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October 31 – Season Wrap

It’s Halloween here at the Home Office, and the streets are filled with little ghouls and goblins playing their tricks and seeking their treats. We have no tricks for you tonight, but one big treat – the season finale of the Fishing News!

(cue theme music)

It’s been a long season, but let’s start our look in the rear view mirror with what just went down at the recently concluded Bisbee’s Black and Blue Tournament.

Winning smiles

You’d think that after thirty years of events, the Bisbee’s would have seen pretty much all the variety of drama that could happen in a marlin tournament … and you’d be wrong. As we reported in the last update, after the end of two days fishing, Martha McNab and her 591-kb blue marlin were out front by a comfortable margin. It was a rich fish, as they were in all of the prize levels, and it had the chance of being a historic fish as well – the Bisbee’s had never been won by a lady angler. But there was still another day of fishing to be contested, and things only got better.

Linda Williams, fishing on II SUCCESS, had a monster blue hit a Hi-5 Petrolero – a classic Cabo lure – and after a two-hour fight, the fish was boated. Back at the scales, it weighed 774-lbs, blowing past McNab’s fish and taking the tournament victory. Williams is the first female winner of the event, and banked a check for $368,675. Don’t feel too bad for Martha McNab, however – her second-place fish and savvy use of the side pots netted her $1,185,862. This was her second time as the event’s runner-up, and only a fool would presume she won’t be a favorite next year. James Long took third place for his 342-kb blue caught on SOONER REELIN’, and he took home $34,762.

In the release division, TITAN, a 57-ft Beneteau sailboat – yes, sailboat – took first place with three released blue marlin. To be sure, this isn’t your typical sailboat or sailboater. Owner Gary Aliengena’s previous rides were a 44-ft Cabo and a 60-ft Hatteras, and his blow boat is the only one you’ll find equipped with tuna tubes. But if you imagine the challenge of backing down on a hot marlin using a little Yanmar diesel, you’ll appreciate the magnitude of their victory. Second place in the division went to COJONES and third to REEL PAIN II, each of which also had three releases, with the ranking set by time tiebreakers. It’s worth noting REEL PAIN boated an undersized marlin that would have sealed their victory in the division had it only been released.

Speaking of released marlin, here’s one last reminder to submit your released marlin for the Billfish Release Board. Use the submission form to send us the details if they’re not on the board, or the missing details if they’re there but unclaimed (no little “$” on the row). Claimed fish go in the drawing for SCMO swag in a couple of weeks, and you don’t want to miss out!

The end of the Black and Blue marks the end of the tournament season for SoCal-based boats, but not necessarily the marlin fishing. Boats returning from the Cape will meet those headed south from Cali to fish the fish-rich waters off Bahia Magdelena – Mag Bay for short. The numbers aren’t what they were a decade ago – sound familiar? – but it’s still a place where you can release a dozen striped marlin and still have time for your siesta.

Fork it … we’re done

Several of the southern-bound boats are providing updates on Facebook, so this is probably a good time to remind you that while we may be shutting down here at the Fishing News, the sun never sets on SCMO’s Facebook page. We talk all things marlin and offshore fishing there, and I encourage our Facebooking friends to swing by and “like” us.

So how should we describe the recently-completed SoCal marlin season? I guess “better than it could have been” would be a start. The last three seasons were brutal around here, and I am one of those who are frankly pessimistic that we’ll ever see a 300-release season again. This one didn’t come close to that, but it does mark the third straight season that improved on the last. We’ve got over sixty releases over on the Billfish Release Board, so you know there has to be at least that many more unreported. It would not be unfair to say that this season was approaching normal.

The signs were good back in July – there were signs of an El Niño forming, and the seas were unusually warm. The season itself started right on time, as Barry Brightenberg and Chris Bailey each released a striped marlin near the 267 on July 21. That inshore bite lasted for nearly two weeks before drying up, and for a couple of weeks it seemed that perhaps that was all there was going to be. It was the last time marlin were seen in any number on the inshore banks, but not the end of the marlin.

Most people who study our fishery believe that there are several paths the marlin take as they head north into our region. The first brings them up the coast of Baja, tight to the shore, only turning west once they hit Dana Point. In years where that is the primary migration route, we see strong fishing off Coral and San Diego, and the 267 is a hot spot. If however, they choose the path further offshore, they might not been seen until they reach the 289, Mackerel Bank or even the 499 north of San Clemente Island.

This year, once the 267 bite petered out, some fish were caught in the traditional places off the east end of Catalina, but it wasn’t really until just before the beginning of the local tournament season that those in the know were told of marlin coming through the traditional tuna grounds at the Butterfly Bank. Smart anglers correctly predicted that the marlin would cross the 43, and there were a number of marlin released there during the MABT. Those marlin slid north and camped out between the 289 and Pyramid Head, and there was a solid three weeks of marlin action to be found there – right in the heart of tournament season.

