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The Mexican Hogfish: Skittish and good eatin'
Peter Kohlsaat
Wednesday, February 26, 1997

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico --

Senior Slam is going on right now. Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Dave Stockton, and Ray Floyd. Palmilla golf course,
"I have found there is a direct correlation between how skittish a creature is and how good eatin’ it is. And the Mexicana hogfish is just about the most skittish fish around."
right here in sleepy San Jose del Cabo. Nice course. Green fees an equally nice $175 per round. I’ve seen the Palmilla course from the microwave station, at the end of a very grueling 45 degree climb some 1500 feet (It perhaps was made a bit more grueling by residule tequila interfering with efficient oxygen uptake).

The view is spectacular. To the northwest, the mountains, over which lies the Pacific, in which the entire drainage area of the Costa Azul arroyo becomes obvious. The arroyo is a loose sand-filled limestone canyon, that stretches a couple miles into the hills. There is a waterfall somewhere in there.

The water comes right out of the rock wall, into a pool, flows for a hundred feet and goes underground. One of those romantic moonlight four-wheel drive romp-things. To the southeast is, of course, the ocean, stretching east to Punta Gorda and west to Cabo San Lucas. The golf course lies directly earthward. Eighteen islands of glorious green floating in the desert. As of this writing, Jack was in last place, 1 over… and he designed the course. (note: the Hotel Palmilla is the grandest hotel in the baja. Built, I’m just guessing, in the 40’s by Bing Crosby, Phil Harris, and some others as a fly-in resort for fishermen. On a point, in the rocks, a green oasis. A little Frank Lloyd Wright feeling to the place. Rooms start at about $350 per night.)

Early this morning the surf, a mile away, sounded like a far off war. Regular muffled thunders. It
signified the end to what was a week of fabulous snorkeling and free-diving. The visibility grew to 50 or 60 feet. And the swells ceased to exist during this time. All the sea creatures came out. They venture from the coral and under rocks because now they can see what is out there to eat them.

There is this cave that is a regular stop on my tour of the reef. It is at about 15 feet and goes four feet into the side of the canyon. There is always something hiding out there. Lobsters, fish, sea critters. It is right across the street from my favorite grouper hole. This year there is this fairly large Mexican hogfish that seemed to be spending a good amount of time in the area. They are extremely territorial and I often see the same fish day after day within the same 100 square foot area. They are great eating and they know it (have been described to me as resembling fresh-water perch; firm, white meat, approaching the consistency of lobster).

They say you can eat every thing in the ocean, but I have found there is a direct correlation between how skittish a creature is and how good eatin’ it is. And the Mexicana hogfish is just about the most skittish fish around. I have never been able to get close to one - until this one started hanging out in the cave. First time, it nearly ran me over, blasting out from the shadows. Next time, it saw me coming. From then on I began to sneak up on the cave. Slithering down the left side of rock, my spear in my right hand, the rubber band pulled taut, I would come around for a quick look.

Last time, the hogfish was there, flat against the cave’s wall. Its big fish eye, wide and scared. It fed four. Pan-fried in garlic and butter. But, now, with the surf up, the water will be murky for at least three days after it subsides. Until then I will have to be content biking in the mountains or, heaven forbid, actually doing a little shore-fishing myself.

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