Fishermen reel in 143-pound opah fish off Virginia coast

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

The Hampton Roads anglers reeled in an opah fish, and its size could be record-worthy.

“It was definitely a surreal moment for all of us,” said Michael MacTaggart, who, along with Jon Wetherington and Nick Kemp, had charted out to sea Thursday.

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 for the day, they felt a tug on the line. Using a hand-crank rod, they fought to bring the fish to the surface.

“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 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the opah, also known as moonfish, averages around 100 pounds,

This one weighed 143 pounds, and it took the anglers about 45 minutes to get the fish onto the boat.

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

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

According to the International Game Fish Association, the current world record for an opah catch is 180 pounds.

However, the men are waiting to find out whether this is the first opah catch on record in Virginia.

“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.”

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