Thornback Ray

Other, Sea Fish Species


Thornback Ray (Raja clavata)

Average Weight

Big rod-caught thornback rays can weigh 9.07 Kg (20 lbs) or more. The average thornback ray weighs around 4.53 Kg (10 lbs).

Also known as

Roker and Skate

IUCN Status

NT – Near Threatened


As with all rays, the thornback ray has a flattened body with broad pectoral fins which resemble wings; its body is kite-shaped and brown-grey in colour on the back with thorn-like spines and a white underbelly. The thornback ray also has a light orange-brown marbled pattern across its back and mature females can also have the thorn-like spines which are normally found on its back on their underside as well.

Other species of ray can also have these thorn-like spines, which makes identification difficult however the thornback ray has the most spines by far. The small-eyed ray (Raja microocellata) has a very similar shape but lacks spines, it has a sand-brown back with pale, curlinging lines which make for an attractive pattern. The small-eyed ray can also be caught in the same areas as the thornback ray and with similar rigs and bait.

Warning: The spines are sharp, as are the teeth! Handle with care.


So how do we catch one?

Best Baits

Whole small fish, particularly sprats, make great bait for thornback rays, fish strips such as herring, mackerel and pilchard are also effective. Sandeels, peeler, soft back and hermit crabs, shellfish,  and ragworms can all also be used.


The thornback ray can be caught all year round. During March and April it is found close inshore and the best sport is throughout May, June, July, August and September, after which it migrates to deeper offshore waters.

Favourite Feeding Places

Thornback rays favour both shallow and deep water over sand, sand/mud or clean gravel seabed to feed. They don’t like areas of rock or rough ground.

Best Locations

The thornback ray can be caught throughout British waters.


Best rig for catching thornback rays

Shore Fishing

A basic leger rig with a wire trace of around 9 kg (20 lbs) breaking strain attaching hook to swivel on line is the best option for catching thornback ray.

Basic Leger Rig

This rig is used to lay hookbait on the seabed. The distance between the hook and swivel can vary, but should be at least 300 mm (1 ft). This rig works so well because your line is able to pass through the weight’s “eye”, meaning that shy or suspicious fish can tug the bait without instantly sensing the resistance.

Boat Fishing

A boat leger rig with a wire trace of about 9 Kg (20 lbs) breaking strain attaching hook to swivel on line is optimal when boat fishing.

Boat Leger Rig

This is one of the simplest and most effective rigs for boat anglers. The space between the hook and swivel can vary, but should generally be about 1 m (3 ft). The bait is presented on the seabed and the line is able to move through the boom without hitting the weight which would otherwise scare off a bait-biting fish.

Top tips

  1. Thornback rays are known for playing with bait before swallowing it. Don’t tighten your line as soon as you feel the slightest pull, wait until your line pulls away strongly and then tighten and reel-in.
  2. Thornback rays travel across the seabed in small, sociable groups. Once one has been caught and removed from the group, the remaining thornback rays will remain in the area for a fair amount of time before continuing their journey. During this confused phase, it is possible to catch each member of the thornback group, one by one!