It’s tournament week in Virginia! That means the 81 teams, sponsors and volunteers will be gathering under the big tent at the Southside Marina to kick off the Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament. Celebrating its 18th anniversary, this fun-filled invitational charity event showcases big-game finesse angling, camaraderie, gleaming sport-fishers and generous fund-raising for truly worthy causes. Registration and the kick-off party get started Wednesday, with fishing Thursday through Saturday. Teams choose two days to compete.

The VBBT is a dead bait, trolling format. All boats must depart and return to Virginia Beach through Rudee Inlet. The fishing boundaries are 100 nautical miles from the inlet sea buoy.

Although the majority of the fish are released, eligible blue marlin may be weighed. The minimum length is 110 inches, measured from the tip of the lower jaw to the fork of the tail, or weigh at least 400 pounds. Fish falling below the minimums disqualify the team. Eligible blues up to 599.9 pounds score 0.5 points per pounds, while those over 600 pounds earn a point each.

Smaller blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish and spearfish are worth 70 points apiece when successfully released. The leader must reach the rod tip to count for scoring. Game fish are also weighed at the Southside Marina scales each night. Dolphin, wahoo and tuna are scored one point per pound. Eligible tuna species for the week include yellowfin, bluefin, bigeye and albacore.

With the caliber of teams and the release factor, boats typically troll plain (also called naked) ballyhoo using 20- and 30-pound class conventional trolling tackle. A larger outfit, usually 50- to 80-pound class, is at the ready with a bigger pitch bait in case a big blue pops into the spread.

Family members and friends can follow the action with the live scoring app. Search the App Store and download the Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament app for your appropriate Apple or Android device.

Capt. Kenny Sexton, the skipper for Freestyle, a 61 Spencer based in Virginia Beach, spent Tuesday scouting during a practice day. His crew this week will include the boat’s owner and a group of his friends.

“It was a beautiful day out there yesterday, a good one for us,” Sexton explained. “We went four for eight on white marlin, mostly on ballyhoo. The water temperature was 80 degrees in the morning, but it warmed to 84 with that afternoon sun. We saw some sulfur lines, a little bit of sargassum and plenty of flyers (flying fish). I was marking a lot of bait, so the table is set, we just need more guests.”

Sexton is keeping an eye on his marine weather sources as the team debates whether to fish Thursday or take a lay day. Tropical Storm Henri remains out in the open Atlantic, but any unexpected deviation from the forecast track could make a difference for the tournament fleet.

“I think we’re going to get some big rolling swells but I don’t expect the seas to be too bad,” he adds. “We’re trying to decide what to do as far as fishing days.”

In the meantime, the libations are flowing, the buffet line is full, the band is playing and the stage is set. Let the festivities begin, under the VBBT big top!