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Rookie Angler Catches Likely World-Record Moonfish. “It’s Kinda Like a Unicorn”

Beau Leaman's opah weighed 188 pounds, which would smash the standing world record
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The strange-looking fish outweighed the standing world record by more than seven pounds. Horizon Charters, via Instagram

In an impressive display of beginner’s luck, a novice angler caught a pending world-record (and exceedingly rare) fish during his first-ever trip out. On August 8, Beau Leaman was with friends on an overnight charter trip off the coast of San Diego when he caught a giant moonfish that weighed 188.6 pounds. Leaman’s fish stands to beat out the current all-tackle world record by more than 7 pounds. He’s already submitted the official paperwork to the International Game Fish Association, according to USA Today.

Leaman and his friends booked a trip with Horizon Charters and fished aboard the MV Horizon. Using rented rods, they were throwing jigs for tuna in 300 feet of water when Leaman’s line suddenly went tight. But the fish didn’t run or dive deep like a typical tuna would.

“He was fishing pretty deep and at first thought he was stuck on the bottom,” Capt. Bill Wilkerson told reporters.

Roughly 45 minutes later, an exhausted Leaman brought the strange-looking, oval-shaped fish to the side of the boat, where it was gaffed by Wilkerson’s crew. After cheering and celebrating the unusual catch, they noticed that the moonfish (also known as an opah) had a series of round bites on its sides. These were wounds left by the cookiecutter sharks that chomped at the fish during the lengthy battle.

“Once it was on the boat, I think most of us were in dismay” said Leaman. “From the shark bites on its side, to its blend of orange and red, its tail fin slapping the deck, its massive eyes that don’t seem to do much work … It didn’t look real.”

Wilkerson pointed out that moonfish, which are named for their round, compressed bodies, are definitely real. They’re also very rare.

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“I have witnessed [opah] being caught three times in 40 years,” Wilkerson explained in an Instagram post. “It’s kinda like a unicorn if you will.”

NOAAdescribes the species as an “unusual looking fish” that inhabits the Pacific and other temperate oceans around the world. They’re occasionally caught by longliners and other commercial fishermen, and they average around 100 pounds with a 3-foot diameter. Little else is known about the species because they inhabit such deep water—typically between 300 to 1,000 feet below the surface—and are rarely caught with rods and reels.