Virginia Record Fish: The Complete Guide for 2024

Jul 3, 2024 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

From the bustling Chesapeake Bay to the vast Atlantic, Virginia‘s waterways are ripe for anglers looking to break records. Each cast here holds the promise of landing something truly remarkable, as Virginia’s fish records can attest. If you have your rod already in-hand, these records are not just numbers but milestones waiting to be surpassed.

A sunset photo of the fishing pier in Virginia Beach, as small waves roll towards the pristine sandy beach

The Old Dominion has it all, from freshwater battles in remote streams to deep sea pursuits in the vast openness of the Atlantic. The real draw here is the potential to make your mark on the state’s fishing folklore. If you’re lucky, you could write your name in the history books.

And we’re here to help you do just that. In this guide, we’ll delve into Virginia’s illustrious fishing heritage. We’ll celebrate the tales of the record holders so that you know what to beat and how to do it. Who knows? With the right combination of skill, timing, and a bit of luck, your next cast in Virginia could be added to this list!

Biggest Fish Caught in Virginia by Species

Virginia’s waters boast an impressive array of fish. Freshwater streams teem with Trout and deep-water Catfish, while lakes are home to Walleye and Bass. Saltwater fishing offers Striped Bass (Rockfish), Cobia, and Redfish. Offshore, anglers can find Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, and Billfish, too. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The state maintains these records through the Commission’s Saltwater Tournament Office, ensuring each catch’s legacy. For a detailed look at each of these record-setting trophies, browse through the links below. Note that they’re sorted alphabetically for your convenience. 

Bluefin Tuna

  • Virginia state record: 708 lbs at Tuna Hole in 2020
A man in a red sweater and a baseball cap, smiling as he looks down towards the camera and holding a Bluefin Tuna after a successful fishing trip
Photo courtesy of Seay Stories Sportfishing

In February 2020, Virginia Beach’s own Jake Hiles redefined the fishing records by catching a massive 708 lb Bluefin Tuna. He headed out to the famous “Tuna Hole,” about 80 miles from Rudee Inlet, equipped with a 3D-printed lure called “Stinky Tinky” and a classic bluefish bait.

The battle to land this giant was nothing short of legendary. Hiles, seated in his fighting chair, was armed with a robust setup. He rocked an 8′ Anglers Envy rod, a 130vsx Penn reel, and nearly a mile of monofilament topped with 200 yards of braid for backing. The catch, with a girth of over 77 inches, was an impressive feat, especially considering the average Bluefin in these waters weighs between 200 and 500 pounds!

After his record-setting triumph, Hiles shared his remarkable Tuna with the Virginia Beach community. As with the previous state record, he spread the word through social media, inviting Virginians to the Fishing Center to witness the record Bluefin and take a piece home. 


  • Virginia state record: 143 lbs on Buggs Island Lake in 2011
A smiling woman sitting on a fishing charter in Virginia on a sunny day, holding a large Catfish across her knees
Photo courtesy of Captain Steve Howard Fishing Guide

Catfishing in Virginia is an exciting adventure, especially for those looking to target some heavyweight champions of the waters. The Virginia record Catfish was an incredible 143 pounds, caught by Richard “Nick” Anderson at Buggs Island Lake on June 18, 2011.

Cats, especially the Blue variety, generally weigh between 20 and 50 pounds in the Old Dominion. However, there’s always the chance of reeling in a true giant. Anglers often head to Buggs Island Lake, where the state record was set, as well as the James and Potomac Rivers, both renowned for producing sizeable Blues.

Local anglers typically use live or cut bait like shad, herring, or chicken livers to lure these bottom dwellers. It goes without saying that stout rods and reels spooled with strong braided lines are a must! Catfish prefer deep holes, river bends, and areas with plenty of structure.  So, gear up and cast your line. You might just reel in a new legend yourself! 

