The "golden years" at Catalina...

Ken Jones

Staff member
The Golden Years — From the time Avalon’s first wharves and piers were built anglers have found them to be a place to fish and a place to catch fish. Of course the pier fishing was typically over shadowed by the “big game” catches out on the boats but the pier anglers still managed some pretty nice fish. And, they didn’t have to worry about mal de mar—getting seasick.

The following newspaper articles detail some of the wharf and pier fishing trips during the “golden years”—from the 1890s to the 1930s. They reflect the fishing at the older and larger Steamer Wharf and the smaller Pleasure Pier that sat just south of its large neighbor.

Avalon (Santa Catalina) July 17.—The fishing is splendid. Men, women and children were hauling in the yellowtails from the end of the wharf. —Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1890

Avalon, Aug. 9.—The fishing continues fair. The contingent at the wharf catch yellowtail every day, two being taken yesterday, one 37 and the other 29 pounds in weight. Large number of sheephead are seen about the dock, and a few days ago a halibut was taken, affording fine sport to the wielder of a light rod. —Los Angeles Herald, August 12, 1894

Avalon, June 9.—The fishing in the bay at Avalon is better this year than ever before. Yesterday the wharf was thronged with successful anglers. It is rarely that the big fish come so close in shore so early in the summer. Yesterday Mrs. Boyce of Los Angeles, who is camping here for the season, caught three fine yellowtail from the end of the wharf. One of them weighed forty pounds and was too heavy to be raised from the water on the hook, so a boat put out to her assistance and hauled the fish ashore. The other two weighed nearly twenty pounds apiece. Mrs. Boyce has been almost jealous of the prowess of Miss Emma Bumiller, a young lady camping with her, who caught her first yellowtail some time ago, but now the tables are turned.
Lee Wilson of Los Angeles caught a big fellow himself from the same place. He (the fish) tipped the scales at forty-two pounds.
J. K. Urmstiad caught four yellowtail in the morning, weighing sixty-four pounds. —Los Angeles Herald, June 10, 1897

Millions of Fish — They Crowd Each Other and Are Caught by Tons

Catalina corr. Los Angeles Herald, Aug. 25. Jewfish up to 300 pounds, yellowtail up to forty, big rock bass, etc. are old stories now, and the three big Jewfish brought in yesterday hardly attracted attention, though something else did.
The present time is known as the yellow-tail season. The barroacuda have just retired from the scene and taken to deep water for purposes known to themselves, leaving the field to the gamy amber fish, as the yellow-tail is called by some. The fish looks something like a salmon and when a forty-pounder takes a hook some of Abbey & Imbrey’s best tackle and lots of muscles are wanted or something will give.
The big fish have been very plentiful of late, and this evening they took the town by storm, a school estimated by an expert at several thousand dashing in just south of the dock, forcing a large school of smelt in so that they formed a solid mass of fish three or four feet deep along shore. Into this the big yellow-tails—from three to five feet in length—dashed, cutting them down like knives, devouring them, running them ashore and creating a furor that lasted for nearly an hour.
Every inhabitant of Avalon and the guests of Hotel Metropole who heard the noise and confusion rushed to the beach, and with lines, sticks, and even bare hands, went into the sport. Not a breath of wind disturbed the bay, but the water was covered with whitecaps and waves that ran in every direction, and everywhere the huge forms could be seen scintillating, hurling the water over boats and men and dashing on to shore, to be killed with sticks in the hands of campers.
One lady caught several so large that she had to throw the line to someone on the shore to pull them in for her, but nothing daunted she kept in the fray and took a large number. The culmination of the excitement was the capture of a large part of the school by some Italian fishermen. They put out their nets and surrounded the school, and, while vast numbers—in fact, the greater number escaped, they caught, it is estimated, three tons, which were hurriedly put on a vessel and started for the Los Angeles market. So the Los Angelenos will have the fish, if none the sport.—San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 1889

Gilbert and Connell Polloreno, two boys, 10 and 8 years of age, respectively, each caught a yellowtail from the wharf Monday afternoon and George N. Fonsman captured two. Yesterday Gilbert Pollioreno landed two more and Cornell caught a three-foot leopard shark.— Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1898

All Along The Line — Even in the winter season, Catalina Island is prolific of fish stories. The latest is that of a fifty-five-pound boy who caught a thirty-five-pound yellowtail from the wharf at Avalon. —Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1899

There were a lot of yellowtail about the wharf yesterday afternoon, and several were caught. Gilbert Polloreno captured a twenty-pounder and his brother landed one slightly smaller. —Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1899

Santa Catalina Island—William Shemwell caught a twenty-five-pound halibut from the wharf yesterday. George Michaels picked up a thirty-pound yellowtail near the wharf this morning. —Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1900

