FARNSWORTH, George Chase “Tuna George”

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FARNSWORTH, George Chase “Tuna George” (1883-1959)[SS#557-09-7199], Connecticut-born, was one of the most innovative pioneers of big game angling off Catalina Island in the early days of sport fishing. He went to the island with his parents and siblings in 1887. Farnsworth is particularly noted for his development of the tuna kite-trolling technique and the internal star drag reel. Farnsworth was born in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. His father was an engineer who moved the family to California while George was very young.

In 1900, the senior Farnsworth went to work on Santa Catalina Island surveying the road from Avalon to the Isthmus and moved the family to Avalon. That’s where George became interested in fishing. Farnsworth became a boat captain and charter man. In 1902 Avalon resident, John Nestell, had the boat, Nestella, made for Farnsworth as a gift. He later owned the fishing boat, Mabel F.

Farnsworth was known for his incredible navigational skills and his ability to catch fish when everyone else was coming up empty-handed. He was involved with the Tuna Club and helped many of its members achieve record catches. He wrote a column for the Avalon newspaper, The Islander, entitled ‘The Cycle of the Fishes,’ published in 1917. Farnsworth discovered the now-famous twenty-eight acre fishing bank, Farnsworth Bank, and named it after his father, Stephen Farnsworth, engineer of the coach road on Santa Catalina Island. Farnsworth died in San Francisco on November 6, 1959 at age 79.


March 26, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell, who spends nearly all the daylight hours in fishing, with his skipper George Farnsworth, was trolling for tuna just off Jewfish Point when an eagle, one of a pair which have a nest nigh up on the side of the cliff which rises nearly a thousand feet there, mistaking his bait for a floating fish, swooped down and seizing it in its talons, started for the nest. Uncle John’s reel began screaming to beat the eagle’s shriek, and higher and higher flew the big bird, until the 900-feet of line was run out, and then tugging desperately the hold of the hook was torn out of the fish and the line dropped back into the water.”


April 5, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell, called away by urgent business which demanded his attention, took his departure from the island today, accompanied by his niece, Miss Mollie T. Holland, having spent three months here. It was with great regret that he left without having caught a tuna, but fate seemed to be against him in that regard, for it seemed to be ill luck that pursued him and not his fault that he lost his fish. ‘Uncle John’ has endeared himself to everybody on the island, and as a sample of his generous disposition, he yesterday ordered at the Mathewson ship yard the best fishing launch that could be built, for George Farnsworth, who had been his boatman while here. He also says there is another young boatman here whom he expects to favor in a similar manner at some future time. ‘Uncle John’ will be welcomed back, whenever he chooses to turn his face this way.”


June 11, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The proudest man on the island yesterday was George Farnsworth, when his new boat, the Nestella, was launched. It was ordered for Farnsworth by ‘Uncle John’ Nestell, who spent most of the winter here fishing with George, and before leaving he contracted and paid for the boat, George to repay him as he makes it from the proceeds of his work with the craft. It was built by Mathweson at the Avalon ship yards, is of his usual type of fishing launches, 20 feet long, 5 feet 8 inches beam, and equipped with four-horse-power engine. ”


June 11, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Mr. and Mrs. A. W. Barrett came over today for the season. They have a supply of tackle and have chartered George Farnsworth’s new boat, the Nestella.”


June 24, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. J. F. Pocock of Massillon, Ohio, got a strike, and he worked his fish for two hours and twenty-five minutes, when he was too much exhausted to continue the fight and passed over the rod to his boatman, George Farnsworth of the Nestella, who landed the fish in twenty minutes. It weighed 146 pounds.”


November 21, 1903 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. George Farnsworth, skipper of the Nestella, was fishing out on the grouper banks the other day, when he heard an unusual noise. He looked about but saw nothing and concluded his ears had deceived him. A moment later the sound was repeated… suddenly a great white creature went scooting past him through the water, at a depth of only a few feet… The animal proved to be a white whale, the only one of the kind ever reported in these waters. ‘It did not spout, but at intervals made a grunting sound.’”


August 13, 1903 [TI/Avalon]: “The following yellowtail catches were brought in… the Nestella, George Farnsworth, skipper, N. W. Tarr, Angler, 23…”


January 30, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The Goddess of Good Fortune certainly haunts the trail of ‘Uncle John’ Nestell. Two years ago he ordered a launch built at a cost of $1000 for George Farnsworth, his boatman, and made him a present of it. Last winter he bought the Idlwyld, a handsome excursion boat, changing the name to Tio Juan — Uncle John, and installed George’s brother, Hawley Farnsworth as its skipper, to make what he could during the busy season, free of rent. Yesterday he purchased from Vincent Moricich the launch Catalina, paying $1000 for it, and presented the boat to ‘Billy’ Jameson, who held a lease on it for the coming season. Uncle John will soon find himself canonized as the ‘Saint John of Catalina’ if he continues his kindness.”


