Every summer, stingrays migrate through the shallows along the East Coast to eat crabs, clams, snails and mussels. Many bowfishing charters, like MobSquad Bowfishing with Capt. Nick Sampson, capitalize on that migration of rays and provide clients with some amazing bowfishing opportunities.
Bowfishing for stingrays is a fun, social activity that can be done day or night in coastal saltwater shallows. Participants can shoot from shore, wade or use a boat. If you already love bowfishing, targeting stingrays is a unique experience worth trying. If you’re a bowfishing rookie, pursuing stingrays alongside a trustworthy guide is a great introduction to the sport. Either way, it’s the perfect add-on to a summertime beach vacation.
Sampson, 44, started bowfishing as a teenager with his father. Since then, he’s arrowed hundreds of fish across America including carp, tilapia, barracuda, alligator gar, snakeheads and many more species. But stingrays are his favorite targets. He formerly held the world record for the largest butterfly ray, which weighed 222.1 pounds (that fish was surpassed in 2022 by another beast weighing 0.4 pounds more). He is also the founder of Bowfishing Magazine, a publication dedicated to bowfishing news, tips and stories.
Sampson competes in bowfishing tournaments and enjoys taking people out on aquatic archery adventures three times a week, five months out of the year, during stingray prime time. On his excursions, four to six people get about six hours to shoot four ray species including cownose, bullnose, and southern rays, which average about 30 pounds, and butterfly rays, which can average 130 pounds.
Bowfishing for rays is fun, Sampson said, because they are large and easy to hit, they put up an intense fight, and they give participants a take-home prize since each ray has a barbed tail that cleans up nicely. Rays are also delicious to eat, with some people comparing them to scallops. Sampson likes them best fried or broiled.
“Pound for pound, there aren’t many fish out there that fight like a ray,” he said. “When you shoot a ray, it’s like putting a lasso on a bull and it runs; you just hold on. After they chill out, you work them back in using the spinning reel attached to the bow, and another person puts a second arrow in them. On the bigger rays, we try to get four or five arrows in them for more control.”
Rays prefer warm water and usually find sandbars or tuck into bays to feed and hang out. Sampson pursues them in Delaware and Maryland bays from his custom-built, 26-foot-long, 105-inch-wide boat. He said it’s like a floating dock, but the large platform is extremely stable and helpful for landing jumbo butterfly rays.
Your equipment needn’t be fancy; Sampson started targeting rays with a hand-held spotlight and a trolling motor. But quality equipment does increase your chances of success, as does a knowledgeable leader. Sampson uses electronics, top-notch gear and years of experience to ensure his clients get multiple shooting opportunities. “I don’t take people on boat rides,” he said.
He shares the following tips with all his stingray clients, but he said the advice is applicable for all types of bowfishing.
Bowfishing stingrays is a family-friendly outing with lots of entertainment. Once you try it, a beach vacation won’t seem the same without a bowfishing excursion tacked on. Before you book, Sampson suggests researching reputable charters, getting references, watching their social channels, and comparing options to find a reliable and consistent operation. If you opt to bowfish on your own, check your state wildlife agency’s website to find regulations for season dates and legal species and equipment.