Right now, opah is essentially a novelty game fish, albeit one that is highly prized. But the increasing catch rates indicate a sizable population, and there’s an angling strategy for opah developing in Southern California.
How do you increase your chances of catching one? If you regularly take summer or early fall offshore trips on passenger sport-fishing boats, your best bet is fishing deep with a heavy, fast-sinking metal jig, such as a Braid 6-ounce Slammer, MegaBait 41⁄2-ounce Kudako or Shimano JTVF 224 Butterfly.
“Basically, when we get into a tuna bite or on a kelp paddy, you want to get on the bow and drop a jig,” says Capt. Aaron Remy of the Searcher, based at Fisherman’s Landing, in San Diego Bay. “Let it sink a couple of hundred yards, jig it four or five times, then retrieve it quickly.
“The guys who have caught them have often inadvertently let the jig drop deep while they picked out a bird’s nest or an under-wrap,” he says. “Once they’re done, they bring the jig in quickly, and that’s when they get bit by an opah. But you’ll have to be patient and focused. It’s hard to bet on a long shot at hooking an opah, especially when we have tuna foaming off the transom.”
Another angling strategy for targeting opah is to imitate NOAA’s longline success by staggering baits at depths ranging from 150 feet down to 600 feet during the day. Since NOAA longline surveyors had success with large frozen mackerel, this would seem the most logical choice, though squid also makes sense, as it is a staple in the opah’s diet.
By combining persistence with techniques gleaned from longliners and the growing knowledge about opah off Southern California and Mexico’s Baja, you might add this jewel of the Pacific to your angling life list.
Capt. Aaron Remy’s party-boat tactics are proven producers, but private boaters too can score when dedicating summer and early autumn trips to targeting opah. As with any offshore fish, the key is to concentrate on life zones with indicators such as temperature breaks; schools of baitfish; diving birds; predators such as porpoise; and fish like dorado, marlin and tuna.
Rods: 7-foot medium-heavy-action conventional rods.
Reels: Medium-heavy reels such as Penn Torque TRQ30 or Shimano Torium TOR30.
Lines: 80-pound braid with 60-pound-test fluorocarbon top shot (opah have virtually no teeth).
Baits and rigs: Live or frozen Pacific mackerel; fast-sinking jigs like a MegaBait 41⁄2-ounce with a Kudako bucktail hook 1, MegaBait 61⁄2-ounce with a single hook 2 or Braid 6-ounce Slammer with a treble hook 3.
Terminal rigs: For baits, 6/0 to 8/0 J hook with 10- to 24-ounce in-line torpedo sinker.
When: July through October.
Where: Banks and seamounts off the coast of Southern California and Mexico’s northern Baja California, including the 17, Osborn Bank, Avalon Bank, 14 Mile Bank, 209, 181, 182, 9 Mile Bank, 43, 302, 390, 1010 Trench and Double 220.
Who: Sport-fishing passenger boats targeting tuna, yellowtail and dorado offshore, as well as anglers with reliable craft from 23 feet. Here are sport-fishing passenger boats that regularly target offshore fish out of San Diego.
Capt. Aaron Remy
Capt. Bill Cavanaugh
Capt. Buzz Brizendine