June 20, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The prizes in the yellowtail tournament yesterday were awarded as follows: to boatmen: First, George Farnsworth, lancewood rod; second, George Michaelis, yellowtail reel and line…”


July 6, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The marine tugs of war, yesterday afternoon was as spirited and exciting an event as an enthusiastic sportsman could desire… There were five rowers in each team, the winning team composing Mexican Joe, Hawley Farnsworth, John Robarts, George Michaelis and Alex Adargo. Opposing them were Tommy Whittley, George Farnsworth, ‘Chappie,’ Staples and Lindscow…”


July 12, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Another tuna! General A. W. Barrett was the lucky man this morning. With George Farnsworth as boatman, at a very early hour they were afloat, and when off Empire, some three or four miles out, the boatman discovered there was something under the water…”


August 5, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Miss Jessie Farnsworth of Santa Ana is visiting her brothers, George and Hawley Farnsworth.”


August 13, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. George Farnsworth’s friends arranged to give him a birthday surprise party Wednesday evening, but Farnsworth, hearing of it, concluded to fool them and went out on his launch. When the party arrived at this camp it was vacant and there was nothing to do but go home. They did not propose to give up and last night they again arranged to surprise him. He again fled to his launch, but the party procured another and chased him until he was captured, when they landed at Pebbly Beach and had a good time.”


August 14, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The yellowtail catches today have beaten anything of the kind heretofore this season. The ground where the game is found so plentiful lies from Seal Rocks around the point of the island to Silver Canyon… Among those participating in the sport were the launches… Nestella, George Farnsworth, skipper…”


September 20, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Another islander who has just wed is George Farnsworth, who was united in marriage last Saturday with Miss Anderson of Compton. They have gone north for a trip, taking in the coast cities to San Francisco.”


March 7, 1905 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. William Moncrieffe, and Lee Ballington, cattlemen of Sheridan, Wyoming, who have been putting a bit of variety into their lives by spending a few weeks in fishing here, having the Nestella under charter, were witness to an ocean tragedy Saturday between a couple of marine monsters. They were several miles off shore, fishing for albacore, when their skipper George Farnsworth called their attention to a tremendous commotion in the water ahead. Huge columns of spray dashing upward at short intervals showed that a terrible combat was being waged by some powerful creature of the sea. Soon they discovered that one of the combatants was a whale… All was quiet for a time when to their astonishment a big swordfish leaped into the air, flourishing his sword and seemed to say to the spectators: ‘I’ve fixed him! And he went below to finish the job.’”


July 6, 1905 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. In the course of the sham battle last evening, George Farnsworth, skipper of the Nestella, was the victim of a peculiar accident. He had arranged a 2x4 inch scantling to extend out over the stern of his boat, from which to fire cannon crackers… one of the balls, which held the crackers was embedded in his hand… It made a sizeable wound.”


July 31, 1910 [LAT]: “…We were rounding the east end of San Clemente Island in the Juanita, George Farnsworth’s boat. We circled around a bed of kelp…”


April 18, 1916 [SBDN]: “Skipper George Farnsworth, at left, and John E. Stearns, holding light tackle with which he brought to gaff at Catalina the tuna shown in picture. It is an excellent specimen of the leaping tuna, ‘The Tiger of the Sea.’ It weighed 103-1/2 pounds and fought for an hour and 20 minutes before yielding. Farnsworth has been a boatman on the Catalina banks for nearly 20 years and is the inventor of the kite style of fishing.”


January 1, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “The launch Mabel F, Captain George Farnsworth, which had been on the ways for some time having a 35 h.p. Wisconsin engine installed, was launched Monday at the Fellows & Stewart plant, Wilmington. It is expected that the boat will now log ten or more miles per hour.”


January 15, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Captain George Farnsworth arrived in port Saturday, in the launch Mabel F. This staunch craft has recently been overhauled and a new engine installed in it.”


January 10, 1922 [TI/Avalon]: “Captain Farnsworth’s new boat, the Gypsy Girl, was launched at Wilmington.”


February 8, 1922 [TI/Avalon]: “Captain George Farnsworth, aboard the cruiser Gypsy Girl, left Avalon for a six weeks cruise in Mexican waters.”


Farnsworth Bank, Santa Catalina Island, famed fishing location, was discovered by legendary island fisherman, “Tuna George” Farnsworth. He named the 14-acre bank in honor of his father, Stephen, engineer of the island’s coach road. The Bank is located south of Catalina Harbor, 1.5 miles southwest of Ben Weston Point. It is composed of pinnacles, sheer walls, caves and canyons. In 1973 in recognition of the special biological significance of Farnsworth Bank, the California Fish & Game Commission named it an ecological reserve—the only reserve completely sumberged—primarily to protect the dense population of purple hydrocoral. Farnsworth Bank is home to a large diversity of algal, invertebrate and fish communities. Sport diving is popular during summer months, and moderate amounts of sportfishing occur.