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 Club members and other sportsmen a challenging, exciting and fun event while benefitting both the Island and the Club.
Over the last 11 years, Randy Weaver and Anthony Salcido have taken the helm and worked very hard to reach their goal of raising $20,000 per year. This included $7,500 from raffle prizes donated by many generous local businesses as well as individuals.
The funds are helping to support Avalon Search and Rescue, Catalina Island Medical Center Foundation, and other Avalon charities in support of kids programs.
The Invitational begins each year with the Captain’s Meeting on Thursday night. Rules are discussed and strategies are laid out, all supported with an abundance of fine food and drink.
For 20 years, Cheryl Melville, S/C Connie Wiseman, Julie Christiansen and Sandy Shugart, lovingly known as “The Galley Slaves” cooked all of the food. In 2013, at the 20-year anniversary, the Galley Slaves declared their freedom from cooking and retired.
Since The Galley Slaves retirement, the same menu has been prepared by a local caterer, Margie Wahl. The hosted bar Thursday and Saturday nights is generously donated by Cheryl Melville.
On Friday morning, lines are in the water at 6 a.m., some participants leaving in the dark of the night to travel south as far as San Diego seeking out the hot spots. Some went to the West End, others not far from the harbor.
Rules of the contest say that the first marlin wins the tournament unless another boat catches two. And then there is the weight of the line to consider. If the first marlin is caught on 50 lb. test, for example, and another boat catches a marlin on 30 lb. test, then that boat is leading the tournament. And this can go on all the way down to 20 lb. test line.
Just to keep things interesting, there is a side tournament called the Tuna Division. Any edible fish qualifies – tuna, dorado, wahoo, yellow tail, etc. The catch is taken to the Green Pier by 4:00 p.m. Saturday to get an official weight ticket for certification at the Club.
Some boats stayed out overnight for the two days, but those who were fishing nearby, came in to the Club on Friday night for drinks and appetizers with reports of the day’s events.
Everyone is required to be back in the harbor on Saturday by 4 p.m. to turn in photos showing their marlin alongside the boat with a hand on the leader. A well-earned sit down dinner of 12 oz. swordfish steaks barbecued by Club members satisfies a tired and hungry crowd of 120.
The awards program and raffle featuring 50 prizes follows dinner.
Probably if you asked them, the 100 anglers who participated in 2019’s CIYC Billfish Invitational would have some very colorful, if not fishy, stories to tell. The 2019 tournament was still highly successful even though there was no Marlin caught, but $22,000 was raised to help support local charities in Avalon. The reigning champion boat is Royal Slam and angler is Sally Kurz.
When asked what the secret is to successful Marlin fishing, Randy said, “You need to be at the right place at the right time.” And then went on to talk about other criteria, like the proper gear, as well as tactics, techniques, and a good set of eyes, stressing that Marlin fishing is definitely a team sport.
There has been talk around the Club of a women’s boat entering the Invitational in the future. A woman’s intuition might be just what is needed to find the “right place at the right time”.
Due to COVID restrictions, the 2021 Billfish Tournament has been cancelled, but will return again in September 2022.