There was one last blast of action late in September, as the marlin appeared on the inner ridge running from the 181 south to the 9-Mile Bank. This gave the billfish-starved anglers from San Diego a shot, and they made the most of it. The last release I heard of was by Fred Larson fishing on SQUARED AWAY down by the 138 on October 2, but there might have been a few I didn’t hear of.

The story wasn’t quite so rosy for those in pursuit of edible pelagics, particularly in the northern fleet. True, there was a decent pick of dorado and yellowtail at times during the season, but it was hit and miss at best. Tuna fishing was even worse, with most species barely making it above the border. This was something of a reward for those who fished out of San Diego and had little shot at marlin for most of the season, as they could run south to the Tuna Pens for a consistent bluefin tuna bite pretty much all season long.

One thing we saw that was interesting this year was the schooling of marlin. Most people know that marlin are schooling fish and tend to travel in loose packs. In recent years, though, the vision of packs of feeders or a picket fence of tailers has been replaced with the single quick feeder or tailer. This season was an exception that trend, as marlin were often found in packs. Double- and triple-hookups were common, and “Indian Attacks” – packs of marlin crashing the jig spread – were commonplace. Hell, it even happened to us … :-)

As you might imagine, crashing schools of marlin usually bring out the best in the best, and that was certainly the case this year. There were a number of boats with multiple-fish trips, but two stand out above the others. CHIQUILIN, captained by Mike “The Beak” Hurt and fishing in the Pesky, released four marlin below the 289 on September 20th, then backed it up with three more releases the next day. Not to be outdone, Captain Andy Horner and his MIRAGE crew, working the 181 – 182 ridge, released five marlin on October 1 and took another for the smoker. Clearly, there were marlin to be caught, if you were in the right place with the right crew. It bodes well for the future.

The other interesting element of this season was the appearance of rare fish – at least for our waters. We traditionally will have a few opah caught incidentally, particularly in warm water seasons, and this year was no different. What was shocking was the number of short bill spearfish caught alongside their larger marlin cousins. There were at least a dozen of the mini-billfish caught this season – 5 the weekend of the Pesky alone. We usually see one or two spearfish a decade in these waters, so it will be very interesting to see if there will be a resident population of spearfish in our waters in future seasons.

Equally shocking was the lack of swordfish caught by the sport fleet this season. I’m only aware of two rod-and-reel swords being taken this year, and the stick boat fleet had a terrible year as well. We know that swordfish populations are susceptible to fishing pressure – just look at the collapse of the Florida swordfish fishery two decades ago. We always look at harpoon sworfishing as a targeted, sustainable fishing method, far preferable to long lining. I don’t know if it is airplane-assisted harpooners or just the natural rhythms of the seas to blame for the numbers, but it bears watching.

Golden Girl alone at the top

Before we wrap, let me give a tip of the SCMO cap to beach volleyball studlette Kerri Walsh Jennings. We’ve covered beach volleyball here for nearly a decade, through the rise and fall and rise of the AVP and three Olympics. Not coincidentally, all three gold medals in those Olympic games were won by Kerri and her long-time partner, Misty May-Trainor. Misty’s career started slightly before Kerri’s, so when she retired as the all-time winningest female beach volleyball player, it was inevitable that one day, Kerri would pass her. That day came two weekends ago on a beach in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Walsh, playing with new partner April Ross, won the FIVB event there to record her 113th win, passing her longtime partner. Now 35 and a mother of three, Kerri is showing no signs of slowing down. Look for her back on Brazilian sands in the finals of the Rio 2016 Olympic beach volleyball tournament …

This has been a year of transition for the local marlin scene. We saw the end of four marlin tournaments with the cancellation of the California Billfish Series and the retirement of the Church Mouse Invitational. These were the backbone of the Avalon tournament season, and their loss leaves quite a void. Beyond that, Avalon itself has changed in the way it looks at the marlin fleet. Not so long ago, the tourist trade in Avalon was in the dumps, and they readily accepted marlin tournaments – and our dollars. In the last few years, however, the mood towards tournaments has soured. The Santa Catalina Island Company, looking to attract what they perceive as a “classier” visitor, have replaced a number of local favorites – and traditional tournament haunts. Gone are the Descanso Beach Club, Armstrong’s Seafood and The Landing, all of which hosted tournament events. Those places that remain have raised prices to the point where it became a significant factor in the decision by organizers to cancel the CBS. The club tournaments remain, of course, and there’s always a chance new events will fill the void, but the times are definitely a-changin’ …

Truth be told, this was a season of transition here at SCMO as well. We’ve been doing this a long time now – our site first hit the web in 1996. Back then, the internet was whatever AOL let you see, and email addresses were only a few years old. We have content on this site going back to those earliest days, including these Fishing News reports since 2000, and that rich history is what I am proudest of.

We started as a hobby site and, while we’ve always operated with the highest possible professionalism, it’s still a hobby site. The problem is, while most of the other sites that have come along over the years have long since disappeared, those that remain have become very professional. With investors and editorial staffs, they have moved on far beyond anything we’re capable of doing – or, frankly, even want to. For the last five years, we’ve seen a constant migration of visitors away from SCMO to these large and successful business entities.

