It's the fish fit for a few feasts

NEWPORT BEACH — How many boys does it take to catch a near record-breaking opah fish off Crystal Cove?

The answer is three: Randall Hause, 17, Daniel Segerblom, 15, and Sean Segerblom, 12, all of Newport Beach.

And they've just about eaten all of the edible meat from the 143-pound catch, dishing it out to friends and neighbors and indulging in a little bit of it themselves. They say it melts in the mouth, kind of like butter.

The opah is a deepwater fish more typically caught in Hawaii. It's also a delicacy. The bad news, however, is that only 30% of its body is edible, what with the bones and tough skin.

And so, the catch, about 40 pounds of meat in all, is slowly being devoured and will soon be relegated to mere photographic history for the boys, who fell 20 pounds shy of a record for hooking in such a species at the Balboa Angling Club, said the father of one of the boys.

Only three opah a year of this size are caught in Southern California.

The catch, which occurred at 10 a.m. Friday, was a doozy indeed for the boys, all of whom managed to rope the fish's tail and haul it in after it momentarily broke free.

Randy Hause, Randall's father and an avid fisherman, said it was "the catch of a lifetime" as the boys first passed around their single fishing rod to share in the weight — and strength — of the fight.

But the fish, in what essentially became the final fight of its life, ended up breaking the line baited with live squid. At that point, the boys tried to net it, but to no avail: The net was too small.

Ultimately, they pulled out a six-inch hook and stuck the fish with that. Then, they grabbed some rope and managed to lasso the tail, finally pulling the opah in.

And somewhere during the battle, in a sign of the times, cell phones were pulled out and pictures of the fish were transmitted over the Internet for Mr. Hause to check out.

Everybody wanted to make sure the catch was legal.

It was.

"I was shocked when I first saw it," said Randall Hause, 18, a Newport Harbor High School graduate who's heading off to St. Mary's College this fall out East. "There was blood and scales everywhere. I couldn't believe what I saw. I was frozen. It was crazy."

Randall speculates that the fish was probably near dead at the time it was ultimately caught because of the pressure of being so close to the surface of the ocean. The fishing line was only 60 feet deep as the three boys fished 300 yards offshore in a 25-foot Skip Jack.

Jane Hause, Randall's mother, said just about everybody was offering their services once they found out the fish's size. The Bluewater Grill had advice on how to fillet it — sear the ends, leaving the middle rare. The restaurant even offered its mango-relish combination sauce for it.

Kim Larson, a next-door neighbor and employee at the aptly-named Saltwater Catering, helped clean and gut the fish, whose meat supply is going on Day Three as of Tuesday.

The Balboa Angling Club suggested the family send it to a taxidermist, recreate it and put it up on the family's mantle for posterity.

But as Jane Hause said, "This fish was so big, I don't even know where we could have put it!"

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