Catalina Connection

Film series on history of sportfishing featuring Catalina Island being developed

AVALON—It’s an American pastime almost as old as baseball. Millions share in the passion and their stories often start the same; a young kid goes out on the water and gets hooked. This is how it started for Michael Fowlkes, who is directing and producing a nine-part video series on the history of sportfishing.

“I grew up fishing the foothills of rural Virginia almost before I could walk,” Fowlkes said in an email. “When we moved to Southern California in the late 1950s I instantly became a fixture at the old Davey’s Locker #2 landing.”

The “History of Sportfishing” series will feature 60- to 90-minute episodes produced in the spirit and style of award-winning documentarians, Ken Burns and Bruce Brown.

Catalina is the birthplace of big-game sport fishing and will be predominately featured in the pilot episode, “The Birth of Big-Game Fishing.” The origin of big-game fishing can be traced to Dr. Charles Fredrick Holder, with his catch of a “leaping tuna” on Catalina Island on June 1, 1898. This was the first tuna in recorded history ever caught on rod and reel. The catch inspired Holder to start the Tuna Club, which is the oldest fishing club in the U.S.

Word spread and sportfishing landings began to spring up to meet the demand, barges were anchored off the piers and people flocked to the coast to fish.

“Offshore sportfishing as the world knows it today was born right here in Southern California,” Fowlkes said in an email. “It’s such an amazing story and one that simply needs to be told.”

Following chapters titles in the series are The Birth of Bass Fishing;  Birth of Fly Fishing; The Evolution of Rods, Reels and Line; The Evolution of Fishing Boats, Motors and Electronics; Spirit of Competition – Freshwater; Spirit of Competition- Saltwater; Women in Sportfishing and The Future of Sportfishing – Conservation.

Fowlkes said the idea for the production has been percolating in his mind for years and he has consciously been trying to put the project together for about four months now.

“Even though I have a good idea of the direction, look and feel of the overall project, at this stage it’s still very much a work in progress,” Fowlkes said in an email. “So hearing stories about unsung individuals and what they did back in the day makes it all that more exciting.”

Fowlkes started working in the boating and fishing industry at 9 years old as a deckhand. He later earned his U.S. Coast Guard Operator’s License, bought his first charter boat and ran charters in San Diego for six years with his wife Kimberly.

He transitioned into a career in television, producing shows for National Geographic, Showtime/The Movie Channel, Disney, Discovery, Paramount Pictures and ABC Sports. In 1989, Fowlkes created the series Inside Sportfishing, which ran on Fox Sports West for 27 years.

The “History of Sportfishing” production includes digitizing thousands of feet of old 8mm, 16mm and 35mm fishing film and hundreds of photos that have been collected over the years. Some of these films are nearly 100 years old. Fowlkes said it’s important to digitize them because time has caused the celluloid filament in the film to dry out and they could soon become dust if not digitized.

The digital conversions will then be entrusted for safe keeping to the International Game Fish Association.

Funding for the digitizing and the video production is being crowd sourced through a GoFundMe page,

At this point, it’s not yet clear when the film series will debut. Fowlkes said they are in preliminary discussions about having the theatrical world premier inside the Avalon Casino Theatre. He said they’re also in discussions with the major rev-share services regarding the re-release of the Inside Sportfishing library of over 600 episodes.

“The premise being that the series will lead into the release of the ‘History of Sportfishing’ films,” Fowlkes said in an email. “Still too early to know for sure, but it’ll be available world-wide.”

For more information on the project visit

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