You are here

Malibu Marlins approach 50 years of fishing fun

“Governors” of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (far left and far right) pose with Malibu Marlins members (left to right) Sam Spinello, Doris Busch, Louis Busch and Steve Spina. Photo Submitted
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
9:33 am PDT September 7, 2017

Back in the day before Malibu was an incorporated city and before throngs of tourists hit the beaches in droves, just a few people lived here.

Some of them decided to start a fishing club.

Almost 50 years later, the Malibu Marlins club is still going strong and winning tournaments.

“Louis Busch and close friend Fred May were on a trip to San Francisco, with their wives Doris Busch and Julie May, where they saw some sport fishing boats coming in at Fisherman’s Wharf,” Doris Busch said. “They started chatting about the idea that it would be a lot of fun to form a fishing club, to compete in fishing tournaments and travel at the same time. That was the beginning.” 

The club started out small. Over the years, it grew, both in numbers and in the variety of tournaments and activities its participants engaged in.

“The first tournament we entered in was in the early 1980s,” Doris said. “Initially, we entered tournaments in the Sea of Cortez Baja area in Mexico. 

“After a few years, and having heard about the Hawaiian Billfish Tournament, the group entered that event also. Through points earned in that Hawaiian Billfish event, which is held every summer on the Kailua-Kona Coast, the Malibu Marlins then qualified to enter the International Billfish Tournament, which was also held in the Hawaiian Islands. They would typically enter two teams and have four members on each team.”

Those were great times, Sam Spinello, a longtime member of the Malibu Marlins, recalls. 

“In 1968, I first went to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii and fished with the iconic fisherman legend, George Parker,” Spinello said. “We went on a boat fishing for several years in Hawaii after that. It was a beautiful way to unwind from my Malibu real estate career and you always saw something, whales or large tuna, and I always enjoyed the interactions. 

“I went with my wife every year for many years. Over time, George suggested that I fish in the Hawaii International Billfish Tournament and so I helped Fred May and Louis Busch form the Malibu Marlins. Over time, we became very good and won the International Division in 1991.”

That was just the beginning of a long run of tournaments and wins. It was also the beginning of lifelong friendships and terrific memories.

Doris also recalls all the years of fishing fondly.

“The Marlin Club members were just as serious about the fun of getting together with friends ... as they were in competing,” she said. “There were lots of themed parties, festivities and revelry.”

Spinello recalls all the old members, now gone, and how the Malibu Marlins burgeoned.

“John Merrick, a judge in Malibu for many years, was on the team,” he said. “Fred May, who was once married to Lana Turner, also participated.

“Six of us went as a team for many years and the women were just as good at the fishing as the men and thoroughly enjoyed it. We ultimately graduated to consistently competing in the international division and fished at five-day stretches. At one point, we had 25 to 30 members. All the members were as close as family and we’ve spent many years fishing in Hawaii. In fact, I am going to Kona in September and I still look forward to these trips after all of these years.”

In the late ’80s, Malibuite Steve Spina, regarded by many as one of the best marlin fishermen in the world, joined the Malibu Marlins, and the club began winning more championships. 

“Steve is considered to be one of the ocean fishermen in the world,” Spinello said. “He has extensive master fishing experience in Cabo and in big tournaments in Australia, all throughout South America, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Belize, Central America, Panama, Mexico and Catalina, in addition to Kona.”

Spina won the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament twice, once in 2006 and once in 2012.

In 2016, the team once again won the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in the Marlin Division of the HIBT. In 2012, the team won in the Tuna Division. The winning place is determined by a complicated point system, not just based on the weight of one fish.

Importantly, the goal of the tournaments is not to kill fish. 

Quite the contrary. The tournaments are catch and release, so the big, majestic fish are not killed. 

“When we do catch and release, we tag them for research and the tagging does not hurt the fish,” Spinello said.

Over the years, the tagging has enabled scientists to find out a lot about the behaviors of marlins, including their migration patterns, breeding patterns and dietary habits. The research efforts, ongoing since the late 1990s, have been spearheaded by Dr. Barbara Block of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, a collaborative effort between Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

There are of course big stories about big fish. Really big fish. Male marlins weigh between 400 and 500 pounds.  Females are much larger, weighing thousands of pounds. 

“The blue marlins are the apex predator,” Spina said. “The biggest fish I’ve ever caught was 1,043 pounds.” 

There are also, as there must be, tales of the one that got away. 

“When I fought one fish, my legs locked in the fight. It was a black marlin well over the mark. In fishing jargon, the mark means a fish that is 1,000 pounds,” Spina said. “There was so much water coming onto the boat that I asked for a face mask and snorkel. It was quite the fight. I finally lost that fish after three-and-a-half hours. It simply wore out the leader.”

Big fish can mean big money. The purse in some tournaments amounts to millions. Spina has won many tournaments and has a plethora of plaques and other ephemera displayed in his Malibu office.

The club’s members are always heading out, chasing new fish and making more memories. However, nostalgia overcomes them when they talk about decades past.

“There was nothing like it, fishing out there in the blue waters, with close friends,” Spinello said. “It was a beautiful time. It was really wonderful.”

One gets the sense that there is a big grandma behemoth fish out there, just waiting for the Malibu Marlins to find her.

“You never know when that tonner might come up,” Spina said. 

The twinkle in his eye evinced his strong desire to meet up with that fish. 

“We know she’s out there,” Spina said. “Everybody is on the quest. 

“The best chance of getting a tonner is to catch a black marlin, and it’s probably lurking in the Great Barrier Reef. In the Pacific, there may be one in Kona. In the Atlantic, it’s probably in St. Helena or Ascension Island. That’s virgin fishing territory over near the equator. There are, no doubt, very big fish there.”