Sport Fishing in the Virgin Islands

Ernest Hemingway liked sport fishing and is holding up a giant blue marlin catch.
“My big fish must be somewhere.” – Ernest Hemingway, Old Man and the Sea

Have you ever heard your boat captain tell an incredible sea story? Well, it was one such sea story told by Captain Johnny Harms that helped to launch sport fishing in the Virgin Islands. Like most good sea stories, there was more than a drop of truth in Captain Harm’s fish tale about the 1,000 pound blue marlin (known as “Big Daddy”) that got away.

Before 1951, few anglers came down for sport fishing in the Virgin Islands. Then, a remarkable blue marlin was caught on rod and reel and brought into Club Nautico de San Juan, Puerto Rico for all the world to see. Ernest Hemingway had been writing about the thrill of blue marlin fishing, and the Swedish research vessel Albatross had just published their oceanography reports on the 6-mile deep Puerto Rican Trench. These events sparked a fiery interest in sport fishing in the Virgin Islands. Seeing that the opportunity was ripe, the Puerto Rican tourism board hired a Florida fishing boat captain named Art Willis to come down with three sport fishing boats.

Nearby on the island of St. John, a man named Laurence Rockefeller was buying the Caneel Bay Resort (from two Puerto Rican brothers, not coincidentally). He wanted to make the Virgin Islands a destination for sport fishing too. Mr. Rockefeller hired Johnny Harms, another Florida fishing boat captain, to come and test the waters for him. As the story is told by Captain Harms, on his first day out he missed landing the giant blue marlin, which he called “Big Daddy”. This miss was paired with several more blue marlin sightings, but nary a catch that day. Still, the story of “Big Daddy” was enough to entice anglers to come to the Virgin Islands for decades to come.

Annette Lopez caught this 1,073 blue marlin at the North Drop in 1982.
Annette Lopez caught this 1,073 blue marlin at the North Drop in 1982.

By the 1960’s Captain Harms, along with friends, had formed the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club to help keep the Virgin Island’s growing reputation as the “Blue Marlin Capital” of the world, and to kick-off some friendly competition! Today, the Virgin Island hosts the most competitive and environmentally-friendly sport fishing competitions in the world thanks to these early anglers. So, whether you are ready to sign up for the Marlin Fest in August, you want to fish aboard the Abigail III (Harms lucky fishing boat, today manned by Captain “Red” Bailey), or just check out the world records display at the American Yacht Harbor, the thrill of the catch is in your reach!

Interested in going fishing in the U.S. Virgin Islands? Give us a call at Ocean Runner (340) 693-8809 and we’ll help you find a boat. Visit the VINOW website to read about fishing rules and regulations. Blue marlin season is May through October.


  • “Lobsters, Snorkeling and Cliff Jumping..oh my!” "We spent a glorious day with Captain Morgan! This was our first trip to the area and he managed to cram in a ton of activities and sights while still allowing us to just relax and take a slow, chill vacation day. There were 4 of us--two adults and our young adult children. He picked us up from St. Thomas and took the time to figure out what we wanted--rather than just taking us to a standard cookie cutter list of places. Over the course of the day we snorkeled and swam on quiet beaches, ate freshly cooked lobster at Sidney's, explored the area and capped off the afternoon with a leap off of a 40 foot cliff into the deep blue sea. Pure perfection. Morgan was friendly and fun. Would recommend to anyone looking for a relaxing day on the water!"    
    David C
  • "Our family of four spent the day with Jeremy as our Captain. He let us pick our day along with some of his suggestions. We ended up snorkeling at the Norman Island Caves and The Indians. Had a fabulous lunch at Pirates Bight , drinks and jumps at Willy T and finally spent some time at Jost Van Dyke and the beach . Jeremy was professional, friendly and we always felt safe. Would definitely recommend Ocean Runner for anyone looking for a day on the water." Visited July 2015
    Debbie S
  • "What an experience. Took a trip to the British VI's to see the Bath's, Caves at Norman Island and Jost Van Dyke. Hired Ocean Runner to take us there for a full day trip. Captain Tom Larson took care of us like we were his own family. He was so knowledgeable when it came to the history of the islands surrounding St. John and the BVI's. Highly recommend Captain Larson and Ocean Runner for your excursions out of St. John."
    John S
  • "The boat we rented from Ocean Runner was well-maintained, the staff were courteous and obviously experienced, and the advice and service excellent!  We would strongly recommend OR to anyone seeking a powerboat rental while visiting St John."
    Dana - Nashville
  • "We have used Ocean Runner quite a few times during our family vacations and always have had a wonderful day. Last year we had a larger group and had to use another company. The difference was obvious from the get-go. Of course we enjoyed the day - it's impossible not to - but the overall experience was not up to what we have enjoyed with Ocean Runner."
    Janet - Massachusetts