I tried to keep a stiff upper lip and tell myself that we could compete, but all you have to do is look at the posts – or lack thereof – at the Marlin Club to know that’s just not the case. Folks drop by during the season for these reports, and for that I’m grateful, but other than that we’re as seasonal as a flip-flop shop in Avalon. They’re smart enough to shutter the business during the offseason, and we should be, too.

I entered this season resolved that this would be SCMO’s final hurrah. The reality of it all had finally hit home, helped in no small part by a couple of heartfelt letters I received from some of our regulars explaining why they were moving on. With the end of so many tournaments, the declining marlin fishery and an economy that drove so many away from our sport, it seemed perfect that I should turn out the lights on both our local sport and the site at the same time.

A funny think happened on the way to oblivion, however. Each year, I get a handful of notes from our visitors thanking me for what I do. They’re unsolicited but gratefully appreciated, as they’re the only real “payment” I receive. This year, for some reason, there’s been an avalanche of support. I don’t know if somehow my words tipped my intentions, or there was a fear that with so much else lost this might be next, or it might just be that folks are feeling extra appreciative. Whatever the reason, they helped me realize that I’m just not ready to let go of SCMO quite yet. So, we’ll be back next year. Have a safe and sane offseason, a joyous holidays, and we’ll see you all when the water warms in the spring …

13 Years Ago …

October 30, 2000

Stick a fork in it, folks – the season is over. Yeah, folks are still seeing fish here and there, and the occasional tuna or marlin is still caught, but we’ve reached that point where it’s not forth the diesel fuel you’ll burn to get it.

The storm that blew through over the weekend brought winter-like conditions to the Southland, and the fishing has shown the results. The last marlin we heard of were one taken on the 14 Mile Bank Wednesday by MERRI TYME II and another released Friday by COMANCHE 6 miles south of Dana Point (in the heart of the storm, no less!). Yellowfin tuna reports are still trickling in from the 43 and 302, but the numbers have nearly dropped to zero. If you’re intent on working to get that last marlin of the season, I’d try working from the 14 to the 267 and looking for the sauries.

Before we sign off for the winter, I’d like to reflect back on some of the moments of the Y2K season that’ll stick with me …

Breakout season – They started it with a swordfish, and followed it up with a dozen marlin. Steve Bledsoe and the crew of NO EXCUSES stepped it up and had their best season to date, often catching fish when others couldn’t and being the only boat to get any consistent jig action. Steve was an early supporter of SCMO and one of the first hardcore Marlin Club posters; hopefully, now that the season is over, he’ll be able to come out and play with us again … :-)

Good season, great day – Were the circumstances different, no one would have believed it. But when Bill Kingsmill and his WILD BILL crew caught 14 marlin in one magic day off the dome at San Clemente Island, they did it surrounded by dozens of other boats unable to scratch out even a single fish. Some days, talent and luck collide, and the results are awesome. Like Gary Jasper’s 339-lb striped marlin of years ago, this accomplishment will be long remembered.

Persistence rewarded – Unlike many of his peers, Dave Denholm of ESPADON does not trumpet his billfish successes, preferring to let the achievements speak for themselves. This year, they spoke volumes about his singleminded pursuit of swordfish. In a time when the entire fleet is lucky to catch two swordfish in a year, Dave’s two swordfish are a testimony to his angling skill and willingness to do whatever is necessary to succeed.

So another season comes to an end. I’d like to thank everyone who helped make this SCMO’s best ever – the posters, writers, reporters, contributors and photographers whose efforts make this site what it is. Particular thanks goes to my HOOKER crewmates for putting up with my incessant notetaking, and especially to my father, who once again dealt with the unjust accusations from others in the fleet (you don’t really think he’d compromise his secret info here, do you? Puleeeze!).

It’ll be a busy offseason here at SCMO, as we finally have the time to get on with all the projects we have in mind (if you have any suggestions, let us know!). The Marlin Club has developed into a worldwide billfishing forum, certainly far more than I could have imagined, and I look forward to spending a lot of time there in the coming months. With posters in Australia, New Zealand, South America, Madeira, South Africa, and wherever billfish roam, the sun truly never sets on the Marlin Club. We’ll be upgrading the Internet Portal to make it even more user-friendly, and may even tweak the looks of the site – hey, it’s been three years! Most of all, I look forward to sitting back and enjoying this wonderful community of billfish enthusiasts we have created here at SCMO. See you in the spring.


  1. Stephen Mras says:

    Tough economy, high fuel prices, poor fishing = low fishing effort. Makes for a tough mix. Eventually the fish will come back and so will the effort, but it will have to come from Gen X and Millenials, as the boomers are retiring and not spending.

  2. Frank Sullivan (Valkyrie) says:

    I’m glad you are going to keep SCMO going. I’m hopeful that things will get better if the marlin season picks up again next year and if the economy improves with it we may see more of the anglers return.

    It is sad to see the changes in Avalon to be sure.