Catch Baja's Brute Snapper

Pacific cubera snapper
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Pargo is a common name that is used by anglers in Baja California to describe certain members of the true snapper family, Lutjanidae. The largest of these is the 'pargo perro’, dog snapper or Pacific cubera snapper (Lutjanus novemfasciatus). It should be noted that these particular cubera snapper are a slightly different species than the cubera snapper (Lutjanus cyanopterus) that is found around Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps the most well-known member of this family is the true red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), affectionately referred to by local diners as ‘huachinango’.

As the temperature of the waters around the tip of the Baja peninsula begins to warm up in spring, anglers are occasionally teased by summer-like flurries of surface gamefish activity that may be abruptly disrupted by windy periods, green water and rough offshore seas. These are the times when anglers in Baja Sur can occasionally find it more productive to forget about the highly touted gamesters like striped marlin, yellowfin tuna or dorado and focus on the inshore zone and one of the most notorious tackle-busters in all of Baja… the pargo.

Where to Fish

Pargo are generally caught from Bahia Tortugas on the Pacific side to Bahia de Los Angeles in the Cortez. In southern Baja, the name “pargo” can be used interchangeably to refer to different fish species, much as Californians might allude to certain members of the Sebastes family as being "red snapper."

These fish are generally found close to islands, reefs and rocky areas, and can range in size from 5 to well over 40 pounds. Most species of pargo are considered prime table fare, but all of them tend to have the infuriating habit of grabbing a lure or bait and running straight into any nearby structure that happens to be handy, at which point in time they are nearly impossible to extricate.

Bait to Use

A standard dropper loop baited with live or dead sardines is an extremely effective pargo set-up, but I personally prefer using a whole squid on a modified trap-rig. If you’ve never made one of these before; tie a large treble hook to the end of a 25 to 35-pound test fluorocarbon leader about 25 to 30 inches long. A single, 2/0 live bait hook is then tied up the leader that corresponds with the size of squid being used. The tag end of the leader is tied to the middle eye of a 3-way swivel. Secure an 8-inch leader on the bottom eye, and attach a 4 to 6-ounce torpedo sinker to the terminal end. Hook one prong from the treble hook between the squid’s eyes, and then pin the single live bait hook through its nose. As the squid is slowly lowered through the water column, it tends to flow along with the current and almost look as if it's swimming. Once you reach the bottom, give your reel a couple of cranks and hang on!

Charter a Panga

If you plan to charter a panga to fish specifically for pargo at one of the major resort hubs like Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo, remember that most panga operations in these areas earn new and repeat business by the level of success that they display in catching species like marlin, tuna, sailfish and dorado. Therefore, don’t be surprised if your captain looks a bit disappointed when he finds out that you want to focus your angling efforts on these massive bottom dwellers.

But no matter how you plan to stalk them, big pargo are a true prize unto themselves, as well as being a wonderful alternative target for spring anglers who may have been kept inshore by unpredictable weather conditions. Release the small ones but, whatever you do, be sure to take advantage of a gourmet dining opportunity by filleting out a 15 to 20-pounder and grilling it over glowing coals while bathing it in melted butter and crushed garlic.