Pacific Creolefish, Cephalopholis colonus
The Pacific Creolefish, Cephalopholis colonus, whose common Spanish name is sandia (watermelon!) and whose local name is ticaretta and/or cardinal, is a species in the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. Note: This species is non-grouper like and we anticipate that it will be reclassified into a different family shortly. Globally, there are twenty-six species in the genus Cephalopholis, five of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Pacific Creolefish have a uniform red color that is darker dorsally and a row of four or five light blue spots along their back below their dorsal fin (which fade quickly after collection). A percentage of the population is darker with olive brown coloration. They have nine dorsal spines and a large deeply forked moon-shaped caudal fin.
The Pacific Creolefish are found in small aggregations within reefs at depths up to 325 feet. They reach a maximum length of 43 cm (17 inches) and weigh less than 1 kg (2.2 pounds). A 1 pound 12 ounce fish was caught in Loreto in April 2017, which is a pending IGFA record. Although they are widespread and fairly abundant, limited information is available about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Pacific Creolefish are found in all waters of the Pacific, however with diminished populations in the northern part of the range.
The Pacific Creolefish is a very easy fish to identify and cannot be confused with any other species from the Pacific. They are however very similar to the Atlantic Creolefish, Cephalopolis furcifer.
The Pacific Creolefish are not considered an important fish of the Sea of Cortez and are not a targeted species. They are difficult to catch via hook and line as they feed on planktonic organisms due to their shortened snout which facilitates close-range binocular vision. I have caught these with some regularity during colder water months in shallow water using small hooked Sabiki rigs tipped with cut squid. Chris Wheaton indicates that they can be caught with some regularity north of Loreto near Punta Pulpito on 4 to 5-inch iron jigs like Salas and Megabait style small fish jigs. In April 2016, Chris caught a 37 cm fish of out Loreto waters that weighed 1 pound 6 ounces that he has submitted for a potential IFGA world record. They are an exceptional food fish and sold on a limited basis in local fish markets.
Pacific Creolefish, Cephalopholis colonus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, January 2014. Length: 33 cm (13 inches). Note the darker coloration which is atypical.