Golden Tilefish

  • Virginia state record: 58 lbs south of Norfolk Canyon in 2017
A photo of an angler standing on a boat holding a large Golden Tilefish caught during a multi-day offshore fishing  trip

Few fish are as fabled as the Golden Tilefish. Elusive and delicious, this species is tough to catch at the best of times. But, on June 27, 2017, Joshua Jung reeled in a record-breaking 58 lb Golden Tilefish just south of Norfolk Canyon. Fishing aboard the “Canyon Abyss” skippered by his father, he wrestled the monster from 640 feet deep using a simple bottom rig baited with squid and cut fish. 

This fishing feat was achieved with a Penn Fathom Pinnacle rod and a 40 DL DHS lever drag reel, spooled with a 40 lb spiderwire braid. It took about 20 minutes to reel in – a tense wait due to the number of large Sharks in the vicinity! It’s no surprise that the Tilefish was quickly boated once they pulled it to the surface.

Jung’s Tilefish surpassed the previous record of 56 and a half pounds set by Aaron Sledd in June 2008. Anglers typically pull Golden Tilefish from depths of up to 800 feet, where these fish average between 8 and 20 pounds. Jung’s whopping 58 lb catch is a fishing legend, standing way out from the usual hauls.


  • Virginia state record: 45 lbs 8 oz in New River in 2007
A man in a bucket hat and sunglasses sitting on a boat on a river in Virginia and holding a large Musky fish with some foliage visible behind him on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of River Monster Guide Service

Wherever they swim, Muskies offer a thrilling challenge for anglers seeking to land an elusive giant. And Virginia is no different. Growing to impressive sizes, the state record for Musky is 45 pounds and 8 ounces. The famous fish was caught by Shannon Hill in the New River on the first day of June in 2007, and still stands out as a rare trophy catch. 

Most Musky caught in the state range somewhere between 10 and 30 pounds. Of course, the possibility of hooking a record-breaker always exists, as Hill proved. Local trophy-seekers often focus on areas with abundant cover like weed beds, submerged logs, and rocky structures. This is where Musky lie in wait to ambush their prey. With the right gear and a bit of patience, fishing for Musky in Virginia can be a truly rewarding experience, if not record-breaking!

These prehistoric-looking fish are known for their fierce strikes and powerful fights. Prime locations for targeting Musky in Virginia include the New River (naturally), as well as the James River and Claytor Lake. Anglers typically use large lures such as jerkbaits, crankbaits, and soft plastics to entice them. Heavy-duty rods and reels with strong braided lines are also essential to handle the intense battles these toothy fish put up.

Snowy Grouper

  • Virginia state record: 70 lbs, 7 oz near Norfolk Canyon in 2011
A man in sunglasses and a baseball cap holding a large Snowy Grouper aboard a fishing charter with the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean visible behind him on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Johnny Wahoo Charters

Roger Burnley of VB set a new state record for Snowy Grouper on May 22, 2011. He was deep dropping near the Norfolk Canyon aboard the “Healthy Grin,” skippered by Ken Neill III, when he landed a hefty 70 lbs, 7 oz monster. The catch, measuring 48 inches in length and 37 inches in girth, struck a custom two-hook bottom rig baited with squid and cut fish.

Interestingly, Burnley had already made the headlines before with a 49 lb, 9 oz Snowy Grouper in 2007. That was Virginia’s first qualifying record for this species before a spree ensured, with several others breaking the record in quick succession. Bob Manus and Chris Boyce topped the list for a short while, until Burnley reclaimed the title in 2011. To add to that, five of the six state record Groupers were caught aboard Capt. Ken Neill’s Healthy Grin!

Snowies typically weigh much less, around 15–30 pounds, making Burnley’s and the other record catches quite the “reel” deal. These deep-water dwellers are prized for their challenge and the quality of their meat, proving that, in Virginia’s waters, the bigger the bait, the bigger the tale.


  • Virginia state record: 14 lbs, 14 oz at the Cell in 2009
A young girl in a baseball cap, standing on a fishing charter in Virginia and holding a Spadefish, with two anglers visible behind her
Photo courtesy of Sea Mee Charters

On June 13, 2009, Roland E. Murphy from Fredericksburg made Virginia fishing history by catching a Spadefish weighing 14 pounds and 14 ounces. This impressive catch took place at the “Cell,” a popular fishing spot, aboard a 25″ Kingfish, captained by Allan King. Murphy outsmarted the Spadefish using a fresh clam baited on a 1/0 Gamakatsu hook attached to a 30 lb fluorocarbon leader.

