Photo courtesy of Bryan Hughes Finishing second place never felt so good for Bryan Hughes, who shot a 92-pound grass carp during a May 16 bowfishing tournament at Guntersville Lake on the Tennessee River in northern Alabama. Hughes and two teammates weighed in the second heaviest five-fish stringer for the tournament but took home the big fish prize—and set a new bowfishing world record—after a harrowing 15-minute battle to secure a second line in the massive carp. Hughes' catch was the second world record set this year at Guntersville this year. On May 7, Jeff Neiball caught an 87.8-pound grass carp while bowfishing at the 68,000-acre lake, which is quickly becoming known as a top carp destination.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Hughes Hughes is president of Backwater Outdoors, a hunting supply business that specializes in bowfishing equipment and sponsors a monthly bowfishing tournament. The May 16 competition attracted fewer teams than normal due to rainy weather, and fishing had been slow until Hughes spotted a big carp around 1 a.m., six hours into the tournament. “A lot of times when you see a good fish in the water, you don’t realize just how big it is until you bring it up,” he says. “But this one I knew right away was as big as anything I’d ever seen.”
Photo courtesy of Bryan Hughes Hughes and his fishing partner Scott Jennings both shot the fish. Jennings’ arrow came out almost immediately when the fish began to fight, but Hughes’ line stayed in. “When you get a big fish, you don’t want to start reeling as hard as you can,” Hughes says. “You let it run and use the boat to catch up and get a backup shot in. Carp are really soft-fleshed fish, so they’re bad about coming off anyway, and the more you play them the riskier it gets. So we let it run.”
Photo courtesy of Bryan Hughes After the fish settled on the bottom, Hughes repositioned the boat, reeled in his slack, and coaxed the carp to the surface so Jennings and his fiancé, Madison Browning, could attempt to secure a second line in the fish. Both missed, and the fish took off again. After three misses, Hughes admits he was feeling tense. “I was kinda starting to panic. I told them, ‘Please, will somebody shoot this fish again?’ I was getting a little frustrated. “We had so many lines tangled from everybody going around in circles that Scott had to go to the back of the boat and get another bow to finally make the shot,” Hughes recalls. With two lines attached, Hughes was able to maneuver the fish into gaff range within a couple of minutes. But the struggle was far from over.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Hughes Jennings gaffed the fish and started to haul it over the bow. “He got the fish’s head over the lights, then said, ‘Man, I can’t get it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean you can’t get it?’ I’d never had a fish that one person couldn’t at least drag it onto the deck.” Hughes went to help his buddy, and together they hauled it aboard. They knew immediately that the carp was bigger than any they’d ever caught. After bottoming out two different scales, they started to think they might even have a record on their hands. Hughes knows the angler who’d set the world record just nine days before, and now he wondered if he had a fish that could surpass that one.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Hughes The answer would come at the weigh-in. Hughes and his teammates watched as another team weighed a 79.4-pound carp. “Normally, in any bowfishing tournament anywhere in the world, that’s gonna be a lock for big fish,” Hughes says. “That’s a giant. So they were feeling pretty good about that.” But Hughes’ team waited until last to weigh in, and when the scale displayed 93.3 pounds, bedlam ensued. “Man, everybody had their camera phones out taking pictures,” he laughs. “It was pretty exciting.”
Photo courtesy of Bryan Hughes Hughes now knew for certain that he had a world record, but he couldn’t find an open certified scale until noon the next day. By then the carp’s weight had dropped to 92 pounds. The Bowfishing Association has certified the record at that weight. The official length is 51.5 inches and the girth is 39 inches. “I’ve had a couple of state records before, but that was before social media,” Hughes says. “This just blew up immediately. All my friends were telling me, ‘Man, I’m tired of hearing about your fish; that’s all I’ve read on Facebook for three days.’ But you have to take your 15 minutes and get all you can out of it.”