Story by Tom Pagliaroli

 

You’re seeing them in the surf. You’re seeing them in the inlets. And you’re seeing them in the bays.

Singles, doubles, triples, pods...they are here in summertime force and will stick around until the end of September when they begin migrating southward.

“They” are cownose rays, and their numbers seem to be at an all time high, at least along the Jersey shore. These are joined, albeit in lesser numbers by bullnose rays and spotted eagle rays, and once in a while some giants, like the spiked butterfly ray, show up. These can reach and exceed 100-pounds (see photo).

However, it’s the cownose that is most common, and they get to be pretty big, reaching 50-pounds, with some reported as hefty as 75 to 80-pounds. Size alone differentiates it from the more common and much smaller skate, but a huge (and painful) difference is that the rays have a barbed shaft (hence, the generic moniker “stingray”) situated down along the tail, and when it makes contact with any part of the human anatomy, its sunk deeply via a quick whip of the tail. Not only is the pain excruciating, but it takes a surgical procedure to remove it, and then there is the concern about infection, as the stinger is loaded with all sorts of nasty bacteria and germs.

Which leads to the no-brainer solution when one is hooked and brought to the sand, rocks or boat side: cut the line as close to the mouth as possible while keeping an eye on the tail. This is better performed as a two-person operation.

Ray wings are certainly edible, and we prefer them to skate wings. If it’s decided to keep a ray that has grabbed your bait and then put you through a grueling, spool dumping exchange, get it on ice as soon as possible, and it’s a prudent idea to cut off the tail close to the base and discard so as to avoid possible impalement.

The bottom of ray wings are thick cartilage and nigh impossible to cut through except with a chainsaw. With a very sharp 9-inch blade fillet knife, slice the wings tight to the body and then pull them away. It’s now simply a matter of making slices about 2-inches apart top to bottom, then running the blade along the wing base while lifting the strip of meat. Turn it over, and then skin the “fillet”.

These can be cut in chunks and deep-fried, grilled or made on a kebob with tomato and onion chunks, shrimp and/or scallops.

 

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