Think of this story as the movie “On the Waterfront” meets the popular cooking show, “Good Eats.” Fisherman Sean O’Leary coulda been a contenda’ if his uncle was not such a good cook.
In my estimation and that of many Islanders, the black sea bass is one of the best eating fish caught in our nearshore waters. The flesh is snow white and very moist and flaky.
Sea bass are caught off rocky areas, most often while bottom fishing and drifting. But they are aggressive. I know one fisherman who regularly catches sea bass while trolling deep swimming plugs off Gay Head.
I estimate most of the sea bass caught are in the two to three pound range. The winning bass caught in the VFW fluke derby was 5.2 pounds.
The Massachusetts state record is a hefty 8-pound, 15-ounce fish caught by Aaron Costa in Buzzards Bay in May 2007. The International Game Fish Association record, caught in Virginia in 2000, is only a bit heavier, at 10.4.
Manny Gulino, a seasonal West Tisbury homeowner from Middletown, was fishing earlier this month with his nephew Sean, a North Reading police officer and member of the department’s SWAT team.
“We were fishing from my boat off of Menemsha (for the record, I do not believe the location he provided) and we caught a couple,” Manny told me in a telephone call last week. “Then he landed that one and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s a big sea bass.'”
Manny told me that up to that point most of the fish were in the 3-pound range. Although the fish seemed big, he thought sea bass ran a lot bigger. He was wrong.
Manny likes to grill his fish. Because he did not want to make a mess at home he gutted the fish on the boat.
Nephew Sean said he thought the fish weighed close to 20 pounds. Manny disagreed so he took out his hand scale at home and weighed the now gutted fish. The bass hit the 12-pound mark. “And then we ate ‘im,” Manny told me.
A few days later, after Sean had returned home, he gave his uncle a call. “A day later he called me and said he’d been talkin’ to his buddies and they said it was a record fish.
“I said, ‘No, sea bass they get bigger than that.’ I honestly did not have a clue. So, I said, let me look it up on the computer. And when I looked it up on the computer my mouth dropped.”
Manny was still not convinced. So he brought the photo to Julian at Larry’s tackle shop in Edgartown.
“And he goes, yeah, that’s definitely a sea bass.”
Julian also confirmed the state and world record. He asked Manny, “What did it weigh?”
“Gutted, it weighed 12,” Manny answered.
“Where’s the fish,” Julian asked.
“We ate it,” Manny told him.
I asked Manny how he likes to prepare his sea bass. “We gut them, of course,” he said without a hint of irony, “and scale them. And then I put them on the grill with some seasoning, some butter, flip them a couple of times… Oh my God, it’s delicious.”
Manny said he and a bunch of guys fish the annual Bass and Bluefish derby every fall out of his 23-foot Bluefin. I recommend his buddies bring along a current copy of the IGFA record book.
James Prosek on eels
Fisherman, author, conservationist, and artist James Prosek is quite an accomplished guy. While an undergraduate at Yale he helped create the Yale Angler’s Journal. At the age of 19, he published “Trout: an Illustrated History” (Alfred A. Knopf), which featured 70 of his watercolor paintings of the trout of North America.
He is a prolific artist and writer. My guess is that he even finds time to catch a few fish. I could go on and on, but if you have any interest in trout, fine fishing literature or art, than you have already heard of James Prosek, or should have.
His most recent book is “Eels, an exploration, From New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World’s Most Amazing and Mysterious Fish” (Harper).
James Prosek will speak about his latest project and his latest book at the Vineyard Haven Library at 7 pm, Tuesday, August 7.
Striped bass advisory
The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) issued an advisory after receiving reports of skin lesions on striped bass.
“Marine Fisheries has recently received reports of skin lesions on striped bass. The general condition reported has been red spotting visible along the sides of the fish. Lesions such as these can be indicative of the presence of the disease Mycobacteriosis, which is common in southern waters, especially Chesapeake Bay, but has not been documented in Massachusetts waters,” DMF said. “The information available at this time indicates a slightly elevated occurrence of skin lesions on striped bass, likely of viral or bacterial origin, but not clearly associated with the disease organism Mycobacterium.”
The number of fish showing up with lesions is small and most have been found in southern Massachusetts, primarily Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal.
“Internal and external examination of afflicted fish has not indicated that these lesions are associated with Mycobacteriosis,” DMF said.
According to a May 2006 advisory, Mycobacteriosis was first identified on striped bass in Chesapeake Bay in 1997. Fish that contract this disease develop a bacterial infection that results in inflammation, tissue destruction and formation of scar tissue in one or more organs.
“While Mycobacteriosis can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected fish or water, this disease can be treated with antibiotics; the bacteria responsible for this disease are not flesh-eating.
“This disease progresses slowly in fish and has been characterized as a ‘wasting disease’ due to loss of body mass and emaciation. Striped bass may contract the disease because of weakened health caused by poor water quality and forage-related issues in Chesapeake Bay.”
DMF said the skin lesions fishermen are seeing may be the result of high spring and summer water temperatures. “Fish with mild skin lesions are safe to handle and consume,” the agency said, but advised fishermen to wear heavy rubber gloves when handling fish.
“Discard fish with large open lesions or darkened patches in the fillets. Persons who exhibit signs of infection on their hands after handling fish should contact their physician immediately,” DMF said.
“We encourage fishermen who observe lesions to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and report the geographic location.”