Species #102 — Opaleye

Species #102 — Opaleye

Opaleye are the Bluegill of the southern California coast: easy to catch, prevalent, and a blast on light tackle. They also happen to gorgeous. Note the blue edging of the fins and the iridescent blue eye that gives them their name.

Species: Opaleye (Girella nigricans)
Location: Dana Point Marina, Dana Point, CA
Date: August 9, 2017

After a long day on a boat in the taxing summer heat of Southern California, the last thing most people would do is go fishing again, but as we’ve established, my judgment is impaired when it comes to fishing.

As my cousin, Will Silvey, and I disembarked from the boat, I looked down into the water and noticed lots of little greenish-black fish shaped like Bluegill and a few slightly thicker, bright orange fish in the rocks of the marina.

Will is a die-hard spearfisherman, and the finality of the sport makes spearos’ fish identification skills better than the average conventional angler. You have to know what you’re shooting before you pull the trigger, right?

I asked Will, and he told me the greenish fish were Opaleye, an incredibly common fish along the SoCal coast. The orange fish, he told me, were Garibaldi. The latter are protected in California because they’re the state fish. According to the IUCN Red List, Garibaldi are a species of “Least Concern”. This means that they’re not at all Threatened. Rather, California protects them on purely emotional grounds as its state fish. Emotion has never trumped science in wildlife management before, so it’s shocking, right?

LOLZ.

Anyway, I decided that as soon as we returned to his hilltop apartment in nearby Laguna Niguel, I’d return to chase those little fish. He had class that evening, so sadly he couldn’t join me, but that didn’t stop me.

***

I stopped by a grocery store, grabbed some frozen cocktail shrimp, and returned with a low-profile ultralight spinning setup spooled with 10-pound test to account for the rocks.

The signs on the marina read very clearly “No Fishing From Walkways”, and I didn’t wanna attract negative attention, especially with hundreds of people swarming the marina.

I looked around and failed to find an area without those signs. Then, I looked down. At the base of the walkways was a slight lip of concrete sticking out at the base of the eight-foot wall maybe six-to-12 inches in length.

It was summer, and I rarely wear shoes during the summer. I briefly regretted my style choices as I gritted my teeth, grabbed the railing with one hand and vaulted onto the tiny strip below.

My flip-flops grabbed, and I breathed a silent prayer before tipping my tiny, 1/64-ounce jighead with about a quarter of a cocktail shrimp and began sight-fishing to the little fish in the rocks.

***

I caught an Opaleye so quickly that I was a bit shocked. Then another. I had several Opaleye before I caught any other fish. Sadly, that little concrete lip was still a few feet above the rock-filled water below and getting a good picture was out of the question.

Fortunately, I did get a solid profile of an Opaleye facing to the right this year while fishing a lagoon not far from that original catch.

***

Fun fact: though I caught my first (and most of my subsequent) Opalaye on shrimp, mussels, and squid bits, the go-to bait is apparently frozen peas. I’ve yet to try it, but I have it on good authority that it is untouchable. Maybe worth a try sometime?

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #103 — Salema.


Species #28 — Northern Anchovy

Anchovies are weird. They’re seemingly everywhere, work as bait for everything that swims, and yet they’re as frail and easy to catch as any fish I’ve ever seen. How do these things survive?

Species: Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 3-of-6: My Mind

All through the night, I dreamed of catching fish. My unconscious mind raced through the possibilities the dark waters of the ocean holds, stopping only briefly to rest in between visions.

As the marathon of dreams flew my waking mind, the racing continued with a newly awakened sense of reality. My body wasn’t quite ready to cooperate, but my mind urged me up.

***

During breakfast and the drive to the marina, we discussed what we might catch that day. The possibilities seemed endless in the living cornucopia of the ocean where thousands of species of fish have swum for eons.

The pictures on the wall at Tidewinds Sportfishing only played on our fantasies and expectations as we waited to depart.

In the dim light of the morning, we heard our shoes clamor on the metal ramp down to the marina. The fleeting moonlight reflected on a writhing silver mass that we quickly identified as fish.

Desperate longing to catch those fish rang out in my mind, but we were on a schedule. I pried myself away from the fish but I couldn’t stop thinking about them, even as the boat crossed the bar.

***

The fishing on the boat was phenomenal. I landed four species of rockfish (Black, Blue, Brown, and Yellowtail) while Ben also landed four (Black, Blue, Canary, and Yellowtail).

Despite the sweeping nausea and subsequent vomiting, my mind stayed sharp. I thought about all of the fish I’d caught, and as time ran out on our charter, I got a second wind and began thinking of how to spend the rest of our daylight.

***

When we arrived back at the marina, we knew we had 45 minutes to kill while the crew of Tidewinds Sportfishing cleaned our fish (free of charge, I might add, which is why these guys are the best charter on the Pacific Coast). We made a beeline for the car to grab lighter rods and stalked down each slip of the dock, looking for the silver ball of fish.

Before long, we found it. We tried the sabiki rig (herring jig) for awhile, and Ben landed the first flopping silver sliver. It was maybe three inches long, with a mouth disproportionate to its size.

As he removed the hook, it’s jaw dislocated, and it wriggled violently for a moment before dying. These fish aren’t very resilient.

Since it died, we decided to keep it as bait.

As the fishing picked up, we landed anchovy after anchovy, their voracious feeding and constant terror of anything we dropped into the water causing enigmatic reactions of the school ranging from darting away from the bait to making mad dashes directly at it.

There is an episode of SpongeBob where anchovies come in and almost destroy the Krusty Krab, and it’s not far from the truth.

“That certain smelly smell that smells…smelly. ANCHOVIES!”                    —Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob Squarepants

These things are crazy. Their massive mouths gather in anything they can as quickly as they can while looking terrified. Given almost anything living in the ocean will eat them, it’s no wonder.

We filled a bag with the strange little minnows in short order, grabbed lunch, then headed to the jetty to use the bait we’d just worked so hard to earn.

Now, I’d just use a herring jig/sabiki and not have to snag them. This makes bait last longer, and it’s also a lot of fun. Try it!

***

We did quite well on the jetty at first, landing a number of small fish and some crabs. Then a seagull stole our hard-earned bait, and it was over.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #29 — Pacific Sardine.


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