Newsletter Signup | Subscribe to Magazine

Off the Hook

Chasing records with Captain Brian Vaughn.

Story by Robyn Passante + Photography by Lloyd Wainscott

By the time you read this, Captain Brian Vaughn might be world record holder Brian Vaughn.

The 45-year-old fishing captain and owner of Off the Hook Fishing Charters is awaiting certification from the International Game Fish Association for a 35-pound jack crevalle he caught while fly-fishing using 8-pound tippet on Sept. 20.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” he says. “The record that has stood since 1983 was 31 pounds, so it’s a considerable amount more and one that will probably stand for a very long time. It’s a time-consuming type of fish to target on that line; it took me 2.5 hours to bring in.”

Get Jacked • Vaughn with his special catch.

Vaughn, a native islander, has been fishing since he was about 7, mostly freshwater lagoons around Hilton Head. “My father was a contractor and I would ride around with him and fish the ponds wherever he was,” he says.

As a teen he fell in love with saltwater fishing, both inshore and offshore, and at age 18 he got his captain’s license. “Pretty much from that point on I was a full-time fishing guide,” he says, though he took a break for college, earning a degree in fine arts that he uses for his other professional endeavor, Original Fish Prints.

Vaughn started Off The Hook Fishing Charters in 2006, and in that time it has grown to include three boats and two other full-time captains. It’s a livelihood and a lifestyle that he loves.

“I can’t think of anyone who’s out on the water as much as me as a guide.”

Runnin’ for Records

Vaughn says trying for a world record like the one he just landed is a sport in itself. “There are people out there, and I’m one of them, who are dedicated to wanting to push yourself, prepare and try to do something that no one’s gonna do or ever do — especially on that light of line. Most people would have no clue how to handle the rod and play it the right way without breaking the line.”

Fish out of water Vaughn is shown fly fishing for redfish in the grass, releasing a big bull redfish and with a world record tripletail caught on a fly rod.

Drawing the lines • Vaughn is also accomplished at Gyotaku, a traditional Japanese method of printing fish which dates back to the mid-1800s.

Angler Art

Vaughn practices the Japanese art of Gyotaku, a process that involves making a print of a fish using rice paper and paint.

“Using a freshly caught fish is vital because they’re at room temperature when you paint them. There’s a lot of prep …. You have to clean the fish, prep the fish for how the fin is bent to make him look more alive. When you use just the right amount of paint, you can get a scale by scale detail. Then I go back and hand-paint the eye and other touch-ups.”

The designer Joni Vanderslice with J Banks Design Group has commissioned his work for two upcoming projects, a new upscale Embassy Suites in St. Augustine, Fla., and Timbers Kiawah, a development of luxury oceanfront homes on Kiawah Island.

“Most people know me as a fisherman, but some people know me as an artist. I always have access to fish, so I always have subjects to paint.”

On the Fly

PRETTY FLY • Vaughn with a redfish in the flats.

The lifelong angler loves all types of fishing, but his favorite is fly fishing. “Just because it is a challenge. It’d be like a person who’s hunted with a shotgun all his life, putting that down and finally getting a bow out and going into the bow hunting side of it. There’s so much more of a challenge, and where we live is one of the most difficult places to do it because our conditions are so diverse with the tides that fluctuate in and out, things move around a lot and the clarity of the water is always up and down. There’s a lot to it. You just can’t go out like you’d do in a stream or a lake somewhere inland … You really have to know where to be at the right time. And it can come down to minutes of being at the right place at the right time before it gets too shallow or too deep.”

Fishing, Not Catching

When he’s guiding a group on the water and nobody’s catching anything, the pressure mounts.

“The cliché is ‘That’s why they call it fishing, not catching.’ You have to pull that one out at times. You hate to but … They know that I’m trying, they can tell that I’m trying by my presence, my boat, my gear, they know that I’m into what I’m doing.

Of course the greatest is when you knock one out in the first inning of the trip. But I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve had when I’ve pulled out the Hail Mary in the last five minutes of the trip.”

Watch captain Brian Vaughn reeling in a world record tripletail.