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Stingrays and skates are challenging to shoot and delightful to eat

Brent Danenhower retrieves a stingray he just arrowed as his father Bob scans the water for another ray
Brent Danenhower retrieves a stingray he just arrowed as his father Bob scans the water for another rayBob Danenhower

With stream fishing at a virtual standstill now that all trout stockings are over, the next best waters are rivers and lakes. Or, if you want to try something different, try bowfishing for what is termed trash fish like carp and suckers in area lakes and ponds.

Brent Danenhower takes aim on a stingray in the back waters of Chincoteague Island
Brent Danenhower takes aim on a stingray in the back waters of Chincoteague IslandBob Danenhower

Once graduating from those species, you may want to try for some really big fish like stingrays and skates. That’s what Bob Danenhower and family did recently on the back bays of Chincoteague Island where wild horses still roam.

Using recurve and compound bows, Danenhower, of Bob’s Wildlife Taxidermy in Orefield, and his two sons Bob Jr and Brent, managed to arrow six rays between 60-70 pounds each wherein they get four edible fillets from each fish.

“We get two fillets from the top of the ray and two from the bottom,” said the senior Danenhower who has been making this trip annually while staying at Randy Birch’s outfitting service whose specialty is duck hunting in fall and winter months, and guiding for rays in the summer.

According to Danenhower, the rays they arrowed were in 3-6 feet of crystal clear water from the fore deck of Birch’s’ boat.

“There are skates that also inhabit these waters but most are in the surf that makes them difficult to see and shoot,” said Bob Sr..

As both rays and skates make for good eating, circular cut skate wing, with its mild, slightly sweet flavor and firm texture, is sometimes sold as imitation sea scallops and has been fraudently packaged as real sea scallops according to the U.S. FDA.

Skates are related to sharks and rays but differ in that rays are kite-shaped and have streamlined tails with one or more venomous barbs. When a barb pierces a victim, the skin covering the barb ruptures and venom is released. This is important to know when bringing one into a boat or attempting to remove an arrow or fishhook. And since the barb is serrated, it’s very difficult to remove without causing more damage.

Danenhower senior said he saves the barbs then cooks them until they’re white in color. He eventually plans on making a presentation box to display them in.

Skates on the other hand, don’t have barbs but rely instead on thorn-like formations on their backs and tails to deter predators.

Appearance wise, skates tend to be smaller and rounder or triangular in shape than rays with heavier, fleshier tails that have small fins toward the end. Skates commonly found in North America waters have elongated noses. They also differ in that stingrays bear large, plate-like teeth to crush larger fish and prey whereas skates must eat smaller foods than rays as they only have small teeth.

Some ray species can live in brackish waters and freshwater, whereas skates have a tendency to live in marine waters.

Skates are reportedly a bit more tastier than rays and in fact are a common dish in parts of France where the “wing” is called “raie.” They’re becoming increasingly more available in American restaurants such as Gary Henshaw’s Landis Store Hotel in upper Berks County where co-chef Scott Fisher puts them on the menu when they become available in summer.

Fisher prepares skate by filleting the wings away from the body as the body contains little usable flesh. “I simply season them with some salt and pepper and dip them in flour then pan cook the fillets in browned butter, lemon juice and capers. They don’t need a lot, and it compliments the fish. I have it in the pan for about three minutes per side and they just string apart,” Fisher explains.

If you’d like to taste skate, don’t delay in making reservations because it’s a seasonal entrée and could be off the menu.