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VB man breaks spearfishing world record for sheepshead at Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

By Brian Reese,


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Count this sheep among the very best.

A 17.4-pound speargun world record sheepshead was speared at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel earlier this month by Virginia Beach resident Todd Elder, a longtime commercial diver who spearfishes on the side.

He says it seemed like a pretty ordinary day when he took the jet ski out with his friend Mike, but when they got to the CBBT “there were sheepshead on every set … that was a little early for the season, I mean you might see a few here or there, but nothing like we were seeing.”

Sheepshead is a fish famous for its human-looking teeth and “convict” white and black bars, but it’s also really tasty, Elder says.

“So many residents here do not even know about sheepshead and it’s awesome.”

They like to hang out around the bridge-tunnel early in the season before heading up the Chesapeake Bay.

“That’s like their first stop point … so they’re really concentrated, and then they disperse as the water warms up,” Elder says.
Todd’s speargun (Courtesy of Todd Elder)

But even with all of the fish schooling around, spearfishing in the bay is a real trial-and-error process due to the murky water, Elder says.

“You can only see a few feet in front of you, so you just kind of get calm as you can, breathe up and then make a dive.”

Though one “big boy” proved to be crystal clear on a descent about 40 feet down, around the midway point of the 17.6-mile expanse. It was swimming alongside more “abnormally large fish.”

So Elder aimed for the eyes, fired — and boom — the world record sheepshead was on his spear.

That weight, well over the average of about 3 to 4 pounds for a sheepshead, gave Elder the International Underwater Spearfishing Association’s spearfishing world record , just 4 pounds under the overall “all tackle” record .

He says he lucked out going for the particular piling on the bridge and credits the early season, and its fewer predators, for making the fish less skittish.

“He stuck around, a lot of times in the summer those fish are on high-alert, so you’re kinda just seeing the tail of them as they dart away. The bigger the fish, the smarter they are. They’ve been around the block, they know what you’re up to.”

The catch was a big-time thrill for Elder, but he seemed even more interested in eating it. The record fish ended up being Mother’s Day dinner for his family.
The cooked world record sheepshead (Courtesy of Todd Elder)

“They’re fairly similar to a red snapper, they’re just a light, white, flaky, delicious, like very versatile … firm enough to where you can put it on a grill, but not dense enough to where it’s like a tuna steak or something like that … they’re just awesome, I don’t get bored of eating them.”

He’ll typically cook the fish whole on the grill or in the oven, but as “Bubba” Blue would say, you can bake it, fry it, deep fry, air fry, and more.

And very few pieces of the fish go to waste.

“If you were just taking the fillets of the fish you’re utilizing on a sheepshead, at best case scenario, that’s just a 25-30%.”

That’s a big part of his part-time business in the Virginia Beach Seafood Company , which sells the trimmings from overlooked places like between the spines of the fish at much cheaper prices ($10 per pound compared to $27 per pound for fillets). The trimmings are good for things like fish dips, ceviche, and fish cakes, Elder says.
The often overlooked breast portion of the sheepshead (Courtesy of Todd Elder)

“I’m trying to get people comfortable with eating fish with bones in it, and selling those pieces for a really affordable price. Cause it’s actually a tasty piece of the fish, has more flavor.”

Sheepshead is “by far” the most common fish in the summer for Elder’s company, which mostly uses spearfishing for its hauls (outside of black sea bass by hook and line in the winter).

“I like to dive, I like being in the water, I don’t like guessing what’s down below, I want to know, I want to see it.”

You can read more about Elder’s Virginia Beach Seafood Company at .

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