Opaleye

Sea Chubs—Family Kyphosidae

An opaleye from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2016

Species: Girella nigricans (Ayres, 1860); from the French word girelle (a derivative of julis, an old word used to denote a number of small wrasse in Europe), the Latin word nigr (dark) and the Greek word ikanos (becoming, in reference to its pleasing appearance).

Alternate Names: Blue-eye perch, green perch, opaleye perch, bluefish, blue bass, greenfish, Jack Benny, Catalina perch, button-back, button-eye, and button bass. Called chopa verde in Mexico.

An opaleye from the Oceanside Harbor Pier caught in 2009

Identification: Opaleye are perch-shaped but heavier bodied. Their coloring is dark olive green, usually with two light spots at the base of the dorsal fin; occasionally pale green while some almost all white fish have been observed. The eyes are distinctive: large and an opalescent, blue-green color.

Size: To 25.4 inches and 13 1/2 pounds (a 10-11 year old fish speared off south Laguna); most caught from piers are less than 14 inches. The California record fish weighed 6 lb 4 oz and was taken near Los Flores Creek in 1956.

KJ and an opaleye caught at the Cabrillo Mole in 2007

Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California and the Gulf of California to Otter Rock, Oregon. Uncommon north of Point Conception.

Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky areas and kelp beds.

Minnow Magnet and a nice opaleye taken from the Cabrillo Mole in 2009

Piers: Can be caught from almost any pier in southern or central California located near rocks, reefs, or kelp, but they’re uncommon north of Cayucos and rare north of Monterey (although they seem to be established in the waters by the Coast Guard Pier in Monterey). Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier (inshore), Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Cabrillo Pier (jetty side), the Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Redondo Sportfishing Pier, and Paradise Cove Pier. and the Coast Guard Pier (Monterey). Most of the fish caught at most of these piers are fairly small opaleye. The exceptions are the two piers in Avalon that almost always have good-sized fish available for opaleye-seekers.

Shoreline: One of the main goals of rocky shore anglers in sourthern California.

Boats: An inshore species rarely taken by boaters unless targeting them at places such as jetties and breakwaters.

Bait and Tackle: Some anglers specialize in opaleye, and many of them swear that moss or frozen peas are the best bait. I’ve actually caught more on ghost shrimp but I must admit that I’ve watched, many a morning, while a group of opaleye “pros” from Los Angeles (I recognize them by now) were filling large coolers with opaleye at the Cabrillo Mole and they almost always use moss as their bait du jour. I think all three baits are excellent for opaleye (although the ghost shrimp are more expensive). Fresh mussels, pile worms, bloodworm, and small rock crabs also make good bait. I also managed to hook a few opaleye using garden snails during an experiment testing different baits at Catalina in 2005.

Opaleye caught at the Green Pleasure Pier by Mahigeer in 2011

Food Value:  A good eating fish that is generally fried.

Comments: Primarily herbivores (vegetarians), opaleye eat a variety of plants including feather boa kelp, giant kelp, sea lettuce and coralline algae. Evidently they also grab organisms attached to seaweed as they’re making their rounds, tasty little items like tube worms and red crabs. Opaleye are a favorite of many anglers; they’re hard to hook but once hooked put up a very good fight for their size.

The crystal-clear waters at Avalon present quite a challenge for the sagacious, line-shy opaleye. Big schools of 2-4 pound fish hang around the Green Pleasure Pier and the Cabrillo Mole but they can be very hard to catch. They seem more cautious of line at the Green Pleasure Pier but if you use a light line, perhaps 2-4 pound fluorocarbon, you might get them. (Actually, to be fair, I catch them every year at the Pleasure Pier and I usually am using 8-10 fluorocarbon). Of course the 1,794 ropes, tangled lines, pilings and yellow submarines that surround and hang under the GPP might also get your line.

At the Mole it’s the long fronds and blades of the giant kelp that sway (tidally) in or out near the railing. If the opaleye are allowed to encircle the kelp it’s pretty much over. As soon as they are hooked apply pressure and try to keep them coming toward you while having a person ready with a net. You need to use light line but can also pay the consequences if you’re unwilling to apply enough pressure.

The “pros” who come over to Catalina from Los Angeles take the ferry over for one day, fish exclusively at the Mole, fish for one species—opaleye, and are almost always successful (coolers are crammed with fish). You learn from such experts and a few things should be mentioned. The first is that the opaleye are typically at a mid-water depth, five to ten feet under the surface of the water depending upon the depth of the water. They are rarely caught on top and infrequently caught on the bottom (although I’ve caught several fishing on the bottom at night and they are often caught on the bottom by anglers casting out from jetties). Second is that if you want to fish the correct depth a float is desirable and long slip-line floats are the preferred tackle for the opaleye hunters. Third is when you see the float go down, strike and, as mentioned, try to keep the fish out of the kelp.

An opaleye caught by Amanda at the Cabrillo Mole in 2013

A large opaleye taken at the Cabrillo Mole in 2014

A chubby opaleye taken at the Cabrillo Mole in 2009

KJ and an opaleye caught at the Green Pleasure Pier in 2014

Mahigeer and an opaleye taken at the Green Pleasure Pier in 2010

Large opaleye taken at the Palos Verde rocks by dcc in 2008

Large opaleye taken at the Palos Verde rocks by dcc in 2008

Four pictures of opaleye taken from the Palos Verde rocks by dcc in 2009

KJ and an opaleye from the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon in 2015

Jimbojack and an opaleye from the Cabrillo Mole in 2006

Brightly colored opaleye from the Shelter Island Pier in San Diego in 2009

Less colorful opaleye from the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in 2002

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