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Marlin catches off Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands
are a new discovery for the international sport fishing set.
Attractive resorts dot the mountainous terrain that
juts from the deep emerald waters.

by Larry Larsen

The owners, captains and anglers aboard the nine sport fishing yachts moored quietly at the small Biras Creek marina were concerned. The following day was the first of the international billfish tournament and they were being forced by the tournament director to fish a relatively unknown and unproven area nearby. What they found out on that first day, however, would set the sport fishing crowd on its ear.

Without exception, all nine vessels fishing the South Drop of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands caught more blue marlin than ever, anywhere. The "reluctant" discovery of a blue marlin fishery of such magnitude just 30 minutes away from the marina obviously pleased everyone.

Each afternoon of the four day tournament was a celebration of sorts. The boats would approach the marina with multiple marlin flags strung up on their antennas. The flags flying upside down denoted releases, but some anglers actually caught and tagged more blues on a particular day than they had flags aboard.

The nine sportfishermen waved a total of 87 blue marlin during the Biras Creek International Team Fishing Tournament held in September, 1988. That's almost a ten fish average per boat for the four days. The winning boat, the "Escape", caught and released seven blues on day one alone and looked like a Christmas tree with its flag display as it approached the Biras Creek marina that afternoon.

The "Escape" finished the tournament with 19 blue marlin, an obvious all-time all-tournament record for big game fishing tournaments. The boat's owner, Charley Campbell, and guest angler Doc Stewart, caught 9 and 10, respectively. While all of their tagged-and-released blues were under the tournament-imposed size limit of 300 pounds, they lost one that was much larger. It was estimated to be over 450 pounds.

Don Stallings, owner of the "Sea Eagle," landed 11 blue marlin alone over the four days. His five on day one was his best day ever, and he reported that his 11 that week would have made a good "season" for him many years. His wife, Billie, helped him land the first blue marlin double in his long-time angling experienced.

All of the participating boats had on doubles, and most reported triples and even quads on their baits during the event. The fish caught off the newly discovered South Drop ranged from 100 to 200 pounds, and only two over 300 pounds were brought to the scales. That's a positive note for conservation and for those anglers who want to keep the discovery of the area's fishery to themselves.

The South Drop area, as it is known locally, lies a few miles off the northeastern point of Virgin Gorda. On the map, the area lies just off Horseshoe Reef on the eastern side of Anegada, and it is quite possibly the best blue marlin area in the Caribbean. The number of blue marlin that inhabit the area is unfathomable.

Waters there drop from 30 fathoms to over 200, and the bottom is an irregular recorder plot revealing numerous peaks and valleys. Huge schools of flying fish are on the surface and dense "clouds" of bait hug the bottom of the South Drop. Both apparently attract the concentrations of blue marlin.

June through August are thought to be prime marlin months, but the South Drop fishery, being newly discovered, could reveal new information. September is typically a productive month as well for blues, and one of the anglers in the Biras Creek tournament predicted that fishing the South Drop in late September or October would result in the biggest blues from that area.

Blues of 800 and 900 pounds are taken just 25 miles away at the famous North Drop area off Jost Van Dyke. To date, most of the big Virgin Island blues have come from that area and from the area fished by charters from St. Thomas in the U.S.V.I. The mountainous Jost Van Dyke lies west of the remote island of Anegada. Those experienced now on the South Drop believe it will yield monsters in the future.

"If we ever fish the South Drop as hard as we do the North Drop, there's no question that we could catch as big a blue the South Drop average 75 pounds and are frequently caught during the summer."

The waters off Virgin Gorda are always very clear, so the billfish there are not used to moving in and out with the clean waters. The clarity is excellent because there are no rivers or other pollution sources that could present silt to the waters. The height of their mountains seem to dictate the climate and the amount of rainfall. Since they are low, rain clouds pass by the BVI. Abundant semi-arid plants, such as cactus, are the norm on Virgin Gorda and other islands in the BVI.

Other Caribbean islands with taller mountains, like Puerto Rico to the west and the French West Indies to the south, block the moisture-laden air from passing on by. The showers fall on their rain forests as the moisture condenses. Those islands have rivers, waterfalls and estuary areas which can dump silt into the water and influence the area's billfish waters. The BVI's just do not have similar problems.

