Your worst nightmare – a monster stingray

This southern stingray is one you definitely don’t want to step on.

Wade fishermen along the Texas coast know full well that stingrays are abundant just about anywhere you can find a salty tide. It’s not unusual to see them while wading the bays during the warm water months from about May through November. And that’s why stingray-proof wading boots and shin guards are so popular. If you get hit by the poison barb of a ray’s tail, you are toast for a least a few days, and done fishing for at least a couple of weeks.

Here’s how it works. A wade fisherman is easing along trying to catch a fish and steps on a ray that’s laid up on bottom. The surprised ray whips its tail up, with the bard sticking firmly into the angler’s flesh. A burning poison is released, and the fisherman is in big-time pain. That’s why ray guards should be worn any time you’re wading. It’s that simple. Without a doubt the most popular wading boots are the Ray Guards made by Foreverlast. They give you protection from your feet all the way up to your knees.

This past weekend, I was fishing on the middle Texas coast and happened to check out the Sharp Tooth fishing tournament in Port O’Connor. Two of the categories included sharks and rays – two big-time crowd pleasers. The folks at this weigh in were not disappointed, especially when a gigantic ray was hoisted up and hit the scales at 141 pounds – that is one muy grande ray. It had a 7-inch barb on its tail.

That particular type of ray is the same that’s found in our bays and in the surf. This one was caught at the end of the jetties on a piece of cut bait fished in about 30 feet of water.

Southern stingrays can get pretty big. The Texas state record was caught in Galveston Bay on June 30, 1998, and weighed 246 pounds. Carissa Egger caught that monster on a mullet. That’s also an all-tackle IGFA world record.

Southern stingrays have dark-brown upper bodies and white underbellies. That makes for perfect camouflage for these marine animals that spend their days buried in sand. From above, only their eyes are visible.

Stingrays slowly graze over the bottom for food. Since their eyes are on top of their bodies, they depend on electro-receptors and keen senses of smell and touch to find food. To uncover buried prey, stingrays force jet streams of water through their mouths or flop their fins over the sand.

Although southern stingrays aren’t aggressive they have venomous spines with serrated barbs on the bases of their tails. The spines are only used for defense, but if threatened or stepped on, a ray raises its tail overhead, scorpion style, and drives its spine into the intruder. The pain is intense, and the jagged wound takes time to heal.

The best way to avoid getting whacked by a ray is to shuffle your feet while wading. Never agitate a ray with your rod tip, and if you hook one, it’s best to cut your line. Something to remember is that where you find one ray, you’re likely to see more. Also, after wading and coming back to the boat, keep in mind that rays will very often be laid up in the shade of the hull. David Sams found that out the hard way last summer. He had just finished a wade in the Laguna Madre and was moving around the boat toward the ladder and got hit on the side of the foot by a ray. It wasn’t a real big deal, other than some pain and a lot of bleeding. The spine nicked his foot.

If you get hit, soak the wound in hot water, which helps alleviate the pain by denaturing the venom. Soak the wound until the pain is tolerable, then get to an emergency room ASAP. You can apply direct pressure to control bleeding, and always pour hydrogen peroxide over the wound.

Birding and canoeing the Big Thicket

The staff of Big Thicket National Preserve invites you to explore the thicket by taking advantage its many ranger-led programs. Saturday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 a.m., join a park ranger for a morning bird walk. Birding is a great way to explore the preserve and learn about the 180-plus species of birds found here. This easy walk is geared toward beginner birders and will provide an introduction to basic birding techniques and to our common birds. Approximately 1 hour. Participants should bring water, insect repellent, and binoculars. Space is limited, so call the Big Thicket Visitor Center at (409) 951-6700 to register. 

Thursday, Aug. 17, join park rangers for a guided canoe trip on the waters of the preserve. This program targets the casual and novice paddler. Canoes, PFDs and paddles will be provided. Trip locations vary and space is limited, so call the visitor center at to find each trip location and to register.