It was the end of the Roaring Twenties – the nation’s wealth had more than doubled and the Wall Street Stock Market Crash of 1929 bought an abrupt end to the strength of the American economy – ushering in a Great Depression, which plunged the world into years of unprecedented turmoil.
This was the year that in a small suburb of Los Angeles, Delbert Francis Marsh was born into the still-growing Marsh family. Not understood then was the impact this tiny baby would have on those close to him – his family and friends – throughout his lifetime and especially in the sport fishing community.
The family grew to include five children – Jay, the oldest; Dean, Del, Kenny and Carole, plus two more half brothers from a second marriage after their mother passed away. During his teenage years his father introduced him (and his brothers) to surf fishing along the expansive beaches of the California coast.
World War II swirled around Los Angeles together with the rest of the world and at 18 years of age, Marsh joined the Army; serving two years in Alaska. He returned home, only to be drafted in 1951 for an additional two years when the Korean War broke out.
Settling in a small cottage on a quiet cul-de-sac in Long Beach upon his return, he worked in Glendale at a steel construction company with his older brother Dean, driving a truck and delivering rebar throughout the Los Angeles area.
Resuming his fishing activities whenever he found time, he haunted the west coast beaches from Oregon all the way to Baja, fishing inshore and offshore in Southern California as well as taking long range trips out of San Diego along with trips with Captain Tony Reyes on the Sea of Cortez.
On December 12, 1959, Del hooked and landed his first World Record as determined by the International Game Fish Association – a 92-pound 8-ounce thresher shark taken on 12-pound test line.
There are those who believe that this recognition ignited an insatiable competitive desire that drove Del throughout his remarkable fishing career.
His nephew, Mike Speakman, recalled one of many trips with Reyes, which confirmed Del’s fierce competiveness. “Once in the late 1970s when I was 13 years old, my dad, Del and I went on a Tony Reyes trip. Out on a panga with my dad one day, I caught a 140-pound grouper. When we returned to the mother ship, Del spotted the huge fish and was furious because he hadn’t caught anything near that size. He demanded to know where we had caught the monster.”
Speakman recalled, “He grabbed me and the panguero and insisted we return with him to the spot where the grouper had been caught. He would not leave that spot until he caught one that was bigger than mine. We fished all night until finally he caught a larger one. Uncle Del always had to have the biggest fish!”
Del met Pierette in 1962. Soon after graduating from school, she began working in the office where he was employed and they dated for six years before marrying.
Fishing was the focus of their lives from the beginning of the relationship. Frequently visiting her parents in Redding, they would often join her mom and dad on their steelhead fishing trips along the California-Oregon border. They also enjoyed exploring the deserted beaches with Del’s two sons, Barry and Steve, surf fishing their way up and down the California and Oregon coasts.
Del purchased a 14-foot outboard skiff, expanding their horizons beyond the beaches to the fertile kelp beds along the Southern California coast and they traveled to Alaska where Pierette landed her largest halibut ever.
In 1965, Pierette, her sister and three girlfriends traveled to Hawaii on vacation. A few days into the trip, Marsh arrived unannounced and met them in Honolulu.
“I was so surprised when he called me in our room,” she recounted recently with her eyes glistening, “I thought it was a long distance call!”
“When he said he was in the lobby, I raced downstairs – he was standing in front of the elevator as the doors slid open. Giving me one of his big bear hugs, he whispered in my ear, “I missed you so much, I just had to come see you,” she finished with a huge smile.
That was the beginning of a lengthy courtship which resulted in their marriage in 1968 in Reno followed by a reception at Pierette’s parent’s home in Redding … beginning a relationship that continued for forty-one years.
Pierette moved into his home in Long Beach and they continued surf fishing in Redondo, Hermosa, and up and down the coast of California, venturing as far as the Oregon coast with the boys and her mother.
It wasn’t long before Del joined several fishing clubs, including Gardena and Torrance Rod and Reel Club, fishing often on club trips as well as continuing to fish frequently in his 14-foot outboard.
He and Pierette shared many adventures in their small boat. She tells of the time when he launched the boat, leaving her in the boat while he parked the truck and trailer. Returning, he hopped in the boat, grabbed the starter rope and gave it a mighty yank. It broke, flipping Del into the water. Pierette couldn’t contain her laughter as a very soggy Del struggled over the gunnel.
Then there was the time he hooked a marlin and used an aluminum lawn chair as a fighting chair.
Another time while fishing for calico bass they anchored at the edge of the kelp. Marsh pointed to a very large wave approaching quickly. As they both watched, mouths agape, they realized there was another following – even larger! With no time to pull the anchor, Del fired up the outboard to maneuver the boat so the bow was pointed toward the oncoming waves. With Pierette and their Labrador Retriever huddling together, two waves crashed over the bow, drenching them all and nearly swamping the small boat. Safe, but soaked, Marsh – flashing that smile that had become one of his trademarks – observed, “I think it’s time to go home now!” Later, they discovered the rogue waves had been caused by an earthquake farther offshore.
