Cook up some fun when you go fishing off of Baja Norte’s Pacific Coast: Recipe below!
by Tom Gatch
“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.
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.
Private boaters and pangas as far north as Rosarito Beach are able to access an uncountable number of excellent inshore spots to fish for ‘reds’ in various sizes, often departing from the new marina at Puerta La Salina. A few miles south of there, The waters off the rugged point directly below the El Mirador outlook are miles away from urban development, and offer a deep, jagged terrain that is an ideal habitat for various rockfish species. In addition to the excellent fishing for Pacific red snapper that can be found adjacent to Islas Todos Santos west of Ensenada and off the tip of Punta Banda, there are several other areas further south that can be even more productive. The somewhat primitive conditions in places like Puerto Santo Tomas and Ejido Erendira are counterbalanced by the greater proliferation and larger size of fish that are generally encountered there.
Certainly one of the most dependable places to pick up a cooler full of fat ‘reds’ is Bahia San Quintin, where deep holes around San Martin Island manage to kick out chunky bottom fish throughout most of the year. Although it’s a bit longer drive, the northern end of the bay features a solid cement launch ramp as well as lodging, food and outstanding charter fishing accommodations.
Pacific red snapper yield thick, white, delicate fillets that are absolutely toothsome. For those with a desire to try something a little different, here is a tasty suggestion from the California Seafood Council that is delivered in the true spirit of La Cocina Mexicana
California Seafood Council’s Recipe for Pacific Red Snapper Veracruz Style
1 lb. Rockfish (Pacific red snapper)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 cup tomatoes, diced
1 bell pepper (red, green, or yellow), thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp. jalapeño or serrano chile, chopped (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1 lemon sliced, Juice of 2 lemons
1 ripe Hass avocado, sliced
Place the fillets in shallow baking dish. Sauté onion, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil until vegetables are limp. Add herbs, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and lemon juice. Pour this mixture over fish and arrange lemon slices over top. Cover tightly and bake at 325 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, just until fish turns opaque in center and begins to flake. During last 5 minutes, check for doneness and add liquid if needed. Continue to bake uncovered until fish is done.
This recipe serves four, and is especially good when accompanied by Mexican-style rice, spicy green salsa and warm tortillas. But however you may choose to enjoy them, fresh Pacific red snapper fillets can truly be ranked among the sea’s most magnificent gifts!
Find out more about where to stay and play along Baja Norte’s Pacific Coast! Visit Baja.com.
Hooked on Baja author & columnist, Tom Gatch, is one of Baja’s foremost writers with a focus upon outdoor and recreational topics in Baja and southern California.
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