“World Class Snook Have Been Exciting Local Anglers for Years… Now You Can Get in on the Action, Too”
Standing on the bow of the slow-moving panga I could see large, torpedo-shaped fish kicking up plumes of silt as they swiped their tails to get out of our way. Meanwhile, the slick surface was being showered by panicked schools of mullet and ballyhoo attempting to escape predators from below only to be ravaged by frigate birds and pelicans from above.
Loose groups of porpoise milled around feeding at their leisure. With all this live water showing our anticipation of a big hookup grew with each passing moment. I couldn’t help but think this classic Baja scene could be unfolding on the remote pristine beaches of Cerralvo Island, the East Cape or Cabo but it wasn’t. This was La Paz Bay (Bahiá de La Paz) only five minutes from our condominium at La Concha Beach Resort.
As a procession of pangas and yachts passed us heading to sea, we continued pursuit of the bounty of gamefish before us, yet unheeded by the crowds of anglers that have been running over them for decades. One good Samaritan even came over to us during a session of drift-fishing to ask if we had engine trouble. Such is the novelty of fishing the bay to the casual observer. A handful of local anglers such as our skipper Mario Osorio, grew up fishing the bay and have learned its secrets. The bay is intriguing enough that Osorio fishes it intensively between his sojourns pursuing marlin offshore.
The black snook is the big prize of La Paz Bay. The only problem is this fish is so wary, unpredictable and selective about what it will eat, it makes the fussy roosterfish seem like a piranha in comparison. ‘‘It took me years to learn how to catch them.” says Osorio. “Besides live bait, only one lure has caught these fish… and I hope you won’t tell everyone because they may not release these great fish.” he added with a hopeful look. Osorio then identified the lure and specific color and to his surprise I happened to have one buried in my tackle bag.
By mid-morning the sun had broken through some threatening clouds and made the dark water crystalline. “Good.” said Osorio, “Now I can see the channels and holes where the snook hide.” We could also see the fish. We counted 20 big snook in one hole and they were all between 15 and 40 pounds. We saw one that would push 60 pounds and never did see small fish.
Trolling the lures we made runs in random patterns, occasionally turning sharply to avoid grounding on sandy high spots. As we straightened out after a turn and moved along a channel about 20 feet deep we finally heard a screaming reel clicker as the port rod bent low in a rhythmic beat. Linda Niles wrestled the rod out of the holder as line peeled off and angled toward the surface. The big snook came half-way out of the water, rattled its gills and shook the lure free. In an instant it was gone. “Wow! How big was that?” I asked Osorio.
“At least 40, maybe 45 pounds.” he said. After fruitlessly fishing for big snook from Belize to Panama we were excited just to see such a quality specimen and right in our own backyard.
We continued to troll but couldn’t get bit even though we spotted more snook. Osorio decided to give the lures a rest at mid-day and we anchored in five feet of water. Running out a lot of scope on the anchor line put our stern on the edge of a deep hole. “This is a good pargo spot.” said Osorio ‘‘Let’s put some bait out and have lunch while we wait for the tide change. Then we’ll try the snook again.”
Osorio deployed two dead caballito after splitting them with a sharp knife from tail to mid-body in order to give more scent. I cast a live caballito from the bow, thinking that nothing could pass up such a prime meal. The boat was positioned just inside the tip of El Magote, the long, sandy peninsula that juts seaward from the land that forms the bay and protects from storms.
The line to one of the dead baits started moving up current and wasn’t noticed until it was parallel to the beam. Not one click of the ratchet sounded alarm. Niles grabbed the rod as Osorio shouted. ‘‘Pargo! Hit it!” Cranking the reel handle to take up the slack, Niles soon came tight to heavy resistance. The fish made the rod tip bounce wildly as if shaking its head and then came to the surface making a thunderous leap.
“Snook! That’s a snook!”, ‘ I hollered as we scrambled to clear rods from its path. The fish peeled off line under good drag pressure and took Niles around the boat twice before slugging it out from the stern. After 15 minutes the tired fish was alongside as Osorio carefully grabbed it for a quick weighing. The scale pulled down to 35 pounds — a good fish anywhere and especially on a dead bait intended for a bottom dwelling pargo. It was just another lesson to be learned from the unpredictable snook.
PARGO IN THE HOLES
After putting two fresh baits out, I asked Osorio about the pargo fishing. The species that was in the bay now is the barred pargo which is listed by the International Game Fish Association as greenbar snapper. At times they will he joined by the cubera or dog snapper and the smaller pargo amarillo or yellow snapper. Pargo lisa or mullet snapper, common to the offshore islands and rocky points along the East Cape and Los Cabos, rarely come into the bay.
