Opah -- also known as moonfish -- ranks as one of the rarest, yet most spectacular, game fish off Southern California. Not only do they grow to weights in excess of 100 pounds, but also possess an odd, almost circular body, huge eyes, long rosy pectorals and captivating color patterns. And they are said to be great eating.
Typically, the few opah we see each season are caught on passenger sport-fishing boats while fishing 20 to 50 miles offshore, usually amid an albacore bite in July or August. While little is known about opah feeding habits, it would appear that they forage well below the surface, as anglers usually hook them on metal jigs dropped 100 to 200 down. Or at least that's what we thought until this last week when angler Chas Leeper hooked and landed a 140-pound opah in relatively shallow water off Newport Beach on May 16, according to JD's Big Game Tackle Fishing Report.
According to the web report, Leeper and his cousin Skeeter Leeper and friend Ryan Swanson (captain) were fishing aboard the private fishing boat, Guardian, trolling for thresher sharks just before dark in about 100 feet of water about two miles from shore when the opah struck a purple Williamson Bait-O-Matic with a mackerel pinned under the skirt. Many of the opah caught offshore are hooked during twilight hours, and so the time of the bite makes sense, but hooking the fish in relatively shallow water is still baffling. The fish fought for 30 minutes. The team weighed in the fish at the Balboa Angling Club the next morning.
JD's Big Game Tackle Fishing Report said that another big opah was caught in the same area close to shore last August, leading some to believe that opah are more wide ranging and adaptable than previously thought. The area off Newport Beach has been alive the past few days with schools of anchovies, Pacific mackerel, Pacific barracuda, thresher sharks and white sea bass. It is definitely a feeding zone, and it is close to the Newport Submarine Canyon, a well-traveled route for migratory species.
I think opah, like barracuda and white seabass, are just following the food, and this is the time to fish the area and possibly add one of the rarest of game fish in the entire world to your angling bucket list.