(Oct. 2, 2020) Although previously bowfishing novices, Matt and Jesse Hildebrand got instantly hooked on the pastime after hauling in a world record butterfly ray this August in bay waters near Ocean City.
The Hildebrand brothers, who were vacationing with family at Assateague Island National Seashore in mid-August, decided on a whim to book a charter trip with Magic Bowfishing and Capt. Greg Steen.
The Hildebrands and Tyler Smith hauled in a 204.3-pound butterfly ray that measured over 83 inches in width in addition to an assortment of needlefish, houndfish and flounder.
The heavy haul shattered the previous record of 202 pounds, which was also captured on Steen’s vessel.
Steen said the newbies were quick studies.
“It was the first time they’ve ever done it,” he said. “You name it and they shot one or 10 of everything.”
Matt said the experience left an indelible impression on him and his brother.
“Obviously, this is one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done,” he said.
The Hildebrands had land-based hunting experience but transferring those skills to waterways took some practice.
“I probably took several hundred shots before I hit my first one, but once we got going, we got better at it,” Matt said.
Steen said once the pair began perfecting bowfishing techniques the results were stunning.
“[Jesse] shot a 3-pound flounder in the first two minutes and I said, ‘It’s only going to get better.’”
Several hours into the fishing venture Steen mentioned that butterfly ray was a highly sought after species.
“We kept talking about it and they were having such a great night that we just happened to run into one,” he said. “I generally don’t take people who are novices to do something like that, but this was all in bay waters.”
Although cloudy waterways obscured visibility, Matt said the large butterfly ray stood out.
“We went in between two pier abutments after a houndfish we had seen then saw the butterfly ray,” he said. “They’re big and quick.”
Following the captain’s directives, the brothers quickly shot arrows that made the mark.
“He said nail it,” Matt said. “It’s not hard hitting something from a couple feet away the size of a dinner table.”
In short order, two hits grew to three.
“My brother and I put in the first two and [Smith] got one arrow in it,” he added.
Steen said next steps included nailing the fighting fish with a pair of harpoons.
“It probably took a half hour to pull on board,” he said.
Matt expressed amazement at the strength and determination exhibited by the record catch.
“We ended up losing one of the harpoon lines because it pulled hard enough that it snapped … a quarter inch braided line,” he said. “Once we got it worn out … it took three of us to get it up on the boat.”
Steen said the Hildebrands were ecstatic to later learn the catch qualified as a record with the Bowfishing Association of America.
“They were really excited and completely shocked,” Steen said. “These guys cooked the butterfly ray and loved it.”
After returning home, Matt said plans for a return adventure were hatched.
“We’re already planning on coming back and hopefully bringing dad,” he said. “We rebooked for another year at Assateague the day after we got back.”