Cownose rays don’t get any respect. They’re “trash-fish”, good for ruining your tackle, decimating oyster beds, or muddying up your favorite flat. With that said, if you tie into one on a fly rod, they’re a blast. For Chesapeake Bay fisherman, they are a good option if striper, cobia, or drum fishing isn’t happening.
I spent yesterday on my boat (first time on the water this year) with my girlfriend, doing some laid back creek fishing for white perch. I hit a few of my favorite spots, but the last one had a surprise: A half dozen massive cownose rays feeding in the outflow from a tiny creek. I anchored the boat upstream, and fired off a crab imitation into the fray. On the second cast, I came tight to a sizeable ray. The downside: I was fishing with a 5wt (better suited for 1/4 lb trout than 40 lb stingrays).
The ray, realizing it was hooked, took off for the next zip code, and I quickly handed the rod to my girlfriend as I pulled the anchor. She proceeded to fight the fish for the next 30 minutes, big run after big run, with the rod nearly breaking against gunwales, motors, and windlass multiple times. Once boatside, we tried to land the ray, but it would not fit in our landing net. I was eventually able to make it fit, scooping the ray up and laying it on the deck. After popping the fly out, we posed for a quick picture, and then released it. Once freed from the net (after some serious effort) it swam off as if nothing had happened.
This was the 3rd cownose ray I have taken sight casting, but the first on trout tackle. The rod, a St. Croix Imperial, did amazingly well, handling serious strain and abuse.