Skates and stingrays often take the bait when bottom fishing so it’s good to know the difference between the two creatures. Although they share a similar shape and both have a white underside, stingrays have a spine or barb on their whip-like tails whereas skates do not.

Skates do feature thorny projections on their backs and tails for protection from predators. Their skin is drab, brown, and gray. Rays’ skin is normally black or brown.

If you’re bottom fishing with shrimp or squid, there’s a good chance you’ll catch one of these unique animals. If this happens, remember to be careful and use your pliers because each type of animal can bite.

When removing the hook to release the animal, be sure to handle it carefully for your safety and the safety of the animal.

Usually, anglers use a hoop-style net on a long rope to land these animals, which are often large and heavy. Once they’re on the deck, use caution and keep an eye on their tail.

For hook removal, a common technique entails flipping them over onto their backs first. On rays, the barb is located at the base of the tail where it connects to the body. Avoid it at all costs because it will sting you.

“Just keep ‘em on their back, it’s a little safer,” says Mike Preziotti, security guard and greeter at Jennette’s Pier.

He has helped hundreds — if not thousands — of people deal with landing and safely releasing skates and rays.

Whatever you do, do not cut off the tails on either of these marvelous sea creatures. For both species, their tails are their biggest defensive mechanism.

These sea creatures are living dinosaurs, and their fossil record dates to the Jurassic-era. The main difference between skates and rays is that skates lay eggs, whereas rays give birth to live young.

At Jennette’s Pier, we mainly see clearnose skates but a wide variety of rays, including cownose, southern, butterfly and eagle. Both swim close to the bottom and feed on whatever they can find including small bony fish and small benthic invertebrates.

When walking in the ocean, shuffle your feet across the sand instead of stepping — the vibrations give skates and rays a heads up that you are coming so they can swim away.

If you catch one at Jennette’s Pier, look for “Mike P” and he’ll be sure to lend you a hand. He has some techniques to keep both you and your catch from being harmed.

For more information about Jennette’s Pier or to book a Family Fishing program, go to www.jennettespier.net or call 252-255-1501, ext. 214.

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