Soon after that harrowing experience, they began shopping for a larger boat. During a Los Angeles Boat Show, they purchased a 26-foot Livesay with a small cuddy cabin that Del christened “Piece of Cake.” An ideal boat for the two of them, it allowed them to go farther and stay longer in relative comfort.
The Channel Islands, Catalina Island, along San Clemente and even albacore trips below San Diego became their playground. Nearly every weekend during spring, summer and into fall, the two of them explored and enjoyed the waters off of Southern California aboard “Piece of Cake.”
Pierette recalls their best Southern California striped marlin day ever!
She, Del and a friend headed out to pre-fish one of the billfish tournaments held in Avalon. They caught two fish. Apparently, it was a slow day for the fleet. Their arrival at Rosie’s scale was greeted with a celebrity’s welcome. The cannon boomed! Music blared as the fish were weighed and photographed! Spectators peppered them with questions – lure or bait? Where? How long? The three reveled in their 15 minutes of fame.
In 1975, Del ventured out on his first long-range trip … an eye opener for him that ultimately expanded his horizons. Like a moth to a flame, he couldn’t resist the notion of larger and even more fish to catch.
By this time, Del’s interest in fishing had become insatiable, bordering on obsessive. Beach, boat, salt or fresh water, it didn’t matter. Del began taking time off from work at every opportunity, which presented itself.
At outdoor shows featuring fishing, his growing wealth of knowledge in all things “fishy,” coupled with his warm smile and effusive personality were welcome additions. He began working in a succession of fishing rod manufactures booths. If he couldn’t be fishing, at least he could talk about it.
First he began working with “Jigging Joe Pfister” aka “Twisted Pfister” by the shop production crew at Sabre Rods. All went well until a large tuna that Del had mounted and loaned to Sabre to hang on their reception wall disappeared. Del had not been reimbursed for the mount and he was furious that someone could walk out of the lobby with a huge tuna.
By the end of the decade, he had met Leon Todd of Cal Star rods at the San Francisco Cow Palace Outdoor Show along with Dick Medve.
As his host of acquaintances grew rapidly, not all made the cut into the “close friend” column. However, those who did remained his friends for life. Their stories of his friendship and what it meant to them would fill volumes.
Dick Medve, Kona, Hawaii: In 1981, Medve was diagnosed with esophageal cancer requiring immediate surgery, which lasted twelve hours. “Del was close by my side during the recovery. He invited me into his world of wacky friends and adventures and he changed my life from a young urban professional to a much happier beach-combing surf fisherman,” Medve recalled recently. “He became one of my closest friends!”
“Del arranged a job for me with Sabre Fishing Rods that kept me and my dog rolling up and down the California coast in a Volkswagen van selling rods. Like many others, I discovered what a special person he was and I will always cherish the memories he shared with me,” Medve confided.
In 1983, Del and Pierette planned a return trip to Hawaii to explore the outer islands. This time they would travel together – a celebration of sorts of the fateful trip several decades earlier that had ultimately resulted in their uniquely joyous and enviable relationship. Believe it or not, fishing was not on the agenda as they island hopped.
But fate intervened. At the north shore of Oahu, Ken Matney of Hi-Five Lures, brother of Charles Gregory Matney, columnist for Hawaiian Fishing News, had been invited to fish a tournament with Steve Kaiser aboard his boat, the “Medusa,” named for Steve’s wife, Sandy. However, due to a scheduling conflict, Matney suggested that Marsh take his place.
That first introduction into the world of Big Game Sportfishing Tournaments aboard custom sport fishers led to an on-going friendship lasting nearly thirty-six years.
This twist of fate also allowed Del to land one of his most remarkable catches six years later in 1989 – one of his most memorable highlights of his entire fishing career.
They had anchored at South Point the night before, enjoying a lobster dinner and renewing their friendship before fishing the following day and coming back with a grander, Sandy Kaiser reminisced recently. “The scale showed 1,012 pounds and the cockpit erupted with excitement. As angler and crew celebrated their success, champagne corks popped along with flashbulbs as cameras recorded the backslapping and hugs while the weigh master looked on, momentarily forgetting to press the button to lock the recorded weight; the weigh master allowed the needle to creep downward to exactly 1,000 pounds before hitting the lock button,” she concluded.
Ironically, that seemed to suit Del! From that moment on, he boasted that he had landed the smallest grander ever caught, and not everybody can do that.
Recently, Steve Kaiser observed that Del’s Grander was the only one caught aboard the “Medusa” during his ownership.