Most frequent showers on Virgin Gorda occur during May and then later in September and October. While the islands may experience rain with a tropical wave, seldom do hurricanes hit the BVI. The last to hit the islands was of minimal strength. Most hurricanes pass to the south of those isles or form after they have passed as a tropical squall or depression.

Sport fishing weather in the BVI seldom varies; it's warm year around. Daytime highs are rarely in the 90's, and during the winter, the lowest temperatures to expect are in the low 70's. Highs then might hit 80 degrees. Water temperatures will fluctuate about 10 degrees, according to locals. They'll hit mid-70's in the coldest months and warm up to the mid-80's at the end of the summer. It's wise for anglers to wear their fisherman's sunscreen year around.

Wind can be a factor to the smaller sportfishing boats, since the BVI gets steady trade winds. They are predominantly out of the east and average 15 knots throughout the year. Calm days are rare, but winds exceeding 20 knots are not. Seas may average around 4 or 5 feet, and some days they will be less (2 to 3 foot) over the course of the year. Summer winds are normally calmer than those in the winter months.

The remoteness of the islands and minimal population makes the area a great place for anglers to get away from hustle and bustle. Half the islands in the BVI are totally uninhabited, and all of the islands' beaches are open to visitors. For those offshore anglers wanting to stretch their legs or have a picnic lunch, there's usually an island with a scenic beach within 15 or 20 minutes from the big game action.

Tides around Virgin Gorda are usually less than one foot, so misjudging them is not a problem for sport fishermen. There might be more fluctuation around the new and full moon periods. Local charter captains use caution around the island of Anegada, which lies to the north of Virgin Gorda. It's the only major isle in the BVI that is not mountainous, and has the second largest reef system in the western hemisphere surrounding it.

The reef has over 300 shipwrecks, counting both pirate vessels of old and modern craft. The barrier reef skirting Anegada is, in fact, twice as long as the island. Other than that, there are few navigation problems in the BVI. The few hazards around are quite clear on the charts. Although markers are few, the water is extremely clear, the islands are close together and the bottom drops off quickly away from the mountainous terrain.

Charter captains can easily navigate by eyeball. They simply look at their destination, seldom needing the compass. As they pass through a reef system, they read the water: dark blue or dark green is always deep enough, light green is probably o.k., and brown or white could be extremely shallow and dangerous.

Other Line Stretchers

Wahoo, often called, "billfish without bills", can be caught year round off Virgin Gorda. Some moon phases are better than others, according to the local captains. The full moon is most productive for fooling a smart wahoo. The fish in the area average around 40 pounds but may weigh as much as 70 pounds.

Schooling dolphin weighing up to 50 pounds have been caught at numerous spots throughout the BVI. Find water deeper than 150 feet and an angler may quickly load the boat with them. The winter months are good for finding the roving dolphin schools. Their appearance close to the islands is influenced by winds and the moon phase, full being the best according to local anglers.

Large yellowfin tuna are often caught during the winter months. The Sea Mount, about 10 miles south of Virgin Gorda, and the South Drop, to the east of Virgin Gorda, yield yellowfins of up to 75 pounds or more. Kingfish are also numerous and are often seen free jumping.

The winter months also attract other billfish. Excellent white marlin and sailfishing occurs through February. Sails as large as 75 pounds can be caught, and doubles are frequent then. As is the case elsewhere, ballyhoo are the preferred attraction for the smaller billfish.

Finding The Bait

Follow the birds and you'll find the bait. That's true everywhere, but don't look for birds in overabundance off Virgin Gorda. Flocks of "Booby" birds often indicate schooling baitfish, and that's a good sign that larger sport fish are cruising the depths beneath. Frigate birds that sometimes hover in the sky above search out tuna and dolphin while, at the same time, pinpointing marlin for observant captains.

Small birds, called locally "tuna birds," feed on baitfish that venture near the surface. Those birds are most often present along the dropoffs over baitfish, and the Sea Mound south of Virgin Gorda attracts more than its share. Local charter captains have noticed, however, that the bird activity is not as prevalent as it used to be. Trolling through a school of birds doesn't always guarantee a fish, as it once did a few years back.

