Waterman's Journal

Apr 28, 2022


Catching Giant Cubera Snapper is no easy task… In fact, these are some of the most ferocious and aggressive fish that swim, and they will frustrate even the most experienced anglers trying to catch them. Watch Captain Ron take on the challenge aboard the world famous ROCKSTAR charterboat fishing out of Quepos, Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a well-known destination to catch these giant toothy-critters and many anglers journey here every year for the ultimate challenge… Hooking into a trophy Cubera Snapper.

Why do anglers travel worldwide to catch trophy Cubera?

Pound for pound these snappers are an amazing challenge that is accessible to anglers of all skill levels, and they can be caught on topwater lures, jigs, and live bait. They can be targeted from boats, from shore, or in kayaks. Their most attractive characteristics are a very muscular body, massive fantail, and the sheer explosiveness of their bites capable of shredding a live skipjack to pieces in seconds, it is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced one of their bites before. Explosive, just explosive!

A quick pic before a trophy cubera snapper is ready for release.

What is a Cubera Snapper?

Cubera or Dogtooth Snapper (Lutjanus cyanopterus), is the largest of all the snapper species. They are reef dwellers who orient close to structure and can grow to over 100-pounds. Cubera can be caught from the beach, by kayak, or on a boat, but their massive tail and sheer strength make landing one no easy task - they are a worthy challenge for even the most experienced of anglers.

This Cubera seeks out a meal on a deep open water pinnacle.

How do you identify a Cubera Snapper?

The Cubera Snapper has an oval-shaped, rather streamlined elongated body which is less deep than many other snapper species. They can be dark brown, gray, or orange in color, possibly with a red hue and pale bars on the sides. The mouth is relatively large with massive dagger-like teeth. Keep well clear of those K9s and the bacteria-covered dorsal fin spines even after they are landed.

Capt. Ron hoists a massive cubera snapper caught at night before it is safely released back into the wild.

How big do Cubera Snappers get?

Cubera Snappers have a life expectancy of about 55 years. Commonly weighing around 40 pounds and reaching lengths of 36 inches, the cubera snapper may reach up to 120 pounds and 60 inches in length. Cubera Snappers develop slowly with a growth rate of 1/2 to 2 lbs a year. Conservation is key to ensuring these fish will be around for future generations of anglers to catch and marvel at.

In Costa Rica, we generally release most Cubera, especially the large mature specimens.

Cubera snappers are known for their razor-sharp fangs and teeth.

What is the best place and season to target Cubera Snapper?

Cubera can be found inshore across the eastern Pacific from Mexico to Peru. Costa Rica has been known for the plethora of Cubera fishing spots with its healthy reef ecosystem and limitless supply of baitfish. Here snapper can be found swimming alone along reefs, near the shore under ledges, overhangs, and around boiler rocks. Younger fish remain in sheltered mangrove areas and seagrass beds to hide from predators. Fishing is good all year but the season peaks from June through September.

Pro-Tip: Cuberas are aggressive feeders at night. To increase your chances of catching really big cuberas, head out on the water just before dusk and fish the evening bite just after the sun goes down. Onboard ROCKSTAR, we have used this technique and had some truly epic nights!

Where are the best inshore fishing grounds to find Cubera?

You can find Cubera snapper inshore and on pinnacles in deep water. Look for rocky seafloor, shoals, wrecks, and reefs. Find the bait on a structure like this and you will find the fish. In general, we like to target these gamefish in rocky areas from 50 to 250 feet deep, especially around pinnacles and reefs that rise up towards the surface.

ROCKSTAR, a 32-foot Regulator Center Console is the ideal vessel to target cuberas.

Tips and Tricks to finding the right boat and lodging.

Finding the right charter boat that offers inshore fishing trips can be difficult and takes time, as not all charter boats and crews were created equal. Make sure you are going with an experienced crew that is up to date on all current regulations and safety measures. For our most recent trip, we went on board ROCKSTAR, a 32' regulator center console. As one of the pelagic fleet, she was well equipped with the newest in electronics, tackle, and Shimano reels which is very rare in Costa Rica.

CLUB PELAGIC is our ultra-private gated 2 acre compound with amazing ocean views.

For lodging, we stayed at Club Pelagic, an ultra-private gated 2 acre compound with amazing ocean views and a truly unique blend of nature and luxury just minutes from the marina. Another option is to stay in a hotel at one of the seaside towns but these “hotels” are definitely not going to be five-star, and the charter boats are nothing more than a basic open panga in most cases.

