An 8-pound 9-ounce Atlantic tripletail caught by a teenager has been certified as a Virginia State Record. Hayden Head, 19, of Yorktown, Virginia, caught the fish while fishing with his father Jorj Head, who’s a part-time charter guide and full-time schoolteacher. Head and his father were fishing with four youth anglers near the York Spit in the lower Chesapeake Bay on July 14, 2021.

“This was a youth group my dad has been taking fishing for years,” says Head, who serves as a first-mate to his father during summers. “If it had been a charter, one of the clients probably would’ve caught the fish.” The group had already had a productive day of fishing, boating a couple of cobia and a few other species, before they spotted the tripletail beneath a mat of seagrass. Head rigged a live blue crab on a Temple Fork Outfitters rod he keeps ready just for tripletail. It was equipped with a Penn reel spooled with 30-pound-test Power Pro. He suspended the crab on a three-foot leader under an orange cork.

Head pitched the bait toward the tripletail—which quickly took the offering. And one of the young anglers netted the 23-inch fish, which had an 18.5-inch girth. The fish was officially weighed at Grafton Fishing Supply in Yorktown, where Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament (VSWFT) Committee member Dr. Ken Neill positively confirmed it as a tripletail. Tripletail were added to the list of eligible species for state record consideration in 2020, with an initial qualifying weight of 8 pounds. But no entries were submitted until Head’s fish—making this catch the first-ever state record tripletail.

Tripletail Fishing Has Been Growing in Popularity—For Good Reason

young angler poses next to record tripletail
This was the only tripletail Hayden Head saw all summer—and it was a nice one. Hayden Head

Tripletail are a popular sportfish in southern states, especially Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, and along the Gulf of Mexico. The thick-scaled fish pull hard and offer exceptional quality on the dinner plate. VSWFT director Lewis S. Gillingham says tripletail are not new to Chesapeake Bay waters, but with the rise in sight fishing for cobia, anglers have been catching them more often. The fish are rare above the Chesapeake Bay but have reportedly been caught as far north as Massachusetts.

“We usually only catch a couple a year,” says Head, who’s a sophomore at Thomas Nelson Community College. “We’ve caught a couple in the 9- and 10-pound range and even a little bigger in past years.”

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Of course, those catches came before Virginia began recognizing the species in its record-keeping program. Head’s dad Jorj boated a 15-pounder more than a decade ago while using a bucktail rigged for sight-casting to cobia near buoys. “He didn’t even know what kind of fish it was at first,” says Head. “Dr. Ken Neill identified it for us.”

Head says he and his father are on the water together almost every day from late May until late August when school starts up again. “This record fish was the only tripletail we saw all summer,” he says. Well, he made that opportunity count.