By Lee Tolliver
© September 6, 2012
Most anglers looking to score an offshore billfishing “grand slam” head to exotic locales such as Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica or Cabo San Lucas – places that require extensive travel and fat wallets.
They would be better suited to head to Virginia Beach, where the action the past couple of weeks has been nothing shy of world-class.
An offshore billfish “grand slam” consists of catching a white marlin, blue marlin, sailfish, swordfish or spearfish – any three of the five – on the same day. It’s rare, having been done only a couple hundred times worldwide in the past century, according to the International Game Fish Association. And the feat is even more rare along the Atlantic coast of the United States, having been done just a handful of times.
Catching four out of the five species in the same day is known as a “super grand slam.”
But Capt. Steve Richardson has registered five “grand slams” alone in the past few weeks – two of them by Charlottesville’s Tom Wheaton. On a trip last week, Richardson’s boat – Backlash – caught and released 17 billfish, with “grand slams” for Adam Bryant of Roseland and Nelson Jones of Amherst.
“There is some phenomenal fishing going on here now,” Richardson said. “Boats from Ocean City (Md.) and from the Outer Banks are making runs to the Norfolk Canyon to get in on the action.”
In 11 trips, Richardson said that Wheaton has caught eight sailfish, eight blue marlin and 49 white marlin.
Richardson, who once held the world record for the most white marlin caught in one day with 41, said things are only going to get better.
Two years ago, records for white marlin were shattered along the mid-Atlantic. A Maryland boat, Cerveza, scored 67 releases on an overnight trip, while Capt. John Duffie on the Maryland-based Billfisher set the single-day record with 57.
Boats returning to port flying 10, 15, 20, sometimes 30 release flags are no longer uncommon in ports from Ocean City to Oregon Inlet.
“Fishing has been outstanding this time of year for quite a while,” said Richardson, who has fished in all the planet’s billfish hot spots. “It’s attracting boats and anglers from around the country and around the world.
“It’s the best fishing in the world this time of year… bar none.”
It’s likely to get even better as seasonal patterns should benefit from storms staying well off the coast. Tropical storms Leslie and Michael on Wednesday were closing in on Bermuda while on the verge of becoming hurricanes, joining forces to pump huge groundswells into the fishing grounds nearly 70 miles off the Virginia coast.
Those big, slow-rolling conditions concentrate large schools of bait, which in turn attract predators like billfish.
Anglers also currently stand the chance of catching a “super grand slam” because of increasing numbers of swordfish. The state-record sword – a 381-1/2-pounder caught in 1978 on Richardson’s boat – was shattered last week by a 446-pounder caught by Virginia Beach’s Joseph Harris while fishing with Capt. Justin Wilson on the Just Right. Overnight trips provide the best opportunity for swordfish, but slams caught over a two-day period don’t count under IGFA rules.
Capt. Jake Hiles on the Matador doesn’t care, saying that an angler or boat “super grand slam” still is an amazing feat.
He scored a boat “super grand slam” last week with three fish caught by James Chen of Jamaica and a swordfish caught by the captain.
” ‘Grand slams’ and ‘super slams’ just don’t happen very often… not for single anglers and not for boats,” Hiles said. “You can go one place for awesome white marlin fishing and somewhere else for awesome sailfishing.
“But right now, we have it all right here. I’ve been all over the world fishing and I never would have thought that I could have this kind of world-class action 55 miles off my own back yard.”
Lee Tolliver, 757-222-5844, firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lee Tolliver