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Catalina, Calfornia Catalina, Calfornia Catalina, Calfornia Catalina, Calfornia Catalina, Calfornia Catalina, Calfornia
Catalina, Calfornia

The start of sportsmanship in fishing is the story of the Catalina Island Tuna Club

Tuna Club logo in stained glass.

In the 1880's, Southern California was experiencing a population boom, due to a challenge to the railroad monopoly that brought rail tickets from Missouri down from $125 to only $1! This San Francisco monopoly cartel of Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins and Stanford is where the money for the University came from. You may also have heard of Crocker Bank, Huntington Beach in Southern California, and the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, long famous for its bar The Top of the Mark with incredible views of the city.

Tuna Club Foyer.

In the midst of this, a Dr. Charles Holder moved to Los Angeles. Holder's long fascination with nature started in his youth and was probably spurred on while collecting specimens for his father at the Natural History Museum in New York and for The Smithsonian Institution.

It was natural that he would be attracted to the then remote island of Catalina. Here was a pristine environment teaming with fish. In 1886, Holder visited Catalina Island for the first time. At that time, white sea bass and yellowtail would work together to force bait fish into the bay where they would be preyed upon. In turn, the locals used baited hand lines to hook the sea bass and the yellowtail. Holder was fascinated and appalled by the slaughter of these game fish by humans, especially since most of these fish were wasted.

View of Tuna Club from Casino Balcony.

Holder immediately sent for his tackle that he later described as "trout gear", and he quickly learned that this was totally insufficient for the mighty fish of the Pacific. Over the next few years while also being the editor of The Los Angeles Times and co-founding Pasadena's Tournament of Roses, Holder promoted Catalina Island. He and other Tuna Club founders caught the first documented tuna with fishing gear that is hard to conceive in this day and age. The reels had direct drive which caused the handles to spin backwards when a fish ran. These were referred to as "knuckle busters". The only drag was the pressure applied by the thumb to a leather pad attached to the reel. In 1898, Charles Holder caught the first larger tuna on rod and reel. It took three hours and forty-five minutes to land. It towed the boat 10 miles, even though boatman Jim Gardner dragged his oars in the water! The Associated Press telegraphed the news to fishermen around the world, and it lit a fire under the rod and reel approach to sportsfishing.

This catch prompted Holder and other founders of the Tuna Club to make up strict angling rules to give the fish a fighting chance for survival. This was a means to protect the fish reflected in their motto "Fair play to game fishes". Any infraction, willing or not, from these rules would disqualify anglers from the awarding of the much coveted blue buttons to successful anglers and sometimes even club membership. Injuries were so common that the front porch of the hotel on Catalina at the time was referred to as "the tuna hospital". These rules were soon endorsed by anglers around the world.

Mounted Tuna.

The Tuna Club history of conservation has endured for over a century now, and has included numerous illustrious anglers including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Movie Director Cecil B. DeMille, actors Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, writer Zane Grey, chewing gum magnet Phillip Wrigley, General George Patton, and many many more.

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