The Pacific cubera snapper is noted for its ability to break off after being hooked in the rocky areas they populate from Mexico to Ecuador and out to the Galapagos Islands. I felt fortunate last week after catching yellowfin tuna out on Hannibal Bank to release a normal-sized 25-to-30-pound cubera a that hit live Lane snapper on a stout Shimano spinning outfit while drifting over a high spot on the way back to the Pesca Panama barge. Since cuberas dive right into the rocks upon being hooked, spinning tackle seems an unlikely choice for stopping them just as it would be for trying to catch cod around wrecks. Yet, it worked again the next day when my nephew, Bobby Correll of Bay Head, and I returned to another underwater peak after catching tuna off Jicaron.
Felix, our mate on one of the Oceanmaster center consoles, had rigged the same spinning rod with a chunk of black skipjack (similar to our little tunny, and called bonito in the tropics), which I dropped to another high spot. No weight is used in order to prevent snags, and just the weight of the big bait is sufficient to get it to bottom on the drift as Capt. Thomas backs the boat a bit at times to stay in the pay-off zone for a few more seconds.
Bobby hooked up just before I lifted into a very heavy weight. He had a beautiful cubera of about 40 pounds to the boat before I had worked my fish hallway up twice only to have it dive back down again. Yet, because it didn’t break off in bottom after those dives I thought I might be fighting a big shark or amberjack. We were all shocked when I eventually saw the water turn red with the body of the largest cubera I’ve ever seen.
In the “old days” every big cubera was boated because they are a favorite food fish. However, Mike Augat, new owner of Pesca Panama, has established a conservation ethic for one of their most important species — and all are now released. The crew were all shocked at the size of the cubera, and were anxious to release it. I barely had time to get the tape I always carry in my pocket to measure it at 43 inches long with a huge 37-inch girth. What I didn’t do as they released the cubera was to measure it on the IGFA release length category tape that I received just before leaving for Panama. That tape is in centimeters.
After getting back, I used the formula (length times girth squared divided by 800) to get the approximate weight of the cubera which came out to be 73.58375 pounds. The all-tackle world record for Pacific cubera snapper in the 2017 IGFA World Record Game Fishes Book isn’t far larger at 78 pounds, 12 ounces from Costa Rica in 1988. That made me feel a lot better about the successful release of a great old warrior which I would never had expected could be caught on a spinning rod — and by an 81-year old!
Though probably everyone aboard Pesca Panama this week, including former Giants punter Jay Feely, caught at least one tuna, and many added roosterfish and cubera releases, it was a slow week for black marlin. Connor Correll, son of my nephew Todd Correll from Fort Lauderdale, released the only black at over 300 pounds after 12 had been caught the previous week. Joe Massa, of My Three Sons at Morgan Marina in N.J. hooked a similar black on light spinning tackle after it took a black skipjack that he was bringing in for bait. Though the black threw the big bait after some time, the tiny treble of a Deadly Dick held it until the inevitable break-off much later.
For variety and the opportunity to hook world class game fish it’s hard to beat Pesca Panama!