Every summer, warm ocean currents drift north along the West Coast, pushing some unusual fish into local marine waters. The latest of those is a big one: a pending state-record opah, more commonly referred to as a moonfish or sunfish.
“We see opah around here, but not very often, and this is a potential state record since there is none for that species,” said Wendy Beeghley, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in Montesano.
Rick Shapland of Molalla, Ore., caught the 28.18-pound opah during a two-day tuna-fishing trip aboard the Ranger with Ocean Sportfishing Charters in Westport, manned by skipper Don Davenport.
According to Davenport, his boat was fishing about 40 miles offshore when Shapland caught the opah around 11 a.m. on Aug. 31.
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“It was pretty slow and not a productive day at that point,” Shapland said. “The opah was my first hookup of the day, and at first it didn’t feel like a tuna, but fought hard.”
Shapland was down about 20 to 25 feet using a live anchovy for bait on a small hook with a 3
8-ounce slider weight.
“I used a heavy braided line, and it took me about 10 to 12 minutes to land the fi
sh,” said Shapland, who makes two tuna fishing trips each summer out of Westport. “When we got back to port, some other charter captains who had never seen an opah came to check it out. We took some pictures and measured it, and everyone was pretty excited.”
The large, colorful, deep-bodied fish are usually found in more tropical waters, and are a popular dish in Hawaiian restaurants.
Even in its own native waters, opah is a prized fish seldom caught by sport anglers, and the larger of the two opah species is known to reach 6 feet long and weigh 600 pounds.
Davenport, who brought his opah this past week into the state Fish and Wildlife’s Montesano office for verification, plans to have it mounted and placed in his Westport charter office.
More unusual fish also showed up off the coast this summer, including two Atka mackerel caught off Westport and Ilwaco; and a dorado hooked near Ilwaco.
While Atka are called mackerel, they’re really from the greenling family and are seldom caught off the Washington coast. Atka usually don’t come down past the southern part of Alaska. Beeghley, who has worked as a state biologist for 25 years, said she has never seen them in our neck of the woods.
Another possible state-record sport catch for a dorado occurred Aug. 1 off the southern coast.
Albert DaSilva of Kelso caught a 16-pound dorado while fishing 35 miles out of Ilwaco. The fish, more commonly found in warmer southern West Coast waters, was caught trolling a purple and black clone lure.
Other unusual fish that appeared earlier this summer were two striped bass in the Columbia River.
A state fisheries sampler saw a dead striped bass weighing about 15 pounds on June 22 in the Columbia near Lyons Park at Woodland. Another was a 52-pound striped bass caught June 17 in the Lower Columbia Gorge by a commercial fisherman.
Striped bass are caught in the northern California region, but catches this far north are rarely seen. In early July 2008, a 40-pound striped bass was caught in the Columbia River Gorge, and a second striper was caught near Deep River on the Washington side of the Columbia.