Fishing is a well-endorsed sport by people of all ages and backgrounds. There are a lot of fishes that are highly sought after and valued, but stingray is not among them. Although the reason varies, some people do fish for stingray.
But what are the most common stingray species in North America? How big are they, and how much do they weigh?
Atlantic stingray is the most common stingray species found in North America, both in saltwater and in freshwater rivers. Atlantic stingray is one of the smallest stingray species with a maximum wingspan of 2 feet, 14-16 inches on average.
The spade-shaped nocturnal fish is wider than their length and can weigh as much as 11 pounds. Other stingray species include southern stingrays, but they are significantly rare.
It is much more common for anglers to catch stingrays on accident when fishing in or nearby the St. Johns river system. Even if you are targeting other fish, you may and eventually will hook a stingray simply due to the number of stingrays there.
If you are hunting stingrays, you should be already accustomed to the fish and their behavior. But the problem occurs when you land a stingray in an accident and don’t know what to do with it.
So, if you are new to stingray, here’s what you need to know –
If you are planning on fishing in the St. Johns river system, you better be acknowledged of stingrays and how to handle them. It’s not a matter of “if you encounter them,” It’s more like “when you encounter them.”
As we all know, the round-shaped, relatively flat-bodied water creatures with a whip-like tail are the rays. Not all the rays are stingrays; there are also skates, manta rays, electric rays, etc.
Stingrays get their names from the iconic “sting” on their tails. Unlike a common thought, stingrays don’t use their sting for hunting or attacking. In fact, they don’t use their sting for any sort of offense.
The only purpose of the sting is defense. When a predator such as a dolphin or your feet approach them to eat or step on them, they whip their tail and puncture the predator to prevent it from attacking.
Skates, another ray fish, are harmless to humans. Electric rays do what the name implies; they produce electric pulses to “shock” and hunt. Manta rays are also harmless for us; they are just huge.
Stingrays are the only ray species with the sting, and Atlantic stingrays are the only ray species that can survive and live their entire life cycle in freshwater. So, as long as you are fishing in St. Johns or nearby, Atlantic stingrays are the only species you will encounter.
Anatomy Of Stingray
Atlantic stingray is the most common stingray species found in North America, so I will keep the discussion limited to Atlantic stingray.
The Appearance Of Stingray
Atlantic stingray is the smallest member of the ray family. Like other members of the family, they have a disc-shaped body with a long narrow tail. The so-called “wings” of stingrays are actually their pectoral fins which have been heavily modified and specialized for considerably faster acceleration.
Atlantic stingray is relatively rounder in shape compared to other rays. But the more obvious difference is their snout. Atlantic stingrays have relatively prolonged snout than other stingrays found.
The average wingspan of the Atlantic stingray is 14-16 inches, while the maximum recorded is about 24. The length of their body is about 9% shorter than their width, excluding the tail.
Their tail is another feature that differs between different rays. Most stingrays, including Atlantic stingrays, have a long whip-like tail, which is actually longer than their main body.
The tail is typically 25% longer than the length of its main body, reaching a maximum of 27 inches. This is the reason why some people call them “Whip-tailed” rays.
On the tail, about one-third of the way from the body, there is the iconic “sting” or barb. The barb is a serrated needle-like extension that the fish use to puncture into their enemy to inject a toxin.
After catching a fish the first thing we want to do is weighing the fish the right way. An average stingray with a wingspan of 12 inches weighs around 5 pounds. If you are hunting for stingrays in freshwater or even brackish water nearby the St. Johns river, this is the size you will encounter 9 out of 10 times. At least the matured ray and not young and juveniles.
Marine rays of the same species with a larger body will naturally weigh more. At most, they can weigh up to 11 pounds. But for a catch that size, you will need to go off the shore of Florida. But that’s another topic. This article is about the freshwater variety.
So, I have mentioned that Atlantic stingrays are found in all sorts of water, starting from freshwater, brackish water, and even saltwater. Does that mean the same species of fish is capable of surviving in all water? Well, yes. Atlantic stingray is perfectly capable of spending its entire life cycle in all those habitats.
Stingrays are highly adaptable and can cope up with extreme changes in salinity level. Saltwater stingrays maintain the same salinity level as the water they are in. When they enter freshwater, the salinity level of its internal body fluid remains high but the water outside is not. So, water enters its body crazily via osmosis.
For most fish, this is detrimental and will cause death in a matter of minutes. But when this happens to stingrays, their metabolism changes, and they increase the amount of water excretion tenfold, mostly by urine. In a few minutes, the salinity level decreases drastically, bringing balance with the ambient water.
How To Remove A Fishing Hook From Stingrays?
So, whether by accident or intention, when you hook a stingray, you will need to remove it to prepare the fishing rod for the next catch. This is where most people start freaking out, especially if they are unprepared. To be fair, this indeed is the riskiest time as well.
When the ray feels threatened, which they do when being pulled up against their will, they start whipping their tail around to try to sting and deter the predator. To safely remove the hook, pull the stingray on your boat and put it on the deck.
Be sure to put it upside down because when they are kept upside down, they feel dizzy and do not act as aggressive. Plus, their sting is facing upside down, so even if they move it, it’s not as dangerous.
This is a considerably safer method of removing the hook compared to removing it with the fish hanging on the line like other fish.
Even though stingrays are caught mostly by accident, some people hunt for stingrays intentionally. Some people catch them as food, while some others catch them as bait for other fish such as sharks. There are also trophy hunters who like to catch a range of fish species and the largest of the species.
Either way, getting a chunky fish is always desirable. If you are not catching rays for food or bait, be sure to remove the fish without doing much harm and release the fish alive. Stingrays have a distinct role in the local ecosystem, so take care of nature. Have a good one.
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