Murphy skillfully handled the feisty fish with a Penn Ocean Master rod and a Daiwa BG-30 reel loaded with a Power Pro braided line. As the Spadefish approached the boat, King adeptly scooped it up with a landing net. The excitement was palpable as preliminary hand scales hinted the fish was close to 15 pounds, a potential record-breaker. 

After snapping a celebratory photo with King’s wife, Sherry, they placed the fish in the livewell and rushed to get an official weight. The Spadefish, measuring 25 inches and a quarter in length, with a girth of 26 inches and a quarter, indeed set a new record, surpassing the previous tie set by Austin Edwards and Mark Ottarson.

Striped Bass (Rockfish)

  • Virginia state record: 74 lbs off Cap Henry in 2012
A man in a baseball cap and sunglasses holding a large Striped Bass while standing on a fishing charter in Virginia's deep waters on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Seay Stories Sportfishing

On January 20, 2012, Cary Wolfe of Bristow, VA, captured a record-breaking 74 lb Striped Bass off Cape Henry. This Striper was legendary in its own right, belonging to the class of 1986, as the angling community later found out! The 26-year-old fish tipped the scales slightly over the previous record set in 2008 by Fred Barnes. Measuring 56 and three-quarter inches with a girth of 31 and a half inches, Wolfe’s catch outdid Barnes’s 73-pounder caught near Fisherman’s Island.

Wolfe was fishing aboard the Bada Bing charter, captained by Tim Cannon, amidst a flotilla of approximately 100 boats. They hooked the record Rockfish on a trolled tandem parachute rig, featuring nylon skirted jigs and rubber shad bodies. The fight lasted 15 minutes after Wolfe grabbed the rod following a brief initial run by the fish. 

In a dramatic turn, the fish nearly escaped when the 80 lb monofilament line snapped as they tried to net it. Fortunately, the fish landed headfirst into the net, securing the new state record!


  • Virginia state record: 597 lbs at Norfolk Canyon in 2019
A man in a fluorescent pink shirt, standing on a fishing charter while holding a large juvenile Swordfish, as another man crouches down behind him on a clear day

Almost every Swordfish catch gives anglers some bragging rights, so hooking a state record is mighty impressive. Nicholas Kontodiakos set the Virginia fish record with his monumental catch of a 597 lb Swordfish on September 25, 2020, surpassing the previous record by a whopping 131 pounds. Kontodiakos, skilled in the art of daytime deep dropping, hooked the massive Swordfish on a bait suspended about 800 feet below the surface around the famous Norfolk Canyon. 

The day began early for Kontodiakos and his fishing buddy, Trey Wallace. They left Rudee Inlet at 4:30 a.m. aboard Kontodiakos’s 29″ SeeVee. After several long but fruitless drifts and a few near catches, their persistence paid off. The fight with the beast lasted nearly 5 hours – a grueling battle that tested their resolve and equipment. Once they secured the fish at the transom, the real challenge of physically maneuvering the giant onto the deck began, culminating in a victorious arrival back at Rudee Inlet close to midnight!

Kontodiakos’s journey to this record-setting catch actually started a decade earlier in Florida, where he first dreamt of catching Swordfish. After relocating to Virginia Beach and acquiring a bigger boat, his determination only grew. His quest for knowledge and advice from seasoned anglers gradually turned the tide of his earlier frustrations into a story of success. Kontodiakos is now a seasoned Swordfish angler, with catches year-round, exemplifying that “never give up” attitude!


  • Virginia state record: 24 lbs 3 oz at the Morgan Wreck in 2012
Two men standing either side of a woman aboard a fishing charter, as all three hold up two Tautog each, while smiling on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Port Of Call Charters

Ken Neill III of Snowy Grouper fame – is not just a helpful captain, but also a record-breaking fisherman. He clinched a new state record on March 25, 2012, with a 24 lb, 3 oz Tautog, surpassing a decades-old record by just a few ounces. Neill was fishing the Triangle Reef site alone on his boat when he captured this impressive ‘Tog. After his friends dropped out of the day’s fishing, he adapted his plans, deciding to fish solo with a strategic setup to target Tautog specifically.

