A SOUTHEND fisherman netted an unusual catch after landing a rare ray... which he’s sure was smiling at him!

Steven Mansell, 52, was fishing at Southend Pier with his ten-year-old son, Curtis, and his stepbrother, Liam, 15, when Steve felt a hard tug on his line.

Rays are usually caught using other fish but, Mr Mansell, who hadn’t set out to catch the ray, was using rag worm.

After realising what was on the other end of his line, he called over to some other fishermen for their help.

He said: “You can’t lift a one of those on a fishing line as you could damage them or kill them because of the hook.

“So we had to get a net and drop it down into the water to get it up.

“Luckily Thorpe Bay Angling Association were here doing a competition so the boys ran over there to ask for help and was offered a net.

“Lots of people were coming over and taking pictures.

“The fish hook was quite deep in his mouth so rather than take it out, I just cut the line otherwise it could have damaged it.

“It was quite wriggly and had thorns all over the front of it like cat claws.

“But they are not able to sting you.

“The ray was unharmed and wasn’t out of the water for long.”

Steven and other fishermen nearby helped to gently release the fish back into the water.

The dad added: “We knew we needed to get it back into the water as quickly as possible and it needed to be put back into the water gently.

“We gently released it and off it swam straight under the pier.

“I’ve been fishing for most of my life - for the last 40 years - and I have never fished a ray before in Southend and I go down to the pier quite a lot.

“The boys didn’t think I was going to catch anything. It was a great thing to see and his face looked like he was smiling.”

The thornback ray is usually found inshore during March and April, and throughout the spring and summer they often migrate to deeper offshore waters.

Thornback rays favour both shallow and deep water over sand, or a clean gravel seabed to feed.

They don’t like areas of rock or rough ground.

A spokesman for Southend Council said: “Thornback rays are relatively common in the Thames estuary at this time of year, though it is not often that one gets landed on the pier.

“The most common catches being mackerel, plaice or flounder. It just goes to show what a great and unique spot Southend Pier is for anglers.”