Catalina Island – Fishing History Snapshot

Catalina Island – Fishing History Snapshot

Charles Frederick Holder. George Farnsworth. Zane Grey. Paxson Offield. Round Haul Seiner. All names are forever tied to Catalina fishing.

The story is Charles Holder came across Avalon locals using handlines to take advantage of yellowtail frothing on a school of bait pinned up against the shoreline. The slaughter was prolific. In 1898 Holder founded the Tuna Club of Avalon in order to promote ethical fishing methods and conservation.

Today the Tuna Club stands tall in Avalon as a reminding monument to all the great achievements and tactics founded in this club.

The rules developed for the Tuna Club are the basis of modern sportfishing, molding both tackle innovations and record keeping. Those rules had a nearly virgin playing ground on which to develop.

In the early 20th century Catalina was home to large runs of bluefin tuna, swordfish, and striped marlin, as well as resident giant seabass (commonly known as black seabass), and, of course, Holder’s inspirational yellowtail and many other species.

Now protected as a targeted species, the Black Sea Bass was a common catch off Catalina. (Credit: Islapedia website)
George Farnsworth with Hon. C. Coon
Avalon, Santa Catalina Island
C. F. Holder Fishes of the Pacific Coast (1912)
Photo by P. V. Reyes (Credit: Islapedia website)

George Farnsworth was one of the original Catalina boatmen and perhaps the best, taking his charter groups to great bites on all island species. Best known for offshore fishing and as a developer of the fishing kite, he certainly put the technique to good use for bluefin tuna and marlin swordfish (as then known) on the cluster of high spots offshore Catalina, one long known as the Farnsworth Bank. Farnsworth also contributed to the creation of the first internal star drag reel, the B-Ocean built by William C. Boschen of New York, a Tuna Club member, and frequent customer. Although the Tuna Club honored for-hire captains like Farnsworth, the “professionals” were not allowed to join the club.

The island’s bounty attracted Zane Grey to Catalina. The legendary author of romantic Westerns had the luck to write his books before the institution of income tax and he spent his money fishing. Grey was a Tuna Club member until a disagreement over a lady angler’s catch caused Zane to pack his bags for the next fishing El Dorado.

Zane Grey’s departure was also precipitated by a dip in the fish population caused by the introduction of the Round Haul Seiner, a highly proficient method of netting fish commercially.

Paxson “Packy” Offield, the offspring of the prominent Catalina Island Wrigley and Offield families, bridged the gap to the modern era. The first Chairman of the Catalina Island Conservancy and past President and CEO of the Catalina Island Company, Paxson, who died in 2015, was a conservationist and member and past president of the Tuna Club. He was elected to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2011 for his work promoting ethical fishing and fish population studies.

For most anglers, the Avalon Tuna Club is a bit of a mystery, something that we hear about in the heyday of our fishery in the Southern California Bight. As our fishery begins to return to “the good ole days” of large Bluefin returning and being caught, we can’t help to look back at all the achievements from the Avalon Tuna Club, antiquated tackle, boats powered by paddle and techniques and innovation developed out of problem-solving which are still used today.

The Avalon Tuna Club holds a special place in our hearts and we have so much gratitude for the techniques and tips handed down. BD STAFF

Outdoor journalist Rich Holland has spent his life chasing the next bite and offers a fisherman's perspective on any topic.