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The Brotherhood-Part 1

fishing history

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’!”

The waters of the Pacific off Newport Harbor lived up to the promise of that song in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. It was a magical place for three young boys to grow up sharing their teen adventures in the warm California sun.

Ralph Clock (A SMALL BOAT IN A BIG SEA), David Denholm and Jerry Garrett shared one common denominator…sport fishing. They fashioned a friendship, ultimately resulting in an adult brotherhood framed by the Tuna Club of Avalon. Yet while their individual paths of pursuing sport fishing differed, the three accumulated more than one hundred and fifty years of extraordinary fishing exploits and the stories to go with them.

The die was cast on a dock in Newport where each of the families’ boats — Clock’s, Tick Tock, Denholm’s, Clunie, and Garrett’s, Jeramar — were literally a few slips apart in the ‘50s; the boys constantly compared notes when they weren’t on the water. Sharing their fishing successes and failures, they learned from each other as they nurtured their friendship. Over the years, they have traveled their own path in the pursuit of their passion… sportfishing.

Soon after World War II in 1947, Henry Clock arranged a half-day kelp bed trip out of Pierpoint Landing, Long Beach, to celebrate his son’s ninth birthday. The guest list included Ralph’s friends and their fathers. Anchored at Horseshoe Kelp, it seemed that every anchovy that hit the water was devoured by a barracuda or greenback mackerel. This was Ralph’s first saltwater fishing adventure and his inexperience showed. Not knowing to wait for the deckhand to gaff his fish, Ralph simply reeled the line all the way to the rod tip with his catch flopping on the hook all the way up to the rod tip. Regardless, the gunny sacks filled quickly and they headed back to the dock before lunch.

In 1951, Henry purchased his first boat, the Tick Tock, a 40-foot enclosed -bridge Chris Craft cruiser, and Ralph fell in love with the sea and sport fishing. That same year when Henry Clock became a member of the Tuna Club of Avalon, on the return trip from the Club’s annual meeting at San Clemente Island, Henry landed his first marlin.

It was 1953 when Henry purchased the second Tick Tock, which he docked at Richardson’s. Both Jerry and David’s families also kept their boats there and the three boys began forging their friendship.

One of Clock’s fondest memories is a day in 1957 when both he and his father caught a Tuna Club Button fish a mere 100 yards off of Pebbly Beach while soaking a live green mackerel. Henry ran the boat for Ralph’s catch that day, a 214-pound marlin on 9-thread linen that qualified for a Green Button.

On another memorable day that same year, they found a kelp paddy late in the afternoon with several dorado underneath. Henry soon hooked a dorado on 3/6 tackle! Ralph gaffed the 25-pound fish, which turned out to be a new Tuna Club record that still stands!

Gaffing his father’s Tuna Club Record is still one of Ralph’s cherished memories!

Ralph became a Tuna Club Voting Member on his 21st birthday in 1959 after receiving credit retroactively for a 186-pound marlin that he had caught on 9 thread in 1957.

Several years later, he and Fred Page won their Gold Fame Medals on the same day. He was awarded his Silver Fame Medal for a 12-pound marlin that he caught off Santa Cruz Island during a feeding frenzy in September of 1983.

In 1965 while building the third Tick Tock at Ditmar Donaldson, Clock met Bruce Barnes who was building the Qualifier 85. Barnes’ tales of exceptional fishing at Guadalupe Island, 225 miles south of San Diego were enticing.

bd-yellowtail

In August 1967, Clock, his wife Dot and two other couples set out on an exploratory trip to Guadalupe with extra deck-loaded fuel in 55-gallon drums. Trolling on one engine to conserve fuel, they slowly ventured south.

Arriving after dark, they anchored near Pilot Rock at the North end of the island. The next morning they continued down the lee, trolling yellowtail jigs along the kelp line. They were constantly being stopped to reel in yet another yellow.

Near the south end of the island, only 100 yards outside the kelp line they reversed course and a marlin appeared in the jigs. Pandemonium broke loose! The marlin action remained non-stop for the next two days until it was time to head north for home. News traveled fast and it was only a few days before other private boats were heading south themselves.

