Billfish Tournament

About The Billfish

In 1994, Catalina Island Yacht Club (CIYC) members Bill Melville and Jerry Lewis co-founded the CIYC Billfish Invitational. Inspired by Bill’s cousin, who had organized the Church Mouse Marlin Invitational in Avalon two years prior, Bill and Jerry thought it would be a good way to raise money while doing something they were passionate about. And so began a great tradition that has given both Club members and other sportsmen a challenging and fun event while benefitting Island charities.

Over the last 11 years, Randy Weaver and Anthony Salcido were at the helm. They worked very hard to reach their goal of raising $20,000 annually, which included $7,500 from raffle prizes donated by generous local businesses and individuals.

These funds help support Avalon Search and Rescue, Catalina Island Medical Center, and other Avalon charities supporting kids programs.

The Invitational begins each year with a Captain’s Meeting on Thursday night. Rules are covered and strategies laid out, all with an abundance of fine food and drink.

For 20 years, Cheryl Melville, S/C Connie Wiseman, Julie Christiansen, and Sandy Shugart, affectionately known as “The Galley Slaves” cooked all the food. In 2013, the Invitational’s 20thanniversary, the Galley Slaves declared their freedom from cooking and retired. Since then, the same menu has been prepared by a local caterer, Margie Wahl. The hosted bar on Thursday and Saturday nights has been generously donated by Cheryl Melville.

Friday morning, it’s lines in at 6 a.m.  However, some participants will leave in the dark of the night on Thursday to travel south in search of hot spots. Others may go to the West End, while some don’t venture far from the harbor.

Typically, the first marlin caught will win the tournament unless another boat catches two.  However, there’s always line-class to consider. For example, if a marlin is caught on 50 lb. test, and another team catches one on 30 lb. test, the boat catching their fish on lighter tackle would be ahead in the standings.  Teams may use 20#, 30#, 50# and 80# test line in the tournament.

To keep things interesting, there is oftentimes a side tournament called the Tuna Division.  Any of the following species will qualify – tuna, dorado, wahoo, yellowtail, and white seabass. Each catch is taken to the Green Pier by 4:00 p.m. on Saturday to get an official weight slip which is submitted to the Tournament Committee for verification.

Some boats will stay out overnight on Thursday and Friday, but those fishing nearby can come into the Club on Friday night for drinks and appetizers and swap fish stories.

Everyone is required to be back in Avalon Harbor on Saturday by 4 p.m. to turn in photos showing their marlin or swordfish alongside their boat “with leader in hand”.

A well-earned sit-down dinner consisting of 12 oz. swordfish steaks, barbecued by Club members, is always enjoyed by a hungry crowd of approximately 120 anglers and guests.  The awards program and raffle follow dinner. If you asked the 100 anglers who participated in 2019’s CIYC Billfish Invitational they would have some very colorful, but not so fishy, stories to tell. The 2019 tournament was highly successful even though there weren’t any Marlin caught.  $22,000 was raised to help support Avalon charities. The reigning champion from 2018 is Royal Slam with angler Sally Kurz.

When asked what the secret to successful Marlin fishing is, Randy said “you need to be at the right place at the right time.” And then went on to talk about other criteria, like proper tackle, tactics, techniques, and a good set of eyes.  Marlin fishing is definitely a team sport.

There’s been talk around the Club of entering an all-women’s team in the in the future. A woman’s intuition might be just what is needed to be in “the right place at the right time”.

The 2023 Billfish Invitational will be held September 7-9th 2023.  If you would like to enter email Bob Kurz at