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 #42 — Grass Rockfish

Grass Rockfish are relatively rare catches along the Oregon Coast. After catching this one in Brookings, I had to wait more than 5 years before catching another.

Species: Grass Rockfish (Sebastes rastrelliger)
Location: Mill Beach, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: July 14, 2012

Over the years, I’ve been admittedly quite blessed when it comes to fishing. I’ve captured rare species, rare color morphs, rare body types, and frankly, I can’t complain.

One such catch was a Grass Rockfish, and I caught it on a trip that was as unlikely as any I’ve taken.

***

As I’ve aged, my fishing buddy group has shifted and changed. As friends have married, had kids, and moved away, their availability to fish has changed, too. I don’t fault them for it, and I’m happy they’ve found happiness in off-the-water pursuits, but I’ve never really outgrown fishing.

We started out casual, but after high school, she became my soulmate.

“Don’t worry,” well-meaning folks tell me from time to time, “you’ll find a girl who likes to fish someday.”

But I have found girls who like to fish before, and that’s great, but I don’t like to fish. I love to fish. In fact, I live to fish.

If I ever found someone who shared that passion, I might eventually give my mom the grandkids I know she wants someday, but I’ve always thrived on flying solo. Despite good friends over the years, I’ve always preferred my own company to that of anyone else’s, and so #SingleByChoice has been my honest mindset for decade in which almost all of my friends traded reels for rings.

Now, that’s not a slight against them or their wives in any way. All of my closest fishing buddies today are married with wives who let them fish a lot, but they are still certainly more restricted than I am.

I digress.

One friend who moved away was Travis Lyman. He and I fished all of the time when he lived in Klamath, but when he moved and had kids, we basically stopped fishing together. Crazy, because at the time, we fished together often.

He even introduced me to one of his friends, a guy named Brian Ryckewaert, who invited me along on a spur-of-the-moment fishing trip to Brookings. For $100 toward expenses (a great deal), he let me tag along for a weekend of shore-based fishing for rockfish — something I’ve never had much success with.

***

We woke up incredibly early. We hoofed a lot of gear down the beach and over the rocks at low tide to our perch. We had a long board that we used to shimmy across gaps in the rocks, and when we finally made it to our destination, it was still dark.

Never in a million years would I have thought to fish from these rocks, but the four of us did quite well.

Using anchovies as bait, we did quite well on Black Rockfish and even picked up a few Lingcod. As time wore on, I decided to mix it up and started throwing lures. I got a few smaller Blacks to dart out from the rocks and kelp and smash my WildEye Swim Shad before I decided to switch to shrimp and target surfperch.

I got a few surfperch and my largest Kelp Greenling at that time.

At the time, this was the biggest Greenling I’d ever caught.The surfperch and greenling were a nice bonus, but I released the greenling, thinking I could catch a bigger groundfish instead. I also released the surfperch because my one experience eating them had been poor, so I thought they tasted bad. Idiot. I now know they taste great, and I kick myself for releasing the big Redtail Surfperch and Calico Surfperch I caught that day, since I’ve never been able to eat Calico.

Oh well.

I stuck with shrimp and got a bigger fish to play. I was surprised to see it was a rockfish as I brought it close, and I immediately thought it was a brown because of the coloration.

I later learned it was a Grass Rockfish.

To this day, it remains the only rockfish over eight inches that I’ve ever caught on shrimp.

I was in a “wear your oldest, crappiest clothes to fish” phase at the time, but that didn’t affect my joy to have caught my first Grass Rockfish.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #43 — Brown Smoothhound.


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