For more than 30 years, James Alexander of Virginia Beach comfortably held on to the Virginia state record swordfish. Then, on a late summer whim, 29-year-old Joseph Harris and his friends spontaneously decided to go on an overnight fishing trip–and Alexander’s record was shattered.
Both Alexander and the newest record-holder are from Virginia Beach, and both were fishing Norfolk Canyon when they landed their catches. Harris’ name will go in the record books for a 446-pound swordfish that measured 152.5 inches. By comparison, Alexander’s fish weighed 381 pounds, 8 ounces and was caught on October 11, 1978, according to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (MRC).
Harris, a pipefitter at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, didn’t even know he would be fishing anytime soon until he got to talking with friends after work ended on Friday, August 31.
“We were sitting around after work talking about going white marlin fishing the next day,” Harris told The Virginian Pilot. “We got a wild hair and called everybody at the last minute, and said it might be easier to be out there first thing in the morning. So we just went ahead and went out around 7:30 that night.”
Harris and his fishing buddies set off to fish just south of Norfolk Canyon on a 34-foot charter vessel named Just Right. Harris let down a whole squid using a “custom-built 50-pound class stand-up rod mated to a Shimano TLD 50 reel and loaded with a 50-pound test Ande monofilament line,” according to an MRC press release.
The first deep baits for the swordfish were deployed at about 11 pm that night. A 10-foot tiger shark was caught soon after and released. Then, another catch-and-release, this time a 46-inch swordfish pup. Harris landed his record swordfish at about 2:30 am on September 1. “[The fish] came to the boat quickly, as the crew was able to actually touch the leader in about ten minutes after the initial hook-up,” the press release states. “The fish then sounded and the next 2-1/2 hours produced a see-saw battle. Once the fish was finally at boat side, and the group fully appreciated the size of their prize, several gaffs were deployed to insure the swordfish could be controlled and pulled through the tuna door.”
Harris was able to reel the fish in on a 50-pound line because it was hooked in the lower jaw. “Swordfish tend to get tilted a little when they’re hooked in the lower jaw. I think that’s the only reason we got it. If it had been hooked in the upper jaw, on that 50? There’s no way we would have gotten him,” Harris said.
Harris’ record was certified at the beginning of October. Perhaps it will stand another 30 years, but with the knowledge that records are coming out of Norfolk Canyon, other anglers might want to get their hooks in the water for a chance at another enormous catch.