Within a few minutes, one of the lines yanked from the reel as if snagged by a passing truck. There was no gentle take this time as Niles was fast to a deep, stubborn fighter. The rod bent deeply and the fish slowly led her around the boat refusing to give ground. It didn’t show on the surface like the snook so we figured it was a pargo.
Unlike typical pargo habitat where rocks are the fish’s ally, the smooth sandy bottom found here means cutoffs are not a threat. Finally, Niles was able to gain some line and soon a broad, shiny form appeared struggling on its side. Niles, who set the first IGFA world record for barred pargo with a 10-pound, 14-ounce fish in 1984, couldn’t believe the size of this one. It weighed 28 pounds. 6 ounces which is pushing the maximum size attained by this species. According to Captain Osorio, however, barred or greenbar snapper of this caliber are not unusual for the Bay of La Paz.
REMARKABLE AND VARIOUS CATCHES
Roosterfish offer top sport when they come into the confines of the bay in pursuit of sardinas, mullet, ballyhoo, Pacific mackerel and caballito. These are abundant from April to October. In May of 1996, Osorio landed an 82-pound rooster near the abandoned Yacht Club. It was only one of many trophy fish taken during a two month-long run of big fish. Jack crevalle, corvina, small grouper, saltwater catfish, cubera and yellow snapper entertain during the warm months. Sierra mackerel and black skipjack show during the winter.
Some strange things also happen in La Paz. One day in June, 1994, Osorio was working on the Mosquito Fleet dock when he saw a large fish swimming casually near the surface. After watching for a few moments he identified it as a broadbill swordfish - swimming in shallow, inner bay waters in broad daylight. He quickly boarded a panga and was able to snag it with a large treble hook on an International 50. Osorio fought the apparently healthy fish for over an hour. As the word spread a crowd gathered on the malecon. His friends eventually helped him harpoon it and bring it to the dock. It weighed 267 pounds.
The sunken freighter near the now-closed El Gran Hotel was where some locals caught a 180-pound jewfish while fishing for snapper. Dorado have also been known to follow the ship channel to the mouth of the bay where they have surprised anglers who hooked up only minutes after boarding their charter.
NOTES AND TIPS
Black snook are a specialty fish throughout their range from Baja to Panama, which means local knowledge is usually a prerequisite to success. The black snook is the largest of six subspecies found on the Pacific Coast of the Americas and reaches a length of at least four feet. The current IGFA all-tackle record weighed 57 pound 12 ounces taken in Costa Rica. Last June, a free diver probing La Paz Bay speared a 72-pound snook. Osorio’s largest sport-caught snook weighed 48-pounds. As mentioned, we spotted one during our brief trip on the bay in July that we estimated at 60 pounds.
Captain Osorio prefers outgoing tides and the time of day is not important. Clean water and a high sun are helpful, however, in finding the channels and holes which harbor fish. The top one hour of the outgoing tide is usually best because as more water flows from the bay it will usually get cloudy.
He doesn’t fish at night which is usually an optimum time for snook fishing elsewhere. Casting traditional snook lures and just about everything else has proven ineffective. Trolling lures, slow trolling live bait and anchoring near drop-offs and fishing both live and dead baits are the proven techniques. Generally, the fishing is better from the mouth of the bay to the old El Gran Hotel than deeper inside. Surprisingly the bay waters tend to be cooler than the open ocean. During early July the temperature was 74to 76 degrees whereas the sea was 80 to 84 degrees.
Although snook are unpredictable, guided anglers can expect an average of two or three fish per outing and eight to 10-fish days are fairly common. Osorio’s best day recently has been 12 large snook between 13 and 36 pounds before leaving the snook hole early. Snook will test an angler’s patience and perseverance like few other gamefish so it helps to have a strong desire to pursue them to be successful. Anglers fishing the East Cape or making the blue water run out of La Paz may want to consider spending a half-day or two within the bay. You may be pleasantly surprised.
If you want to try your hand at snook fishing or sample the variety of gamefish roaming La Paz Bay ,there are a few local guides, such as Captain Mario Osorio, who can be reserved by calling Cass Tours 800-646-2252 or direct to Mino Shibas Mosquito Fleet office in La Paz at 011-52-112-21674. The La Concha Beach Resort and Condominiums located near the mouth of the bay, are highly recommended, 800-999-BAJA or 619-260-0991. In addition to its first class amenities, La Concha has a convenient boat dock at the Cortez Club where your panga can pick you up and drop you off nearly at your doorstep.
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The Roving Angler