Meet Capt. George Farnsworth. He was known as “Tuna George” to his fishing friends around Catalina Island, off Southern California. In the early 1900s there was no one who knew better how to catch ’em than this Connecticut-born charter captain.
The pioneering Farnsworth was involved with the Catalina Tuna Club since its founding and helped many members to record catches, including the first-ever broadbill swordfish taken on rod and reel. And speaking of reels, he and club member William Boschen developed the internal star drag reel, creating a sea change in game fishing. Perhaps his most outlandish innovation was the kite-trolling technique. The kite was used to troll the bait — a flying fish — away from the boat to avoid spooking the quarry.
And what was Farnsworth’s quarry? The “leaping tuna” — the bluefin.
A boatman put the kite in the air and played out about 200 feet of kite line and fishing line. A cord was tied between the kite line and wire leader, and this broke when a fish hit the hook, freeing the fishing line and allowing the kite to be brought in.
The kite could be used to work the bait so as to mimic the action of a flying fish. With practice, the fish could be made to skip and jump, as if attempting to escape. Sometimes three or four tuna would make a strike at the bait. Wrote one contemporary: “It matters not whether the bait is on the surface or a few feet above, [the tuna] seem possessed with the mad desire to have the bait.”
Farnsworth was elected to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 1998 as “one of the most innovative pioneers of big game angling.” He died in San Francisco in 1959 at age 73, and his ashes were scattered at sea.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.