Several months later, Tick Tock made its second voyage to fish the rumored abundant yellowfin tuna. This time, Clock’s brother Phil, along with Sevenstrand/Fenwick executives, Charlie Davis, Chuck Rudolph and Buck Buchanan, were on board. Once again, the island lived up to the stories and during the next two and a half days’ fishing, yielded over fifty tuna up to 90-pounds… all caught on lures.

Henry and his two sons purchased Fenwick Rods and Sevenstrand Lures in 1961, (Cousins Tackle) and from then on most of their time on the water was spent in research and development of their tackle until the Company sold in 1978.

They still found time to win the 1969 San Diego Marlin Club Tournament and the 1976 Inter Club Albacore Tournament.

By 1986, Ralph had decided to pursue his dream of chartering trips on Tick Tock. Since the Tuna Club prohibited a member from being a professional fisherman, he resigned that same year.

David Denholm

Dave’s earliest memories of fishing began with albacore trips out to the 14-Mile Bank where the Clunie would load up with fish, then return to barter the fresh albacore with the cannery for cans.

David’s father, David S. Denholm, soon caught marlin fever. Beginning with his 32-foot cruiser, he worked his way through a series of boats to a 50-foot Stephens with a fly-bridge. By default, young David ran the boat when his Dad was hooked up. In 1951, his first encounter with a marlin in La Jolla Canyon ended in profound disappointment when the fish was lost at boat-side after a well fought four-hour battle with just David and his father on board. Later in the year, twelve-year-old David caught his first marlin off the East End using a flyer that he had rigged on a split bamboo rod with linen line.

He loved all of it! The rigging of the baits, getting out the linen line dryers in the evening, preparing for the next day’s fishing… all added to his appreciation of the sea. Blind strikes were common, but David’s favorite was ‘sight fishing’ for the tailers often encountered at times so many they looked like a picket fence. Slow trolling alongside or in front of them, they breathlessly waited for the bite that came more often than not.

Brotherhood Part One

Over time, Dave began to understand how to read the signs of life in the water; he also learned knot tying, trolling techniques, outrigger setup, drop-back methods and of course, how to run the boat on a fish.

His father became a member of the Tuna Club in 1965 sponsored by his good friend Bill De Lamar and seventeen years later, in 1982, David was sponsored by his boyhood friend, Jerry Garrett.

Brotherhood Part OneFor David, broadbill swordfish were an irresistible challenge.

He and his crew constantly tacked back and forth across southern California waters during season looking for that needle in a haystack… a two-finner that would bite. Their countless hours were rewarded with a remarkable catch record, which included nine broadbill all on live bait. His shortest battle was a quick 55 minutes and the longest was nearly 18 hours.

His efforts thus far include the following:

  • A 169-pound broadbill on 30-pound monofilament
  • A 265-pound broadbill on 50-pound Dacron
  • A California All Tackle Record broadbill taken on 80-pound Dacron weighing 452.5 pounds

Brotherhood Part OneThe long hours of searching the horizon with Ziess binoculars for a hungry two-finner yielded some impressive incidental catches which have included Club, State and World Tuna records:

  • An 82-pound yellowfin tuna on 3/6 linen, a Tuna Club Record
  • A 208-pound blue fin tuna on 50-pound Dacron, a Tuna Club Record
  • A 183.5-pound yellowfin tuna on 20-pound Dacron, a Tuna Club and California State Record
  • A 143.5-pound bigeye tuna on 12-pound Dacron, a Tuna Club, State and World Record

And there have been several other Club and World records that have been eclipsed over the years. Denholm’s longest tuna battle, a 183.5-yellowfin tuna on 20-pound test, lasted 16.5 hours. His marlin catches and releases are in the hundreds in local waters. His largest single season so far has been 43 marlin followed by 36 the next year. His highest day has been seven fish.

Part two will begin with Denholm’s dedicated effort to introduce Tag and Release to Southern California waters and a look into Jerry Garrett‘s remarkable sportfishing exploits.

Continued in The Brotherhood Part 2

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Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world records and in his first year as a member of the Tuna Club of Avalon, he received more angling awards than any other first-year member in the club's 109-year history. He's been involved with many California angling clubs and is the Baja California Representative for the International Game Fish Association. 
Gary's a conservationist as well as a writer and photographer. In addition to two books on saltwater fly-fishing, hundreds of his articles and photographs have appeared in publications around the world. Graham has devoted his life to finding new fisheries and developing new techniques — all of which he shares through his guiding, speaking, photography and writing.