Thirty four years ago Virginia Beach angler James Alexander entered the record books with a tremendous 381 1/2-pound swordfish caught many miles offshore at the Norfolk Canyon. On Sept. 1, Joseph Harris shattered that long-standing record by landing a magnificent 446-pound swordfish that measured over 12 1/2 feet long.
Harris, also from Virginia Beach, was fishing just south of where the previous record had been taken so many years before. He was onboard the 34-foot charter boat "Just Right" captained by skipper Justin Wilson, fishing with a group of friends. The crew had left the dock at Lynnhaven Inlet at 8 p.m., since swordfishing is best at night.
The group was fishing with whole live squid, rigged on a Shimano TLD 50 reel loaded with 50-pound test Ande monofilament line, according to Lewis Gillingham, Director of the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament. The fishermen had a long 3-hour ride from the dock and did not start putting baits in the water until 11 p.m. The first strike came quickly. This turned out to be a 10-foot long tiger shark that the group landed and released.
A 46-inch swordfish came next. The youngest member of the fishing party caught this one, and it too was released like the shark.
When the third bite came it was Harris' turn to grab the rod from its holder. The strike came at 2:30 a.m. The fish actually came close to the boat rather quickly, in about 10 minutes. The crew touched the leader, but the fish was too green to land. Once it saw the boat it sounded and fought hard for another 2 1/2 hours.
When the angler finally worked it close again, the crew saw how large it was and used several gaffs to latch hold of it and pull it through the tuna door into the boat. The fish took up nearly the whole cockpit of the 34-foot boat.
The anglers had planned to try for white marlin at first light, but they had no room with this huge fish in the boat so they decided to head back to the dock. There it was certified, identified and weighed on official scales by Ken Neill, III, of Seaford. It handily beat the 34-year old record by a whopping 66 pounds.
What's best of all is the fact that you don't need a dog to pursue them. Simply hunt along stream bottoms with 8-20 foot high young trees and some brush and you should find your quarry. It pays to stop every once in a while if you're in a good area. This helps flush the birds, which otherwise might let you walk right past them.
Of course if you have a pointing dog that you use for grouse or preserve pheasants, bring him along. Some dogs don't like to retrieve woodcock, but almost all of them will at least point them, allowing you to then move in and flush the bird for the shot.
Use a 12, 16 or 20 gauge gun with a skeet or improved cylinder choke. Shots are generally short range, 15-30 yards or so. Try to wait until the woodcock rises straight up and then hovers in midair before starting to fly horizontally away. At that point the bird is almost still, making it a fairly easy target.
This year woodcock open Oct. 27 and close Nov. 2. They then reopen Dec. 6 and remain open through Jan. 12. The first season is the best one for hunting in the Shenandoah Valley and nearby areas such as Fauquier County. If you hunt further south in the lower and central part of the state, the late season can be excellent. The limit is three woodcock per day.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.