Local fishermen reel in 143-pound opah fish off Virginia Beach coast

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A group of Hampton Roads fishermen made what they call a once-in-a-lifetime catch last week.

They reeled in an opah fish, and its size could be record-worthy.

The men tell 10 On Your Side they still can’t believe their luck.

Opah is also known as moonfish and, according to NOAA, not a lot is known about them but they average around 100 pounds. This one weighed in at 143 pounds!

Just like they’ve done before, Jon Wetherington, Michael MacTaggart and Nick Kemp charted out to sea on Thursday, but this fishing trip ended up being one they’ll never forget.

“It was definitely a surreal moment for all of us,” MacTaggart said.

The men had spent hours near the Norfolk Canyon, about 80 miles off the Virginia Beach coast, hoping to hook swordfish.

MacTaggart said the area drops down from about 300 feet to about 6,000 feet.

Just as they were giving up hope for the day, they felt a tug on the line. Using a hand-crank rod, the fight to bring the fish to the surface began.

“We start seeing way down this silver color basically,” Wetherington said.

They couldnt believe what took the bait.

“They start yelling ‘opah’ and I think ‘what are these clowns talking about,'” Wetherington jokingly said.

According to NOAA, this deep-ocean fish is typically found in tropical or temperate waters. It’s commonly found on the West Coast, Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. Opah is also the only known fish that is fully warm-blooded.

Once the anglers got over the inital shock, they jumped into action. It took them about 45 minutes to get the fish onto the boat.

“We took turns picking it up, taking pictures with it” Kemp said.

“When it happened, we hit all the other boats up on the radio and I think even they thought we were wrong,” Wetherington said.

The friends weighed their prize at Rudee’s Inlet Marina where the fish tipped the scales at a whopping 143 pounds. According to the International Game Fish Association, the current world record for an opah catch is 180 lbs.

They believe this may be the first opah catch on record in Virginia.

While they wait to find out, they’re celebrating their luck by sharing the fish with others in the sport.

“This is just a piece of the dream,” Wetherington said. “It could’ve happened to anybody but it happened to us so we take that as a win.”

10 On Your Side is also waiting to hear back from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission on whether this is, in fact, a record catch.

We’ll let you know when we find out.


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