Photo: Jack we caught trolling with an Iland Ilander surface lure
So you want to hook some fish on your BVI sailing trip?
On our first bareboat trip to the British Virgin Islands about 10 years ago, we rented a set of fishing equipment, trolled a cheap lure from our sailboat, and didn’t catch anything!
Lesson learned? You need to do some prep work, bring the right equipment, and know where to find them.
Now, we routinely catch many good eating fish – mahi mahi, wahoo, and snapper to name a few.
In this guide, I share some of our secrets including successful techniques, my favorite lures, and where to find the big fish in the BVIs. For a more in depth guide about sailboat fishing techniques, check out this recent post of mine: Sailboat Fishing.
Who is this BVI fishing guide for?
This is primarily for boaters that will be doing their own fishing from a catamaran or during a yacht charter. I won’t cover shore fishing or bone fishing / fly fishing techniques (since that’s not my area of expertise!).
Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:
BVI fishing license & registration
First, let’s make sure you can lawfully fish in the BVIs from a vessel. You’ll need to check two boxes:
- Individuals (18+ or older) that intend to fish MUST each obtain a BVI fishing license
- The vessel you are going to fish from MUST be a BVI registered fishing vessel
How to obtain a BVI fishing license
Here’s what you need to do:
- Fill out the BVI Form 20a (application)
- Fill out the credit card authorization
- Obtain a copy of your identification – they recommend a scan of your passport
- Submit all three items to email@example.com for approval
- Additional notes:
- It costs $45/person (as of Jul-2022)
- It is also referred to as a Pleasure Fishing License or Fishing Permit
- Plan for at least a 2 week turnaround for approval – so don’t wait until right before you leave for your trip
- The license will be good for 30 days – you get to choose the start date
- Here’s the most current guidance from BVI
How to make sure you are sailing on a registered fishing vessel
OK this is the tricky part and can cause angst for some ahead of their sailing vacations. The vessel owner/charter company must register the vessel for fishing.
The Moorings in the BVI, for example, only registers their catamarans for fishing, but not their monohulls.
Some charter companies, such as BVI Yacht Charters, Horizon, and TMM are known to register all of their vessels.
And if you plan to clear into the BVI from the USVI on a USVI vessel, there is a good chance it will not be registered to fish in the BVI.
Here’s what you can do:
- Charter with a company that registers all of their vessels for fishing
- Check with your charter company if the vessel you are booked on is registered. If it is, you are all set!
- If it is not registered, you have a couple options
- Ask to be switched to a boat that is registered
- Switch to a different charter company
- Appeal to your charter company that you would be willing to pay the fee if they could handle filing the paperwork (around $100). Start this process early, weeks before your trip. Assume this will not be a priority for them
BVI fishing regulations
Familiarize yourself with the most current BVI fishing regulations. Know what equipment you can use, where you can use, and what you can keep.
A couple highlights:
- Using a speargun is illegal at all times – stick to fishing rods
- Goliath grouper and turtles are off limits at all times
- There are no specific size limits (that I have been able to find)
- Conch, whelk, and lobster may not be taken at all by visitors
BVI fishing techniques
Check out my sailboat fishing guide for a full breakdown of the various ways you can catch fish in the BVIs – trolling, bottom dropping, jigging, etc. This post has information about the various fish of the Virgin Islands that you can expect to catch.
I’d suggest you focus on trolling – it’s the best way to cover a lot of distance and fish whenever you are moving.
We like to use two rods, with a diving lure and a surface lure. These are my favorite lures that we regularly get hooked up on.
BVI diving lures
I like the Rapala X-Rap Magnum and the Yozuri Bonita (look for them in 5-6 inch sizes). They will dive 10-30 feet – these are your best bet for catching wahoo.
BVI surface lures
By far, my favorite in this category is the Iland Ilander. This version has a weight in the head which keeps the lure slightly below the surface. For colors, go with blue/white, purple, and pink.
Where to fish in the British Virgin Islands?
Focus on these areas for your best chances of catching fish. But, don’t be afraid to put a line in the water anytime you are moving the boat – that’s what we do!
When we are serious about catching the best eating fish: wahoo, mahi, and tuna, we drop the sails and motor over the two drops. Zig zag back and forth trolling in 200-600 feet of water for your best chances.
The drops are where the shelf falls from a couple hundred feet, to over thousands. These areas have swift currents that upwell nutrients from deep in the ocean. In turn this provides a habitat for huge schools of bait fish…and their predators.
This drop is more accessible than the north one. We usually hit it when we plan to anchor at Norman island. Try it in the afternoon after a snorkel at the Indians, making a clockwise loop around Norman in the drop area (clockwise is best considering the prevailing trades).
If you want to try and catch marlin or sailfish, the north drop is probably your best bet. It is said the north drop gets more blue marlin bites than any other location in the Caribbean.
It is not as easy to reach as the South Drop, but here are two ways to fish it.
- On your way to Anegada, instead of a straight shot, head NE from Virgin Gorda and around Horseshoe Reef to the drop. Continue counter clockwise around Anegada trolling the drop. This will be a longer day on the water, so get an early start (~50 nautical miles). This is best done in settled weather.
- Head straight to Anegada and spend two nights at Setting Point. On your second day, leave the anchorage for some North Drop fishing in the morning. Return back to Setting Point in the afternoon.
Shelf or inshore fishing areas
North of Tortola, including between Anegada and Jost van Dyke
You should have a good chance in this area. Depths range from ~30-100 feet and you can catch mackerel, bonito, and mahi while trolling.
Between Anegada and JVD lies the wreck of the 246 foot refrigeration vessel Chikuzen, sunk during a hurricane back in 1981. This is a GREAT wreck to troll over – there are a lot of big fish that hang around it. If you have ballyhoo, this is a good time to use them.
The grid coordinates of the Chikuzen are 18° 37.129′ N 64° 30.969′ W.
If you want to do some bottom dropping or jigging, check out the structure at Kingfish Banks which is about 5 miles northeast of JVD. Good chance you are able to hook up on snapper or grouper.
South of Norman and Peter Islands
We hooked a mahi once on the shelf in about 100 feet of water on our way to the south drop.
Sir Francis Drake Channel
Honestly, we’ve never had much success in SFD Channel, but we drag our lines anyway. If you’re lucky you’ll hook a spanish mackerel, but more than likely you’ll get nothing (or a barracuda).
Unless you are in a protected anchorage, we find it is always fun to drop a hook in the evenings while at anchor. We will usually get some type of action. Most recently we caught a horse eyed jack that was fun to reel in.
Use a bottom drop setup with a weight and 2-3 hooks. Any type of live or dead bait works.
Instead of a casting net, we bring a couple sabiki rigs to try and catch the live bait.
A fishing spotlight and some live bait work great for catching tarpon. Try this in North Sound, they are a lot of fun to reel in and release.