I’m here to tell you that opaleyes are not a trash fish! They get a bad wrap in the spearfishing community, but they can be fun to catch and when prepared right can even taste good.
They are also known as the rudderfish and are part of the Girella nigricans family.
There are over 18 species of this fish across the globe and two of them can be found in the waters off Mexico and Southern California.
Opal eyes have an oval, elongated and compressed body and they are olive green and gray-green in color. They also have two pale spots on their upper back below the mid-dorsal fin but these only appear on adults.
Many also have a white line across the snout and just below the eyes and their namesake is due to their bright blue/green eyes which look like opals. This fish is not an endangered species.
|Scientific Name:||Girella nigricans|
|Common Name(s):||Opaleye, Rudderfish, Opal eye perch|
|Characteristics||Blunt and short snout, two pale spots on the dorsal fin, bright blue/green opal colored eyes. The body is oval and compressed|
|Depth Range||2 to 32 meters|
|Locations||18 species 2 of which can be found in waters near Mexico and southern California|
|Catch Limits||Check your local regulations|
How to Catch Opaleye
Opaleyes fish swim in large schools at mid-water depth or a couple of feet under the surface. They rarely swim near the surface and don’t usually dwell near the bottom either.
If you want to fish at the correct depth, use long slip line floats as your preferred tackle. When it goes down as the fish bites, strike fast and prevent it from rushing into the kelp.
When it comes to opaleye tackle you cannot be too careful. Use a light line such as a fluorocarbon and small hooks that are a size 6 or smaller to catch and hook the opaleye. However, the older ones can be really difficult to catch. Attract them using chum with peas and you can attract a whole school that may have some larger ones in the group.
Chumming fish with peas is the best opaleye fishing tip you can get.
Keep frozen peas in a cooler with you to use as bait and don’t them it defrost so they remain firm. That way the fish will have to take it whole in its mouth to get it off the hook thus allowing it to penetrate the flesh.
Plus, make sure that the peas are not torn or damaged in any way. The opal eye fish is lightning fast and will remove the meaty part of the pea leaving the skin behind and your hook empty. Besides this, you can also use moss, ghost shrimp, pile worms, blood worms, small crabs, and mussels as bait with most preferable for most anglers.
- If you are using chum, toss in whole peas as well to attract as many opaleyes as you can.
- A hook with a single pea can outfish a hook that has multiple peas on it. Use circle hooks that don’t hook too deeply to do much damage.
Opaleye Fishing Tips
- Opaleye can be line shy so use a light line that they cannot see.
- A casting bobber and a long leader setup can help you catch more opaleye
When to Catch Rudderfish
The opaleye can be found year-round but the location can vary from season to season. If you are fishing during the spring and summer months, use peas as bait to attract last schools but use other baits in the cooler times of the year for better results.
The fish can be found in large schools within rocky areas that are abundant in algae but they do venture into estuaries. Young opaleye is pelagic and can be found near the surface alongside floating debris.
It’s funny, opaleyes are considered a trash fish in the spearfishing community here in Southern California. I won’t lie, it was the first fish I ever shot and I’m proud of it.
They are relatively easy to shoot, which is why I believe they aren’t targeted often…not much sport in it.
However, if you do take a few, when prepared the right way, they can taste good.
How to Clean Opaleye
Here’s a video of my buddy KACA Life, who’s one of the best opaleye fishermen I know. In this video, he shows you how to clean an opaleye and even how to make sushi with them!
- Place the yellowtail with its belly facing you and hold the head with your left hand. Use a sharp knife to cut diagonally from top to bottom behind the pectoral fin.
- Turn the knife as you get to the bottom and continue along the center of the belly.
- Once you pass the belly continue cutting just above the anal fin and right up to the tail.
- Cut down through the tail till you hit the spine.
- Turn the fish around so the top is facing you.
- Use the tip of the knife to cut above the dorsal fin and keep cutting in the same line but perpendicular to the cut you made in the tail.
- Use your knife to separate the meat from the bones on this side as you did on the first side. Lift the separated section of the meat as you cut so you know where your knife is headed. Do the same at the cut you made in the tail.
How to Cook Opaleye
Since opaleye has a tough skin, it cooks well over charcoal. Here is how you can barbecue it:
- Gut the fish and clean out the gills paying particular attention to the blood under the air bladder.
- Leave the scales and the fins on the fish.
- Stuff the stomach cavity of the fish with two green onion bulbs.
- Allow the charcoal to burn red and then throw in the whole fish on the rack.
- Cook, until the fins burn off or until the skin, starts to shrink and crack.
- Chop some scallions and dry them in some olive oil till they start to smell good.
- Remove the cooked fish from the barbecue and peel the skin. The scales should come off easily too.
- Spread the olive oil and scallion mixture on the fish and add your favorite seasoning.
- Serve immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Where can opaleye be found?
A: Fish for opaleye in Mexican waters or along the west coast of Baja through the Sea of Cortez. They are found in large schools usually near rocky areas that have an abundance of algae they can nibble on.
Q: How large an opaleye get?
A: The maximum length an opaleye can reach is 66 cm or 26 inches.
Q: What does the opaleye look like?
A: The body is covered with round, thick and rough scales, and the pectoral and pelvic fins are usually short. Besides the caudal fin which is concave all of the fins are blunt and round. The fish has a small and blunt mouth and incisor teeth that are set horizontally in the mouth and have flat, 3-pointed tips.
Q: What is the color of the opaleye?
A: The color of the opaleye is gray-green or olive-green which transitions to a uniform dark brown when it is about to die.