Cubera snappers will test your tackle, shred your bait, and leave you speechless...

How do you catch Cubera snapper?

The Cubera snapper is extremely strong and will always head for the rocks when hooked. Heavy-duty rods, reels, and tackle are recommended. I would spool up with an 80-lb braided line and start with a fluorocarbon leader of at least 80-lb. You can go up or down in leader size depending on how weary the fish are on that given day. Keep in mind lowering your leader size will quickly diminish the chances of you landing your prize catch.

Bait: Anglers can catch these snappers using live moonfish, blue runners, and
skipjack tuna. These baits can be bridled through the head and usually go straight down to the deep where the snappers are… how convenient. If you can’t get live ones butterflied or big chunks of fresh dead fish work well also.

Topwater: Poppers are one of the favorite techniques to catch these fish inshore. Cover structure while fan casting as the fish will generally be holding tight ready to ambush disoriented prey.

Jigs: Large jigs in natural and glow patterns produce the most bites.
Anglers may also use squid at the tip of iron jigs right off the bottom at night.

Pro-Tip: 3.2.1… Blast off! Some captains use the power of the boat's engines to pull the biggest of Cubera off of the sharp jagged coral reef bottom. So be ready.

Capt. Ron battling an XXL Giant Cubera Snapper. Notice the boat is in Blast-off mode to pull this giant fish off the rocks.

What kind of fishing tackle and gear is needed to catch Cubera?

The goal is not only to get bites but to get those fish to the boat to be safely released to fight another day. To do this effectively here’s what I recommend…

● 6’6” conventional boat rod with 2xH action and strong backbone for lifting power.
● Large conventional lever drag reels like the Shimano Talica 25-50s, Tiagra 50W, or Heavy Duty spinning reels like the Shimano Stella.
● 80-pound braid or spectra backing
● 50 to 100-pound monofilament mainline
● 80 to 130-pound fluorocarbon leader (drop down to 60 if the fish are being picky)
● 7/0 or 8/0 Owner circle hooks

Final thoughts on planning the ultimate “bucket list” trip to Catch Giant Cubera Snapper.

A giant Cubera Snapper is a great fish to add to your bucket list. The colorful orange-brown and tan stripes make this a unique fish and the envy of all your angler friends. This highly sought-after gamefish can rock your world with a possible 100+ Lbs of muscle and a powerful fantail making them extremely difficult to land. The larger Cubera are known for their ability to unleash near limitless power to return to the safety of the rock formations that they call home.

One thing is for sure the Cubera Snapper is a gamefish that must be appreciated, respected, and conserved for future angling generations to come.

Ronald “Captain Ron” Kawaja: Captain Ron is the president and founder of PELAGIC clothing company and a world-class angler who has traveled the globe for the past 20+ years in search of big fish, exotic fishing destinations, and pure ocean adventure.

His voyages have included fishing & competing in the world’s largest and richest sport fishing tournaments; pursuing the elusive “grander” (1,000+ pound marlin or tuna) on rod and reel; and seeking out the world’s ultimate fishing destinations in places like Australia, Africa, Ascension Island, Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Cabo, Cancun, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Hawaii, Isla Mujeres, Madeira, Nicaragua, Nova Scotia, Panama, Prince Edward Island, Puerto Rico, and Puerto Vallarta (to name a few).

Over the years, Captain Ron has won and placed in numerous fishing tournaments around the world, including the prestigious White Marlin Open in Ocean City, MD where he was named “Grand Champion & Top Overall Angler” - to win this title, Kawaja competed against more than 2,000 anglers and finished in first place. As recently as October 2021, Captain Ron led his team to a first-place victory against 189 of the world’s top sport fishing teams at the world-famous Bisbee’s Los Cabos Offshore Tournament in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

As an angler, he has extensive experience in a diverse range of fishing situations, from fighting giant fish over 1,000 pounds on stand-up tackle, to chasing light line billfish world records, and he credits 100% of his success to all the pro captains and crews he has fished with and learned from over the years.

Today… Captain Ron’s infectious enthusiasm, optimism, and excitement for fishing shine as brightly as ever, as he continues to seek out the very largest fish that swim in the ocean – each and every time he leaves the dock his motto is “TODAY IS THE DAY!” – but his true passion has become sharing his experience and knowledge with others, telling big fish stories, and helping the next generation of anglers to get fired up on big game fishing.