Common schools of baitfish include flying fish, squid and allison skip jacks. The flying fish are as numerous and as large off the South Drop area as anyplace around the Caribbean. Huge schools roam the surface and scatter to the air as boats approach. Spanish mackerel are abundant and range up to five pounds.

You can usually buy your ballyhoo bait at a local marina. Biras Creek has a full-service marina for those wishing to bring their own boats or charter the local captain. They'll accommodate boats as long as 100 feet and having drafts of up to 12 feet. They offer water, electricity, fuel and dockage for up to 12 large boats.

The friendly marina manager, Bob Hartman, has worked for Biras Creek for 10 years and is most familiar with handling the sailing craft for which the British Virgin Islands are renown. Since there are over 3,000 boats in those islands most months of the year, that's considerable work. The docks are full of sport fishing boats during the annual Biras Creek tournament, though, and Hartman can find bait for those needing it.

Catch Your Bait

Some anglers prowl the shallows for diversion, others for bait. Bonefish are an excellent marlin bait and some astute anglers are using them also for teasers behind their large sportfishing boats. A 12-inch long specimen is considered appropriate for the marlin that swim in those waters. They can be caught right in front of the Biras Creek Marina and along the flats near the resort's service docks.

The best bonefishing in the area lies a short 10 minute boat ride across North Sound to the shallow flats of Mosquito Island. Feeding schools of bonefish numbering up to 150 create "muds" as they move through an area in search of crabs. Shrimp, jigs and flies will attract the bones which may average 5 to 10 pounds each, and an angler can expect around 10 fish in a 3 hour trip. Permit as large as 20 pounds can be a bonus on the flats which average one foot deep around the island.

The volcanic rock ledges and cliffs right at seashore usually denote some excellent reef areas adjacent. Bottom fishing for grouper is an easy task with the complimentary Boston Whalers with 6 horsepower motors that the Biras Creek resort offers each guest. There are at least 30 different spots within a 20 minute ride from the marina. Eustatia Reef, which lies just east of Deep Bay, is a prime spot for bottom fishing.

Bottom fish are abundant and you can catch them or watch them. Snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities in the BVI are numerous. Kilbride's operates through Biras Creek resort and offers BVI's most impressive dive - on the HMS Rhone. The 19th century British mail ship that was used as a movie set for Jacqueline Bissett in "The Deep" a few years ago. Exploring the 310-foot ocean steamer wreck takes at least two dives, with the bow normally explored first.

The wreck's hull has become the home of numerous coral, a 300 pound jewfish and colorful marine life. While the Rhone may now be attracting more underwater sportsmen to the BVIs, that will change when word of the South Drop's virgin marlin fishery gets out. Sport fishermen won't want to miss the newest attraction off Virgin Gorda! Note: Larry Larsen is author of "Fish & Dive The Caribbean" which is available for a special price of $11.95 (postpaid). Lakeland, FL 33813.


Accommodations & Transportation There are many fine hotels dotting the mountainous British Virgin Islands, and one of the best is Biras Creek on Virgin Gorda. The island hideaway is one of the closest to the great blue water angling. The first class accommodations offer a long list of amenities, facilities and activities. Biras Creek is a 130-acre resort offering 32 cottage suites on the ocean with outdoor showers, bicycles at each door and a beautiful tropical setting. It offers fishing charters aboard a 31-foot Bertram sport fisherman.

Most U.S. anglers will connect through Miami, where there are then a variety of ways to get to the BVI. Travel time from Miami is about 2 1/2 hours and most visitors go direct to St. Thomas, USVI or San Juan, Puerto Rico. Eastern Airlines and Eastern Metro have more flights in the islands than other carriers, and they serve Tortola and Virgin Gorda.

Getting to Biras Creek on Virgin Gorda requires cab and ferry rides from either Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda or Tortola. To enter the BVI, a U.S. visitor need only a passport, voter's registration card or driver's license as proof of citizenship, and return tickets. U.S. dollars are the official currency of the BVI.

For more information on the beautiful British Virgin Islands contact: BVI Tourist Board, 370 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10017 or phone (212) 696-0400. To learn more about the resort hideaway, contact: Biras Creek, P.O. Box 54, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, telephone (809) 494-3555.

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