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August 17, 2012

Billfishing Sizzles Off Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach, the East's hottest billfish battleground

Sword City

Virginia Beach offshore waters also host some very large swordfish. It’s a fishery that many of the longtime captains have been targeting for quite some time. And like the rest of the billfishing, it wasn’t always so good.

“All I used to do back in the 1980s was overnighters,” remembers Capt. Mike Standing, who runs the Waterman (757‑288‑9051; waterman​sportfishing​.com), a 57-foot Custom Carolina. “We’d do wonderful on tunas back then, and if we were lucky, we’d get a swordfish. Now it’s the opposite — you don’t catch the tunas at night, but you catch the swords. The stocks have really rebounded.”

Just like in Florida, where day-dropping has been all the rage recently, Virginia’s swordfish populations have thickened. The problem with swordfishing in Virginia Beach, however, is that there are often too many other things going on — especially during the day.

“We have to make a ­decision, because the marlin are often jumping in the boat,” says Wilson, who has spent significant time with Florida Keys’ swordfish pioneer Vic Gaspeny. “So we often forgo day-dropping and instead fish the swords at night, then get the marlin in the evening and morning. But once the other fisheries settle down in the winter, we’ll do a day-drop. Most of the charter boats have caught fish doing so — but we’re all still learning.”

Wilson made five swordfish trips last year, mostly at night, and caught multiple fish each trip. His September slam ranked as only the fourth IGFA billfish slam in U.S. waters that included a swordfish; and the young 29-year-old captain lost a huge broadbill last year to a ­longline buoy after fighting it four hours on a 50. 

All the veteran captains agree that it’s a potential gold mine, especially with Virginia Beach’s light currents that allow easier dropping and better contact with baits.

“Once someone starts doing it regularly in the daytime, everyone and their brother will be doing it,” says Wright. “I think it’ll happen, especially if the species is accepted one day into our billfish tournaments.”

Just another notch in a superb billfishing tradition.