SoCal anglers score rare opah trifecta

Armando Castillo, Joe Ludlow and Travis Savala (left to right) pose with rare opah catches; photo via Excel Sportfishing

Anglers aboard the San Diego-based Excel have spent the past several days loading up on tuna and yellowtail, during what many are describing as the most phenomenal bite in regional waters in decades.

But standing out among the yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, and yellowtail are three enormous fish shaped like the moon and nearly as radiant.

Tuna, yellowtail, and possibly opah served as sushi and sashimi aboard the Excel; photo via Excel Sportfishing

They are opah, weighing in at 151, 180, and 124 pounds, caught respectively by Armando Castillo, Joe Ludlow, and Travis Savala (see photo).

To catch one opah on a Southern California-based sportfishing boat (or any sportfishing boat) is rare. To catch three on the same vessel, on the same day, is extraordinary.

This is because the brightly colored fish do not typically swim in large schools. They’re more commonly found in tropical and sub-tropical seas, and their appearance in local waters is often associated with warm-water events such as El Niño. (El Niño-like conditions are what lured the tuna and yellowtail into Southern California waters.)

[Related: 10 exotic fish El Niño might send to California]

The Excel has been posting photos of its multi-day trip to its Facebook page. The opah photo is by far the most popular, having been “liked” more than 6,000 times, and shared more than 1,500 times since the fish were caught on Friday.

A large bluefin tuna comes over the rail aboard the Excel; photo via Excel Sportfishing

The opah’s flesh is delectable and served in many restaurants, but there isn’t a direct commercial fishery for opah because the fish aren’t found in large schools. Catches by commercial long-liners, and anglers, are almost always incidental.

Because the species is not believed to be overfished, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Food Watch program rates opah as a “good alternative” to several other fish species.

The Excel stated that five opah were hooked at about the same time Friday, but only the three were landed.

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