It disappeared for generations and seasons on end, only to return again. This time, rivaling the golden era of the past.
The story behind
Year of the Bluefin
"Ever since I was a kid, bluefin tuna was kind of a mysterious creature in California."
A story told with a whisper of the past, something only Greg Stotesbury could manage. Stotesbury is a bit of a legend around these parts. Seasoned, just like you’d imagine. A man who’s seen a few hard days and spent his best ones offshore somewhere in the Pacific chasing sails, marlin, tuna — you name it, he’s caught it.
Stotesbury pulls out a weathered rod, getting everything in place to stretch some line, preparing for a trip of his own. The rhythmic click with each turn of the handle and the smell of salt wafting through the air sets the scene for the richness of his tale.
"When you’re a little kid, and you think of catching big fish, you’ve got all kinds of questions. How do you do this stuff? How do you land a 200-pound fish on rod and reel?
"So in 2015, when this big fish showed up and we caught the first over 100-pound fish just off the east end of Catalina, we were all ecstatic. Now we’ve got this fish that was so romanticized all through the history of sportfishing. I mean literally the beginnings of rod and reel sportfishing. That fish was now back."
Hanging on every word, we prodded a little more, hoping he’d spin another thread, a deeper glimpse at the mystery. He caught on almost instinctively.
“When you see that big beast or that big blue eye and the teeth and that pretty kind of purplish-blue, that opalescent pearl blue color ... that just fires me up."
The meal of choice for big bluefin.
Not a single boat in sight.
Dave Elm, all business.
Flying the tuna flag.
The Tuna Club
Founded in 1898 by Charles Frederick Holder, the Tuna Club is the oldest fishing club in the United States.
History of Sportfishing: Catalina Island
Only four years after Catalina Island was founded, Charles Frederick Holder established the Avalon Tuna Club. It was 1898. Its name is derived from Holder’s historic rod and reel catch of a 183-pound bluefin tuna. The oldest fishing club in the United States, its goals were simple: to elevate sportfishing to the highest degree and protect California gamefish.
Noteworthy members over the years include U.S. presidents William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt, along with dignitaries and celebrities like Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, and Bing Crosby.
Under strict Tuna Club guidelines, the Tuna Club awards buttons for certain fish caught on regulation Linen or Dacron lines. The blue button used to be the only way a new Tuna Club associate could qualify as a full voting member. It required catching a tuna over 100 pounds in Catalina waters on regulation tackle.
The significance of the buttons is the history they represent and the strict angling ethics and techniques developed by the Tuna Club founders. These men set the original standards for sportfishing tackle and angling.
Return of the Bluefin
"We essentially never had access to those fish during that period from roughly 1935 until we caught those fish in 2015."
The very fish that ushered in sportfishing for California was gone for nearly a century. Every bluefin angler in California is wondering when they might disappear again.
"These fish essentially do a big giant figure eight off the coast of California. They go up about as high as southern Oregon, northern California, and almost as low as Guadalupe Island. The top of that figure eight used to be down off Guadalupe Island, so we essentially never had access to those fish during that period from roughly 1935 until we caught those fish in 2015," Stotesbury says.
A lifetime for any of us. That’s why many of us are so intent on learning more, what we can do to protect and preserve the Pacific bluefin in our waters. We want this to be something that stays with us.
"I’d like to think our brush with the past will last a little longer this time. And if we’re lucky enough, the year of the bluefin will be around for our grandkids to tell us about."
Conservation of Pacific Bluefin
The Pacific bluefin is a critically important species with population levels well below historic numbers. Conservation measures and more data are needed to better understand and enjoy these fish. Most importantly, we need to satellite tag more 200-pound bluefin through the Tag-A-Giant program for further insight into the actual age that these fish spawn.