All sorts of fish were being caught from the wharf this morning and a great crowd of people were attracted thither to see the sport. Ten or a dozen yellowtail were among those taken. —Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1900

There was lots of fun on the wharf yesterday. The water was full of sardines, and a lot of yellowtail came in after them. The anglers in turn got after the yellowtail, and a round dozen were caught. —Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1900

Catalina Island — Panic Stricken Sardines
Avalon, April 13.—A large school of yellowtail made a rush on the school of sardines which has been hovering about the wharf here for a week past and drove the small fry almost out of the water. They fled from the big fish and in their efforts to escape many were crowded up on the beach. Three of the yellowtail were caught by anglers from the pier. —Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1904

Yellowtail By Thousands In Bay Of Avalon —
Big School of Fish on Little Harbor, and Fishers Have Exciting Times
The Los Angeles Times say: “I’ve got him!” “I got him!” “Look out there!” “Here they come again!” and with shouts and laughter and all sorts of badinage the Avalon wharf was about the liveliest spot on earth today. The yellowtail have found the whereabouts of the great school of sardines which have been lurking about the wharf for a fortnight and they are after them now in increasing numbers every day. At an early hour this morning a school numbering several hundred made a foray on the little bait fishes and drove them by the hundreds out on the beach, the yellowtail following and gulping down the sardines till they could hold no more. Then the fishers began their work, and in hot haste were rushing hither and thither for their tackle. In a surprisingly short time the wharf was filled with anglers of every description, Chinese, Japanese and Caucasians, from six years of age up to ninety-five. The school of yellowtail would take a run down one side of the wharf and nearly every properly-baited hook would be taken and then the other side would be visited, the sardines scurrying like wild before them. At one time there were seven persons on the wharf fighting fish, besides half a dozen others in boats near by. The spectacle was wildly exciting and spectators and anglers were rushing about screeching and yelling like Indians. More than half a hundred big yellowtail were landed on the wharf and as many more taken by parties in boats. No accurate list of the catches could be procured, but the “high man” was conceded to be William Moore, who scored an even dozen. —Bakersfield Daily Californian, April 17, 1904

Avalon, May 8.—The fishers on the wharf last night took thirty-eight sharks, embracing a great many varieties, two of them being of the horned species. A skate which was taken along with them was placed in the aquarium. The shark is a nocturnal animal and usually lies by during daylight and sallies out for food at night. —Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1904

Huge Yellowtail Taken From Wharf At Avalon
Terrific Struggle Is Witnessed By Highly-Excited Crowd

Avalon, Cal., May 21.—W. M. Le Favor of Avalon, while fishing off the wharf yesterday morning, caught a forty-pound yellowtail, which gave him quite a fight. As soon as he hooked the monster it began a series of circles, going in and out amongst the piles, while the many onlookers watched the magnificent struggle for supremacy. Finally the yellowtail cleared the piles and Mr. Le Favor, with the assistance of three other men, succeeded in landing him.
The day before Le Favor succeeded in landing a thirty-two and a half pound yellowtail off the same wharf. Fully 150 people saw the fish weighed. Yellowtail are being caught off the wharf daily. —Los Angeles Herald, May 22, 1908

Waltonians Do Well Fishing Off Avalon

Avalon, May. 31.—The fishing off Avalon grows better each day and a large number of yellowtail and white sea bass are being taken…
The handline fishermen kept up their efforts from the wharf end. One man took a monster yellowtail by the clothesline, hand-over-hand method the other day. Sportsmen who were nearby pleaded with the man to return the splendid fish to the bay. This the man refused to do, despite the fact that the fish was of no use save for photographic purposes.
A much more sportsmanlike attitude is being taken by many of those who formerly fished only for the fish they caught. The Three-six club’s motto, “More fun, less fish,” seems to be gaining adherents. —Los Angeles Herald, June 1, 1908

Spears Fly In The Night

Avalon. May 11.—Spearing flying fish is a new sport which is being indulged in nightly around the pleasure pier in the glare of electric lights. Fully 100 people watched the unique sport last night. —Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1910

Lysle Michel, 9 year old, son of C. F. Michel of Chicago this morning landed a yellowtail with a handline, the fish tipping the scale at 19 ½ pounds. Yesterday the boy fought a fish weighing 30 pounds. It was too large for him to pull it out of the water and twice nearly had him off the wharf. With the help of his father the catch was finally gaffed from a rowboat. —Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1910

An electric experiment was tried here last evening. Encased in a watertight globe a large power light was submerged several feet under the water at the end of the pleasure pier. Attracted by the brightness, thousands of fish swam to and fro vainly attempting to solve the new problem. Several times Ben, the pet seal, approached the light, loudly barking, but he afterward retired. Yellowtail, barracuda, flying fish and starfish could be seen, their silvery spots flashing through the light rays with remarkable beauty. The invention is by J. Shiebush, electrician for the Santa Catalina Island Company for the purpose of spearing flying fish, a sport recently developed here, the light is of benefit. —Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1910

