High adventure on the beach, after a strange fish washed ashore, became an intrepid nighttime search along the beach.
My phone rang and a trusted fisherman, Mike, called to invite me to go on a search for a big opah that had washed ashore. A surf fisher friend of Mike had called him just before dark to describe a strange and wonderful fish he had never seen. He took a photo and video with his smartphone and sent it to Mike, who immediately recognized it as an opah.
I grabbed my 9-year-old grandson, John, and took off for Santa Barbara's East Beach to meet up with Mike. I knew this would interest young John because he lives to fish and loves learning about fish, techniques and tackle.
It was full dark, on a moonless night, by the time we got down to water’s edge. We searched from East Beach nearly to Butterfly Beach without sighting the critter. There was a powerful incoming tide associated with a new moon phase and that big fish, which I estimated to be 45 pounds based on the photo and video, had probably washed back out to sea.
An opah is a wild-looking fish, quite bright and with vibrant orange fins and tail. It is shaped something like a giant perch and doesn’t look very aquadynamic, but it swims quite well. These fish are pelagic predators that travel well offshore with schools of tuna, eating finfish such as anchovies and sardines and mackerel.
It is a complete mystery how this magnificent beast of a fish wound up washed ashore below the Santa Barbara Cemetery. They are not known to frequent inshore waters, preferring to remain well offshore. I’ve been fortunate to have caught four of them in my lifetime, and in all my decades of fishing I have never seen one less than 20 miles offshore. In our waters, they usually remain well outside of the islands.
But here this one was, in very good shape except for a bite out of its belly and looking fairly fresh, washed up on the beach. It will remain a mystery and the stuff of campfire stories in the firelight on dark nights.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.