Blackspot Wrasse, Decodon melasma
The Blackspot Wrasse, Decodon melasma, whose common Spanish name is viejita manchada, is a member of the Wrasse or Labridae Family, known collectively as doncellas, señoritas, and viejas in Mexico. Globally, there are only four species in the genus Decodon, two of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Blackspot Wrasses have moderately elongated compressed bodies with a depth that is 26 to 28% of standard length; more mature fish have wider bodies. They have a pinkish-red coloration with a white belly, three wide curved bright yellow stripes on their head, and an oblong black blotch on their sides located around the tip of their pectoral fin. They have a large bluntly pointed head with a large mouth that ends under their eyes. Juveniles are reported to have six dusky bars on their sides (I catch several of these fish every year but have never seen a juvenile). Their fins are pinkish with the exception of their anal and pelvic fins which are transparent with a yellow stripe near the base. They have a pair of canine teeth at the front of their upper and lower jaws.
The Blackspot Wrasses are a deep water species found on the bottom over rubble and isolated rocky reefs adjacent to sandy areas at depths between 130 and 720 feet. They reach a maximum length of 32 cm (13 inches). They feed diurnally on small crustaceans, sea urchins, mollusks, and brittle stars. They are a relatively rare deep-water species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Blackspot Wrasse are found along the west coast of Baja, in the southern two-thirds of the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala, however, their populations are concentrated to only a very few areas.
The Blackspot Wrasse is an easy fish to identify due to its unique markings, and cannot be confused with any other species.
The Blackspot Wrasses are too small to be of interest to most. I can normally catch a dozen of these fish every year on a Sabiki rig tipped with squid out of water than is in excess of 330 feet. They are a “catch-and-release” to all but subsistence fishermen.
Blackspot Wrasse, Decodon melasma, Initial Phase (IP) female, transitioning to a Terminal Phase (TP) male. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, March 2016. Length: 12.7 cm (5.0 inches). Note the subtle spotting along the center of the body.