying to catch a stingray, you’ll want to know how to recognize one.
Skates and rays are related to sharks. All of them are cartilaginous, meaning they have cartilage instead of bones. Instead of scales, they have rough, sandpaper-like skin made up of dermal denticles or tiny toothlike growths. In some rays, these are less developed and their skin is much smoother. The Atlantic stingray and the Southern stingray are two examples of soft rays. You can sometimes find small rays like these in public aquariums, swimming in a “petting pool.”
Skates and some sharks lay eggs. Their egg cases can often be found on the beach. If you spent time at the ocean as a kid, you might have known them as “mermaid purses.” Rays, on the other hand, give birth to live young. You will never see one laying eggs. The tail of a ray is normally longer and more slender than a ray’s and skates usually have a taller dorsal fin. In general, rays have a longer snout than skates do. Rays often have a barbed tail, equipped with a venomous spike. They’re not aggressive but will defend themselves if stepped on. The sting of a ray will require medical attention, so it’s important to watch where you’re putting your feet in the shallows. The Florida Museum has several great guides for identifying rays.
What’s the best bait for catching a Stingray?
There are many different types of rays and they all have their favorite foods. For this article, we’ll look at the Atlantic stingray. These rays are common along the eastern coast of the United States from Canada, all the way down to Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. They like warm water, so they migrate southward as the seasons change. You don’t need to go far to find them since they prefer to hang out in only 6 – 20 ft. of water.
As mentioned earlier, rays feed on crustaceans at the bottom of the water. Because they migrate, it’s to their advantage to have a varied diet. They’ll eat anything from clams and muscles to squid, anemones, and crabs. Most anglers prefer to use a piece of chopped squid as bait. Since they’re bottom feeders, you’ll want to weight your line so it rests on the submerged sand. 40 to 50 lb. monofilament with a single hook works nicely and you may want to add a running ledger with a bead and swivel.
There’s another way to snag yourself a stingray that doesn’t involve a line at all – spearfishing. Stingrays, despite the intimidating name, are not aggressive at all. However, you’ll need to avoid stepping on one if you don’t want its sting. The mouth can be equally as dangerous. Since they feed on shelled prey, their jaws are meant for crushing hard materials – like finger bones! So, when you’ve got one on the line or your spear, grab it behind the head to avoid both the mouth and the stinger. There’s more on spearfishing basics from Cast & Spear.
Can you eat Stingray?
The short answer is yes, stingrays are edible. Because there are so many different types of stingrays, you may want to positively identify it before you decide to eat it to make sure you have one of the tasty ones. There are a few endangered species, which are naturally illegal to catch and consume. People eat stingrays all over the world. The Filipino dish guinataang pagi features stingray and in Japan, rays are often fried and served with mayonnaise as a snack. A restaurant in Louisiana called Tao Asian Cuisine made the news when it featured fried ray on their menu. Although it’s not a common menu item, as with most fish, it’s fresher and tastier if you catch it yourself and cook it on the beach or at home.
The edible part of a stingray is its “wings.” That’s where most of the meat of the animal is. Its flavor is like its shark relatives, but a lot of people also think it tastes like scallops. Unscrupulous merchants have been known to cut circular disks from the wings and pass them off as scallops. The white flesh can be grilled, steamed in banana leaves, turned into BBQ, and essentially serve as a substitute for any dish that calls for shrimp or scallops. One tasty way to prepare them is to beer batter and fry the filets. If any (or all) of those ideas have you rubbing your tummy and smacking your lips, you’ll need to read on so you can prepare this delicious fish. Check out this recipe for Jamaican jerked stingray wings from BD Outdoors.
How do you fillet a Stingray?
The first step in preparing stingray should be to remove the tail. You will need to be extra careful with this step, as it’s still venomous even after the fish is dead. Put the detached tail in a sturdy container before you throw it out so someone doesn’t accidentally stick themselves with it when taking out the trash. Next, slice off the wings where they meet the body, giving about a quarter-inch of space away from the body. You should be able to feel where the softer wing meat separates from the body cartilage. Start from the head of the ray, cutting down toward the tail end. Some people eat the cheek meat and the liver of rays, but you’ll need a good knowledge of ray anatomy to find them. For now, dispose of the body and keep the wings.
To filet the wings, you’ll want a filet knife and a good strong pair of tweezers or pliers. To make it easier to separate the different layers of the wing, it’s helpful to first make a shallow lateral cut all along the edge of the wing. The next part is like filleting a flounder. Carefully insert the edge of the knife into the wing between the bone and the top layer of flesh. As you cut along the top side of the bone, pull back the meat to make sure you’re getting a consistent thickness. When that’s done, flip the wing over and do the same thing again. Then, remove the skin by gripping it with your pliers and inserting the knife between the skin and the meat. Just like with the previous step, peel back the skin as you cut it away from the meat.
Now, you have a set of fresh stingray filets to fry, sauté, stew, or cook up any way you like! So, next time you snag a ray instead of a bass or a lionfish, you can be confident that your hard work will yield a tasty feast!