Dies on Fishing Trip
Fishing Trips for 23 Years
SC Online Publisher
Well-known charter boat captain Billy Verbanas died on Monday night, July 8, 2002, doing what he loved most -- fishing.
Verbanas, the 41-year-old captain of the charter boat Reel-Istic, out of Indian River Inlet, died at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md., after suffering a heart attack while on a fishing trip 70 miles offshore.
Funeral arrangements for the legendary shark fisherman were announced on Wednesday, July 10, as dozens of well-wishers expressed their sympathies to Capt. Verbanas' family.
A viewing will be held at Doherty Funeral Home at 3200 Limestone Rd. in Wilmington on Sunday, July 14, from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. A mass will be held on Monday, July 15, at 10 a.m. at St. John the Beloved Church on Milltown Road in Wilmington. Burial will follow the mass at All Saints Cemetery.
A fund has been set up for Verbanas' kids. Checks should be made payable to Fund for Billy's Kids and dropped off at any Wilmington Trust branch.
According to Petty Officer Fox of the U.S. Coast Guard Group Eastern Shore in Chincoteague, Va., a call came in from the Reel-istic that Verbanas had clutched at his chest and fallen overboard. He said no mention was made of a shark pulling Verbanas in the water during the radio call but it was possible that had happened, as has since been reported by Verbanas' mate, Chris Greigg, and others.
Capt. Bill Baker of Bill's Sport Shop, Butch Evans of Old Inlet Bait & Tackle, and Capt. Steve Peterson of the charter boat Pandemonium all said they have heard from other charter boat captains and customers on the boat that Verbanas had come down off the bridge to help land a 300- to 400-pound mako and gotten caught up in the leader and fallen overboard.
They said Verbanas then untangled himself from the leader and was helped back into the boat after turning face down in the water by a customer who jumped in to rescue him.
"He was, without a doubt, one of the nicest guys that you would run across," said Baker, who runs his own charter boat, the Slicker III. "Unlike a lot of charter captains, he was very willing to give out locations of fish, where he caught them, how he caught them. He even ran seminars in the off-season to teach people how to catch fish."
Peterson said that a memorial service for Verbanason the water was being planned for some time within the next week.
Evans said Verbanas had an account in his store. He remembered him as a very knowledgeable captain who would sometimes rub people who didn't understand what Verbanas was about the wrong way.
"He was helpful," said Evans, "but he would sound like a know-it-all to some people when he wasn't at all. He was just trying to help people. He was a promoter. A lot of other charter captains resented him, but he pushed hard. Whether they liked it or not, he brought a lot of business to the marina. He was good for the industry because he promoted so much."
Evans said that even those who didn't care for Verbanas personally had to admit he was an excellent fisherman.
"He was just after it all the time," said Evans. "He went fishing a lot of times when everybody else turned back. You have to give him credit. He knew how to catch sharks, but he also went where the sharks were, 100 to 120 miles offshore. He ran and he caught and he produced."
As a competitor, Capt. Peterson said Verbanas was a rare breed in his willingness to help other charter boat captains find fish.
"When you're doing it for a living, it's very hard to give your secret spots out to other people," said Peterson, who docked next to Verbanas. "Billy would do it. He would give out spots where he was catching fish for the guys who just ran on weekends. At night time, especially, it takes a lot of searching and thought, and once you find the fish, to let other people know on the radio where they're at, that's a hell of a guy. I think the charter dock's going to be a little different now."
On his charter boat web site, Verbanas said he started fishing at the age of 6 and worked for his father Chuck Verbanas' charter boat for 12 years before obtaining his own captain's license in 1979 at the age of 18.
Verbanas fished the Florida Keys, the Bahamas and Palm Beach during the winter and Delaware during the summer. He said most of his trips lately had been for shark, tuna, marlin, trout, croakers, flounder, sea bass, bluefish and stripers.
Verbanas won many tournaments and set many state records, particularly for shark catches. Baker said Verbanas will always be remembered for his state record 985-pound mako caught seven or eight years ago. Verbanas also boated a 975-pound Mako for a state record in New Jersey in July 2000.
"He was famous for shark fishing," said Baker. "Those who chartered him knew what they were in store for. He would take those 30- to 40-hour trips and go 120 miles out to the Continental Shelf. That's where the big Makos are."
Verbanas posted his last fishing report on his web site about his trips over the weekend for tuna and bluefish and reported the catch of a 250-pound Tiger Shark. Baker said Verbanas was equally adept at tuna and bottom fishing.
Baker said Verbanas was a religious and devoted family man with a wife and six children, including a recent newborn, at home in Wilmington. Baker said he had helped Verbanas set up a marketing program for Verbanas' "Reel-Istic" shark rigs about two months ago.
"Because of the type of fishing he did and because of his own beliefs, he wouldn't allow any alcohol on his charters," said Baker. "He took his job very seriously and always fished very safely."
Baker said Verbanas' father Chuck died of a heart attack himself while cleaning his boat preparing to go into charter fishing full-time in the early 1990s.
"Billy was next to him on his own boat when it happened," said Baker. "Billy comes from a family of charter fishing."
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