Of all the rare sightings and catches during this warm-water summer off Southern California, there’s only one “first” that we’re aware of, and it involves the catch of a 50-pound wahoo last Saturday about 10 miles off Orange County.
Eric Kim was on a tuna-fishing trip with friends aboard the private sportfisher Joker and trolling a large Rapala lure when the wahoo (ono) struck.
“I just thought it was a lone dorado or tuna, but then I felt the weight and thought this is actually a better fish,” Kim told Phil Friedman of PFO Radio. “I got it to color and we couldn’t believe it. It was a freaking wahoo.”
This has been the best summer fishing season off Southern California in decades, thanks to an abundance of yellowfin tuna and dorado (mahi-mahi) that has added a Mexican flavor to the local fishing experience.
Those fish are far more common in Mexican waters, but appear off Southern California during warm-water events such as an El Niño.
Surface temperatures offshore range from about 72 to 76 degrees, well above normal. This has allowed exotic species of fish, and even some marine mammal species, to venture much farther north than their typical range.
But wahoo, which are found regularly in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and off southern Baja California, simply do not migrate this far north.
Milton Love, a UC Santa Barbara scientist and author of “Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast,” said Wednesday that Kim’s wahoo is believed to be the first genuine catch of a wahoo in the Eastern Pacific north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I have been waiting for an official U.S. record for years,” Love stated via email, adding that previously, the farthest northern catch was 130 miles south of the border.
Love is not counting a wahoo caught inside Los Angeles Harbor in the winter of 2010. That probably involved a fish that was brought into the harbor via boat or ship, because there’s little chance that a species that resides in tropical and sub-tropical seas could swum so far north at that time of year.
Wahoo, believed to be the world’s fastest fish, are extremely popular for their fight and the high quality of their flesh.
Kim was fishing with Capt. George Garrett, Ted Royal, and Zach Murtaugh. The wahoo, which measured 60 inches and had a girth of 22 inches, was weighed and photographed by Amy Elliott at the Balboa Angling Club scale in Newport Beach.
“They were amazed,” Elliott said. “It was Zach’s birthday and they were all having a ball catching dorado and tuna. They could not catch enough fish; it was one after another.”
Said Kim of seeing the wahoo come over the rail: “We were all tripping out. It took two nice runs. We got it to color and then my buddies, Zach and Ted … as soon as they put the gaff in it, it was all smiles, man. All smiles.”