He rigged his line with a quarter of a blue crab, casting a St. Croix rod paired with a Shimano Torium 16 reel, and loaded with a 50 lb PowerPro Braid. His expertise shone when the hefty fish took the bait, leading to a fierce battle to keep it away from the wreck. “I knew this was a good fish right away,” Neill commented. After hooking it aboard, he wasted no time heading back to verify the weight.

Tautog are notoriously tough fighters, but they typically only tip the scales between 5 and 15 pounds. Neill’s extraordinary catch not only smashed the state record but also highlighted his skill and deep understanding of the species. It’s a clear reminder that sometimes going alone with the right bait can lead to record-breaking surprises.


  • Virginia state record: 16 lbs 12 oz near York Spit Light in 2021
An angler in a baseball cap aboard a fishing charter holding a fishing rod in one hand and a Tripletail in the other, as he looks towards the fish on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Mike Conner

Last but not least, Tripletail have been making a name for themselves in the Chesapeake Bay in recent years. They can roam as far north as Massachusetts, and are now a common sight in Virginia. Thanks to the popularity of sight fishing for Cobia, these fish have long been caught as bycatch and are now celebrated as game fish in their own right. 

On July 23, 2021, the state’s fishing records took a new turn when Richard H. Stuart Jr. landed a 16 lb, 12 oz Atlantic Tripletail, surpassing the initial record set just earlier that month! This record-breaking fish, measuring 28 inches long with a 23″ girth, was captured near York Spit Light while Richard and his father were actually targeting Cobia.

The successful catch unfolded as Richard Jr., piloting their boat, noticed a distinctive flash in the water. Quickly identifying the fish as a Tripletail, he cast a 2 oz Cobia jig, sparking a challenging 10-minute battle. Using robust gear made for big catches, they equipped a Shimano Teramar XX rod with a Twin Power SW 5000 reel. Together, the father and son team skillfully landed the fish, marking another special moment in Virginia’s fishing lore.

Virginia State Record Fish: An Overview

Before we wrap up this guide to Virginia’s record fish, let’s take a quick look back. Below, you can view the list in a more streamlined way. The following table highlights each species, their record weights, and where and when these impressive catches were made. That way, you know what you’ll be looking at when you’re looking for that next Virginia fish record

Bluefin Tuna7080Tuna Hole2020
Catfish1430Buggs Island Lake2011
Golden Tilefish580Norfolk Canyon2017
Musky458New River2007
Snowy Grouper707Norfolk Canyon2011
Spadefish1414The Cell2009
Striped Bass740Cape Henry2012
Swordfish5970Norfolk Canyon2019
Tautog243Morgan Wreck2012
Tripletail1612York Spit Light2021

Virginia State Record Fish: A Neverending Story

A group of five male anglers standing on a dock after a successful trip in Virginia, with each holding a Tuna upside down behind a number of other Tuna and Mahi Mahi laid out in front of them
Photo courtesy of Covered Up Sportfishing

Now that you know what trophies lurk below the surface, it’s time to hit the waters. If you’re aiming to write your name into the record books, you now know your prey and the most productive spots. Virginia’s fish records were earned through skill, patience, and a bit of angler’s luck. So, ready your tackle for Virginia’s promising waters… It might just be you who sets the next benchmark!

Please note that all of the images used in the article are used to reflect the species caught and in no way claim to be of the record catch.

What did you think of our guide to Virginia’s state record fish? Which catch impressed you the most? Do you have any Virginia fishing stories to share? We’d love to hear them! Click the button below to share your thoughts and tales.

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Lisa traded the lecture hall for the vast expanse of the world's waters, transforming her love of teaching into an insatiable passion for angling and storytelling. She would sail through oceans, lakes, and rivers, reeling in the world’s fish stories one catch at a time.

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