Rare opah catch might be a world record


Joe Ludlow poses with rare opah catch that could land angler in the record book; photo courtesy of Excel Sportfishing

Three anglers recently completed a rare and perhaps unprecedented feat by each landing an opah on the same day aboard a San Diego-based boat fishing in Mexican waters.

Opah, also referred to as moonfish, are rarely caught by recreational fishermen, and for three people to catch one of these beautifully colored fish on the same day is considered extraordinary.

But lost amid the opah-trifecta hype that swirled in fishing circles after the photo surfaced (see below) was that one of the moonfish, a 181-pounder caught by Joe Ludlow, is 18 pounds heavier than the existing world record. (The fish were caught aboard the Excel, a luxury long-range sportfishing boat that spends several days at a time in Mexcan waters.)

The International Game Fish Association lists as the all-tackle world record a 163-pound opah caught in October 1998 off San Luis Obispo in Central California.


Armando Castillo, Joe Ludlow and Travis Savala (left to right) pose with opah aboard the Excel; photo courtesy of Excel Sportfishing

That was an El Niño year and El Niño-like conditions (unusually warm water) are prevalent this summer off California. Opah catches tend to be associated with warm-water events.

Justin Fleck, captain of the Excel, said Ludlow was one of five anglers that hooked an opah at about the same time, soon after the boat had stopped over a school of yellowtail.

Most passengers were fishing near the surface with bait, but the five anglers dropped heavy lures into deeper water, and suddenly all five were hooked into large fish that fought much differently than yellowtail.

“The fish were pulling the guys up the rail toward the bow, and back toward the stern, then back to the bow, but they weren’t really taking any line," Fleck said. “We weren’t sure what they were.”

Opah are oval-shaped with silvery-red bodies and vermillion-colored fins. When the first opah was spotted and identified, many customers stopped fishing and started following the five anglers around the boat.

"It became a sideshow," Fleck said.

Ludlow's fish was the first to be hauled over the rail, after a 30-minute fight.

Two others were gaffed minutes later, while two became unhooked during the fight.

The Excel was fishing at a depth of 190 feet near San Martin Island. Fleck said that a school of opah must have been swimming through the area.

That in itself is somewhat unusual, since opah are not schooling fish, except during spawning periods. (There's not a directed fishery for opah because they’re so solitary, but enough are caught indiscriminately by long-line fishermen to provide a market for consumers.)

"We must have just been in the right place at the right time," Fleck said, adding that paperwork has been submitted to the IGFA for world-record consideration. "And we were following IGFA rules."

The IGFA generally takes several weeks to approve or deny world-record applications.

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