Almy: Fla. man hauls in record bigeye

Almy: Fla. man hauls in record bigeye

Vic Gaspeny of Tavernier, Fla., holds the rod he used to catch a new state-record bigeye tuna on Sept. 25 off Virginia Beach. The fish weighed 311 pounds, shattering the previous state record by more than 25 pounds. Photo courtesy Virginia Marine Resources Commission (Buy photo)

Vic Gaspeny is a name well-known to saltwater anglers. The Tavernier, Fla., resident is a light tackle fishing guide in the Florida Keys who works out of the famous Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Fla. He’s gained an international reputation for his ability to put anglers onto tarpon, and for helping pioneer “Day Dropping” for swordfish off the Florida coast.

Gaspeny caught his first swordfish in 1978 off of Florida at night, and his second one that same year off of Maryland. But it was 23 years before he took his third swordfish, around the turn of the century. Conservation measures and commercial fishing restrictions were bringing the fish back in good numbers then. He became engrossed with swordfishing when he wasn’t guiding anglers, and caught many during the night. But eventually he heard of a doctor who caught a swordfish during the day off of Venezuela.

With much experimenting, he eventually developed the technique off of Florida and the East Coast for catching these fish in daylight, called “Day Dropping.” Just recently, Gaspeny caught his 200th swordfish, which may well be an individual record.

But it isn’t swordfish or tarpon that Gaspeny is now famous for in Virginia. On Sept. 25, he entered the state record books for catching the biggest bigeye tuna ever. He shattered the previous record by a whopping 25 pounds!

Gaspeny is not a newcomer to Virginia fishing. He spent many years in the state, attending high school and graduating from Old Dominion University in the tidewater region. While he now works as a guide in the Florida Keys, he comes home regularly for “fishing vacations,” according to Lewis Gillingham, Director of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament.

It was on one such outing this fall with a group of friends that Gaspeny caught his record bigeye. With nearly half a ton of ice and plenty of gas, the party left the dock out of Virginia Beach on Captain Justin Wilson’s charterboat, “Just Right.” They intended to day-drop for swordfish, Gaspeny’s specialty. But when the group was told the tuna fishing had been fantastic and received a radio message that the fish were biting nearby, they headed for that red hot area.

Soon six lines were set for trolling and almost immediately all six bowed deep with the weight of heavy bigeye tuna. Two of the fish were average 50 pounders and quickly came to the boat. The other fish were obviously much bigger by the way they stripped line off the reel. One broke off, but three others eventually made it to the boat, all tuna in the 200 pound class.

With 600 pounds plus of tuna onboard, the crew decided to head back to their original location and try for swordfish. Those fish proved elusive, however. Eventually, they received word that the tuna were starting to bite again. It was hard to resist that temptation after the morning they’d had, so they picked up the lines and headed back.

Things were a bit slower this time, but eventually one big fish struck, and it was Gaspeny’s turn to take the rod. It was almost sunset, but the veteran angler settled in with a fighting harness and fought the stubborn bigeye expertly. He was using a Shimano reel loaded with 80-pound monofilament line and a custom built rod. The tackle was up to the task, and at 9:15 p.m., the big fish came close to the boat and was expertly gaffed by the crew.

The group thought about trying for swordfish again, but realized they were out of ice and space for any more fish on the 34-foot boat. They headed to dock, arriving just before midnight at Long Bay Pointe Marina. The next morning, when it was officially weighed and witnessed by Tournament Director Lewis Gilliingham, it weighed 311 pounds. The girth was 57 inches and the length 79 l/2 inches. The previous tuna record weighed 285 pounds and 12 ounces and was also caught off Virginia Beach at the Norfolk Canyon, by Melvin Bray of Dumfries on Aug. 11, 2003.

For more information on tuna fishing in Virginia, you can get in touch with Lewis Gillingham at 757-491-5160. If you want to fish with Gaspeny for tarpon and bonefish out of his 18-foot boat in the Florida Keys, call 305-664-2641.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.

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