Angler, charter boat operator, tournament director, certified observer program initiator, youth program head - these are all the hats Bill Gooch wears in the world of fishing.
Native to the Chesapeake Bay area, Gooch first fished with his dad. "I started out on ponds, then moved to flats and finally offshore fishing. We've lived in the Virginia Beach area since the late 1970s and there is some great fishing here," he says.
Billfish, especially blue marlin, are what Gooch likes to catch most. "Blue marlin are unpredictable. They have a hellava bite and a hellava fight, especially when caught on a fly rod."
Gooch is gunning for a world record blue marlin catch on 20-pound fly. "Fly bites are the most exciting. Why? Because the fish is teased right up to the boat and you know your chances of actually catching it are slim to none. It's a long shot."
That's certainly true. Gooch adds, "I'm 0 for 25 blue marlin hookups on fly. With 50 to 80 pound conventional tackle, I would have released at least half of these fish," he says.
Gooch's wife, Suzanne, loves to fly fish too and has two world records to her credit: Pacific sailfish on 8- and 12-pound fly. "The last five years she's been trying for the 6-pound record. So far she's been 0 for 50, but she's had fish on the line for over an hour at a time," he says.
Though Gooch says marlin are his favorite, he admits enjoying catching any species. "I currently own a 35-foot center consol Donzi and we'll head offshore here for big tuna. In fact, I landed a world record tuna, a 37-pound bluefin on 12 pound fly, six years ago."
Waters off Virginia are white marlin country, says Gooch, although he has pursued billfish in many locales. "I've fished Hawaii, Panama, Costa Rica, the east and west coasts of Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Bermuda."
Memorable trips include long-range fishing on the Show Gun off San Diego where in four days, says Gooch, "we raised 250 striped marlin, hooked 140 and caught 85 on fly."
A sailfish release was the subject of a fish story that sounds as if it came out of a Hollywood movie. "We were on a long range trip off Mexico, 30 miles out from Magdalena Bay," Gooch explains. "It was late afternoon and I hooked a striped marlin on fly. It took off to the west. There was a beautiful sunset and here we were chasing this 150-pound fish in a 12-foot rubber boat with outboard. Then up from the south comes a Carnival cruise ship. We had the marlin grey hounding out in front of us and ended up passing the bow of the cruise ship within a half a mile. We wondered what the passengers thought about seeing this little boat out in the middle of nowhere. In the end though, I ended up releasing the fish after about an hour and a half fight."
Another place Gooch enjoys fishing is Guatemala for Pacific sailfish. It's in this locale that he met Capt. Ron Hamlin.
"I met Ronnie in 1996. I remember at the time he didn't stop complaining about the boat he was on. I told him if he could stop complaining for a whole day, that I'd buy him a boat," Gooch tells. "Well, about four months later, Ronnie called from Ecuador and asked me if I was a man of my word. So, he got a flight to Virginia Beach and I got him a 44-foot Willis that we named the Captain Hook. He drove it back down to Guatemala and arrived just in time for his first charter. He caught 175 Pacific sailfish in five days on that trip. After that, Ronnie called to tell me that 'the boat works'."
What impressed Gooch about Hamlin? "His vast experience. He's also very dependable, organized and innovative. He's always inventing something new in fishing, some new technique, a new way to rig the tackle or retrofit the boat."
Professionally, Gooch is the president of Armstead Corporation, a company that provides risk management services to the petroleum industry. However, from 1995 until early 2000, he also ran a charter fishing operation out of Virginia Beach, employing Capt. Steve Richardson at the helm. "We had two boats both named Chaos. One was a 40-foot Capps and the other was a 50-foot Viking. Billfish and tuna were the objects of the charters."
How did Gooch like chartering? "Well, it was a way to make fishing more expensive that is already is."
Conservation is an important issue to Gooch. "I'm on the oversight committee for IGFA to attempt to get together guideless for release."
Wanting to start a release tournament in the mid-Atlantic states that he adopted the style of events such as St. Thomas' USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, led Gooch to initiate the Virginia Beach Red, White & Blue. "I ran the tournament for four years, from 2000 to 2004, and we'd attract 25 to 45 boats. Because of it, I started the Certified Observer Program. Before this, there was no formal program for observers."
Gooch continues, "I ran the program for the first two years and now IGFA is running it. The Certified Observer Program encompasses many things like etiquette, safety, IGFA rules and regulations, and species identification. Today, certified observers are the largest volunteer organization in IGFA."
Gooch also enjoys competing in a number of tournaments each year such as the Bermuda Big Game Classic, the Venezuela Shoot Out and Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament.
"We almost won the Pirate's Cove Tournament in 2000," Gooch says. Fishing with Capt. Steve Richardson, Rod Ryan and Deirdre Bell, Gooch's boat was in good position to place in the tournament going into the last day of competition. "We ran 85 miles out from the inlet and got real lucky with 4 to 5 white marlin. In the meantime, we heard on the radio about another boat that had hooked up what they believed to be a 1,000-pound blue marlin. With 30 minutes left before lines out, we started to head in and worried that we wouldn't make it on time. The winds had picked up to 30 knots and the seas were rough. We made it with 7 minutes left on the clock and the boat with the big blue was right behind us. Ultimately, the marlin only weighed 605-pounds at the scale. We ended up missing first place by half of a white marlin."
In the future, Gooch plans to devote time to the Annual Red, White and Blue Youth Fishing Experience, of which he is founder and director. Working with the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Beach Recreation Centers, Gooch says, "We help about 120 to 150 kids to learn more about boats and fishing. It's been a summer event so far, but we'd like to develop it into a year round mentoring program."
The goal of this youth fishing experience, Gooch says, is to inspire, educate and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, an opportunity to experience a saltwater fishing trip. "We hope our education of these youth in the various topics such as IGFA rules and the catch and release concept will influence them as our future conservationists and anglers. We also hope that fishing may make an important difference in their lives," he says.
The future of sports fishing looks bright if it's managed, Gooch says. "I'm in favor of some conservation management policies. Use of circle hooks, release tournaments and 'kill' tournaments that have a weight limit high enough to make the fish caught a trophy catch are good ways to achieve this."