Takes Spear To Mermaids— Seal Mistaken For Yellowtail Dives Below

Avalon, June 25.—Spearing flying fish in the full glare of an electric light is a new sport which has recently come into prominence here. Alfred Portense last evening made a record catch from the end of the pleasure pier. In one hour he speared nine fish as they darted to and fro under the pier and around the submerged light. This week several yellowtail and barracuda became victims of the “fork method.”
The spearing is done after sunset. Attached to a five-pronged fork is a short bamboo rod and several feet of stout cord.
Lunging at a large yellowtail last evening, F. B. Hamilton of St. Paul missed the fish and struck a seal. For a time the surrounding water had the appearance of a whirlpool. With a loud snort the injured seal snapped the cord and plunged below, taking with it the spear. —Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1910

Little Miss Margery Powell, aged ten years, daughter of Captain H. M. Powell, U.S.A., who is commandant of the State University of Arizona, has set the fashion for small girls at Avalon by fishing assiduously off the wharf. This small girl, who had never had a rod in her hand before, has landed fifty-six fish. Early in the morning she starts out and no childish amusement can draw her attention from her fascinating occupation. She is a true little sportswoman, and her father’s own daughter in the enjoyment of fishing and hunting. —Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1910

Gold Button Yellowtail

Avalon, April 3.—While fishing within several feet from the wharf last evening, Col. N. F. Stearns of Los Angeles brought to gaff a yellowtail weighing forty-four and one-fourth pounds. The fish is the largest catch taken here this season and is the first gold button yellowtail which has been caught for several months. Col. Stearns is second vice-president of the Catalina Tuna Club. —Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1911

The City of Avalon took over the Avalon Pleasure Pier from the Board of Freeholders... Four white sea bass were caught by angler A. E. Eaton Sunday night. The heaviest weighed 40 lbs. —Catalina Islander, July 4, 1916

“Today I actually saw swordfish, tuna, albacore, yellowtail, barracuda, mackerel, sardines, smelt and rock bass right from the Avalon pleasure pier. The bay was alive with churning, slashing, feeding yellowtail, barracuda and tuna all day, and the great schools of sardines, smelt and Spanish mackerel were furnishing wonderful sport and a big feed for the larger cannibalistic members of the sea family.”—Avalon Islander. —Oakland Tribune, December 19, 1917

A grouper shark weighing 285 pounds was caught off the Avalon Pleasure Pier by Captain John Kassar. He had to call for help to land the fish. — Catalina Islander, December 10, 1918

CATALINA FISHING—A few days ago a large school of bait came in close to shore near the pleasure pier and the bath house; some were driven ashore by small barracuda, of which there are a number from 6 to 10 inches long around now. They are fish that hatched out this past summer. —Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, December 7, 1932

Catalina Fishing—The boys have been having a lot of fun trying to land some of the big yellowtail from the Pleasure Pier. They are around daily. Plenty of little green-back mackerel every morning for the pier fishermen.—Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, October 25, 1934

Catalina Fishing—Most all summer there has been a small school of three yellowtail around the Pleasure Pier daily. One of the big fellows might be the fish caught by C. R. Martin of Avalon, a light tackle fish of 25 ¼ lbs. That is a catch hard to beat. —Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, August 8, 1935

Catalina Fishing—The past week finds fishing getting better daily. The yellowtail are being brought in, and now barracuda are arriving to feed. Quite a number are in the catches.
I saw one yellowtail caught from the end of the Pleasure Pier this morning. They have kept a marvelous school of sardines, Spanish mackerel and green back mackerel herded in the bay. They seem to be as thick as you would see the bait in the live bait tank at times. They are last year’s hatch, and are 5 to 8 inches in length. They feed but very little, so they are hard to catch, except the green back mackerel. Boys on the Pleasure Pier and from boats have a lot of fun catching them...
Tuesday evening, May 5, Pat Casey, better known as “Barracuda Jim”, caught and landed the first white sea bass of the season—a beauty of 45 lbs. Time, 15 minutes. He was fishing from the end of the Pleasure Pier when he got the strike. It was dark, but the way the fish ran he knew he had a fine catch. He caught it on a number 15 line. There are quite a few seen along the coast. —Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, May 14, 1936

Catalina Fishing—The Pleasure Pier is a very interesting place evenings now... Mornings and evenings boys and girls are seen on the pier fishing for the little greenback mackerel. Some rock bass are also being caught. There is a lot of bait in the bay now, as almost every morning the larger fish outside chase the bait in near the pier. The sardines and little mackerel are growing fast. They are this year's hatch, and each day sees them a little larger in size. The sardines are big enough to be good bait for rock bass. —Capt. Earl A. Wood, Catalina Islander, August 13, 1936