Tom Gatch Via Baja.com
“Look dad!” exclaimed my fishing buddy’s excited 6-year old daughter as she watched his brilliantly hued fish come to color as he cranked it up from the depths. “That fish with the big eyes is sticking its tongue out at us!!” she added, furrowing her young brow. Indeed…she was looking at a red snapper from the waters of Baja Norte‘s Pacific Coast.
After my friend and I finished chuckling, he quickly pointed out to her that our catch had been brought up from the rocky seafloor so quickly that the sudden pressure change had forced its air bladder and eyes to protrude.
Her brow remained furrowed, but she seemed to cautiously accept his explanation on faith, if not through reason.
But after several more of these bright, crimson beauties made it over the rail and into our cooler, she eventually began asking her dad how we were going to turn them into the fresh fish and chips dinner she had been promised for that evening’s meal.
There are over 20 members of the genus Sebastes that reside in the waters just offshore.
Some of the most generically popular of these are often referred to as ‘Pacific red snapper.”
Not to be confused with members of the true snapper family, Lutjanus, which thrive in Baja’s Gulf of California, there are two Sebastes species that are often referred to as ‘red snapper’ in Pacific waters.
Both of these fishes occur from Magdalena Bay, north into Canada.
Chili pepper Sebastes snapper found off Baja Norte's Pacific Coast
They respond well to standard dropper loop rigs with several ounces of weight at the terminal end, and one or two hooks up the line a distance of 12 to 16 inches from each other.
A good ‘hole’ will also often yield several other species of rockfish.
Smaller fish such as blue, canary and starry rockfish are usually found in the same areas as much larger ‘reds’ and other bottom species.
While these fish will quickly inhale sardines and anchovies, it is often a good idea to use a tough bait that is difficult to steal, such as cut octopus, squid or mackerel.
Bigger Sebastes specimens will also attack colored and chrome-plated conventional or jointed iron jigs that have been enhanced by a strip of squid pinned to the treble hook.
The smaller, Sebastes goodei, is sometimes referred to as a “chilipepper” by Baja anglers.
It has a head and body that is somewhat slender, as well as a protruding lower jaw and a pinkish color that gradually becomes off-white near its belly.
Chilipeppers are not taken as frequently as other rockfishes because they are rarely caught in depths less than 360 feet along our coast. They generally occur over rocky bottoms and have been taken as deep as 1,080 feet.
The chilipepper rarely exceeds 5 pounds in weight, and is the one member of the Sebastes family that is most likely to end up on a restaurant menu as red snapper.
On the other hand, the body of the vermilion rockfish, Sebastes miniatus, is moderately husky and compressed.
Its color is brilliant red on the body and fins, which also exhibit a subtle black and gray mottling.
Also commonly called a ‘red snapper’, this species is generally much larger than the chilipepper, and can sometimes reach weights over 8-pounds.