The History of Big-Game Fishing and the much sought after Tuna Club Buttons
There is always a beginning even though it may be shrouded in the mists of time. The beginning of ocean sport fishing and boats for offshore enjoyment was on June 1, 1898 at Avalon on Santa Catalina, California. It was on this date that Dr Charles Frederick Holder landed a 183 lb (84kg) blue fin tuna on rod and reel and 18-tread line. Dr Holder's success also led to the formation of the world's first game fishing club, the first fishing rules and fishing ethics. The club is The Tuna Club of Avalon, Santa Catalina, still one of the world's leaders. The first three owners of the Ida May were members of this esteemed club of which two were past Presidents: Willard Van Brunt (1927) and Jonah Jones Jr. (1947).
The Tuna Club's main goals were to elevate the sport to it's highest possible standard, and "for the protection of the game fishes of Southern California." In order to achieve this, Holder established a strict angling rules designed to give the fish what he considered an even chance for its life. The logic behind this being that far fewer fish could be taken with rod and reel than by handlines, therefore protecting the resources. Soon anglers and boatmen alike endorsed the club's motto of "Fair play for game fishes." Only catches made while strictly adhering to these rules were recognized. Any infraction, willful or not, would disqualify anglers from club membership and the highly coveted Blue Button awarded to a successful angler. And special awards were also given to the Island's boatmen for participating in this somewhat radical conservation movement. The "Gentlemen Anglers", as they soon became known, also began an active lobbying effort against commercial fishing interests in the waters surrounding Catalina. The likes of Stan Laurel, Ernest Hemingway, Herbert Hoover, Bing Crosby, Winston Churchill, Pres. Herbert Hoover, Pres. Calvin Coolidge, and Charlie Chaplin were distinguished members of this exclusive club.
Obtaining a prized button was the goal and dream of all members of the club. The drive to obtain a single button was enthralling, enchanting, and spiritual. To obtain all the buttons was achieving nirvana and the mecca of big game fishing. Van Brunt, Laurel, and Jones obtained many of the tuna club buttons. Indeed, the comedian Laurel was known to wear his buttons at every chance and proved his fishing prowess was just as impressive as his comedic genius. These buttons were awarded by the venerable Catalina Island Tuna Club long ago.
The four buttons shown were made with solid gold and enamel. These buttons represented catches made on either heavy or light linen line. The blue button was for a tuna caught on heavy linen line, the red button was for a tuna caught on light linen line, the yellow (white swordfish) button was for light linen line and the gold button was for a swordfish caught on heavy line.
These buttons date to the early 1900s. The pictured buttons belonged to Dustin Farnum, Hollywood silent film star. Dustin Farnum (1874-1929) was a member of the Tuna Club. and was friends with the original owners of the Ida May. Interestingly, the two-time academy award winner Dustin Hoffman was named after Farnum.
The reverse side of the buttons.
Picture of Willard Van Brunt (first owner of the Ida May) in 1926 sporting a Tuna Club Button on the lapel of his jacket. He assuredly obtained the coveted Blue button after this catch of a large Bluefin tuna.
Enlarged photo of the Tuna Club
button on Van Brunt's jacket
A Gold Button for Stan Laurel!! Below is the original Congratulatory Certificate provided to Stan Laurel for catching a 258 lbs. Marlin Swordfish on heavy tackle. Laurel was known to proudly wear this button everywhere he travelled.
Note the "Gold Button Seal" above the pictured Gold Button. This is Stan Laurel's coveted Gold Button. He was known to proudly wear this button at every chance.
Stan Laurel's Gold Button Marlin caught on the Ruth L. (ex-Ida May) and weighing a record 258 lbs.
Photo of the Catalina Tuna Club in the 1920s. The Tuna Club is considered the most prestigious fishing club in the world and indeed the founders were the first to popularize big-game fishing. Many affluent individuals, celebrities and past U.S. Presidents have been members of the Catalina Tuna Club. The Tuna Club is still thriving today. The first three owners of the Ida May were venerable members of the Tuna Club.