Like many other Southern California anglers, Del was drawn to the rugged Baja Peninsula and its prolific deserted beaches. He and his buddies, by invitation only, would caravan down the newly completed Mex 1 to this secret beach spot, which they called “Variety.”
The first time I ever heard of Variety was when I traveled with Tom Miller, noted Baja enthusiast, WON columnist, co-author of “Baja Book,” the first motorists’ hand guide for Baja, which sold more than 200,000 copies. We were on one of our frequent road trips through the Baja peninsula.
Tom and I stopped at a secret beach spot where some of Tom’s fireman buddies from Huntington Beach fished. At that time the actual location was a well-kept secret.
According to Miller, the group of firemen and friends, including Del Marsh, came down several times a year to catch HUGE white sea bass from the beach – bringing a freezer full of squid to use for bait. They then used the same freezer to haul their catch back home. They carried a generator to keep the freezer running, basically fishing around the clock and catching the huge WSB, often several at a time. Over the years, speculation and rumor basically place the spot somewhere on the west coast between Scorpion Bay and El Rosario encompassing roughly 350 miles of beach.
It’s not much of a secret anymore; however, it’s still deserted most of the time. For years, Del passed out a business card designed by his buddy Medve … with him walking along the beach with a string of white seabass slung over his shoulder. When the cards were finished, he asked that his arm be photo-shopped a little larger!
Last time I visited the hallowed spot a number of years ago, there was an “I know Del Marsh” sticker on one of the road signs.
Speaking of stickers, over the years there have been a number of variations according to Del’s son, Steve. How they got started in the first place was another story. Among Del’s many passions was an interest in Plumeria and Sabal palmetto trees.
While driving in a nice neighborhood, Del spotted the largest plumeria he had ever seen. Slamming on the brakes, he flung open his door and marched up to the front door of the house and rang the bell. The owner of the house opened the door tentatively.
“That “effing” Plumeria is the largest I have ever seen,” bellowed Del. “Do you mind if I take a cutting?” After some discussion, the fellow agreed to let Del have his cutting. The two became good friends, which speaks volumes about Del’s gregarious disposition.
As Rich Holland, photojournalist and friend, once said, “All you had to do to get Marsh telling jokes and fishing stories was to say hello; and he would usually take care of that part, too.”
Later, the gentleman had the first “I know Del Marsh” bumper sticker made, much to Del’s delight.
Over the years, there was a succession of bumper stickers that followed:
“Who is Del Marsh?”
“Who the Hell is Del Marsh?”
“Who the **** is Del Marsh?”
and the final: “I fished with Del Marsh.”
I was recently in the Marsh’s home in Long Beach. The den still reflects his devotion to all things sport fishing. One corner is devoted to his grander with the huge tail and bill prominently displayed. The entire walls of that corner are filled with photos of other extraordinary catches surrounded by giant lures, a Japanese fishing float as well as a “fish mobile” hand carved by Del.
A rock-hewn fireplace built by Del, makes a suitable backdrop for his record-breaking 129-pound amberjack caught on the Qualifier 105 in 1980, if they had weighed it back at the landing instead of eating it for dinner… along with a set of antlers, a favored French stormy sea painting, as well as one of his own handmade seashell mobiles.
Another of Del’s handiwork is a miniature lighthouse – constructed at Pierette’s request – made with pebbles and sand from his beloved Variety beach in Baja. There is also a mirror framed with seashells that he made for her.
Other walls are festooned with trophy catches from both fresh and salt water – barred perch, spotfin croaker, crappie, smallmouth bass, as well as wood from Shasta Lake and another French painting with a boatman lugging a fish ashore over his shoulder. When Del hung the painting, he decided the fish needed to be larger so he paid an artist to enlarge it.
Another item of interest is a handmade wooden table and chairs, identical to the one commissioned for the Hemingway House. His brother and fishing companion, Kenny Marsh of Palm Springs, gave this to Del. Another item of interest is a sea anchor as well as a coffee table with bronze propellers built into the supports.
As mentioned before, Del had an affinity for plants and trees and designed a Japanese Garden at the entrance to their home as well as building birdhouses for the outside.
Their home is devoted to Del’s collection of mementos, preserved in the den that Del built – a testament to his exuberance and love for the sport and for the life he lived.
His son Steve recently confessed, “My Dad pretty much spent his whole life getting ready for another fishing trip.”
There will be a Part 2 to this story of Del Marsh’s life. He was too large a man in life to contain in one article.
His is a story of friendships forged with foolishness, buffoonery and laughter – a celebration of one man’s human spirit cloaked in the timeless endeavor of fishing.
Here is the link to our Bloody Decks forum thread started back in 2009 for your review and comments.