Sunday, May 31, 2009: waves: down to 2 feet. Water clarity: improved to good. Winds light a.m. could pick up.
It was heavily congested with anglers off Ortley, per some friends who boated up there – to get frustrated by some unfriendly encounters with crowds (with attitudes.) The bite wasn’t torrid, per their call to me, but all three onboard had their bass bag, culling out some larger fish for 28-inchers. Interestingly, thy had their best luck (fastest hits) bouncing larger jigs with white plastic tails along the bottom – in the vicinity of baitballs.
Sidebar: Another amazing show about baitballs (this time off Africa) has been showing on the Discovery Channel – or was it Nat-Geo? The photography is beyond belief, as is the hopelessness of the “sardines” being hungrily assaulted from every whichaway by animals of every whichasort.
The thing that still fascinates me is that escalating cyclonic motion of a baitball when under fire – from, above, below and all sides. I bring that up because the bunker pods we work just off the beach assume that very same rapid rotation when under fire. I’ve seen it from below when diving off the Outer Banks.
When bunker pods are simply edgy, they congregate near the surface and more or less hold their positions, to minimize energy output in lieu of what they instinctively know is about to befall them when bass, blues, sharks and even whales make their often coordinated move.
It’s at the height of the attack that the spin-to escape routine takes form. This is to offer a tougher target for attackers and also to put some (slight) trepidation in the hearts of marauders, as the condensed baitball gets darker and somewhat threatening. This gyratory technique is most effective when only a few attackers are making their move. The footage in this program proves the balling up does squat, intimidation-wise, when a pack mentality on part of the attackers sets in. Even then, the circling makes it a tad tougher for munchers to make an exact move on the baitball.
Obviously, eons of survival have instilled forage fish with a strategy that saves the greatest number of species members in the very long run. Luck still seems to deal the final hand in this game or prey vs. predator.
By the by, during blitzes (when bunker pods are busted apart) and driven toward the beach, most often with blues on their tails, you can easily see the survival spin in action.
Speaking of blues, boat anglers are finding larger slammer models near bait but the bay is still fully lacking in cocktails. Time is rapidly running out a spring surge of these tasty takes.
Fluking is all the same old/same old: Decent hooking and poor to piss-poor keeping. Somewhat strangely, the overall population of fluke seems down from recent springtimes. That does not mean they’re not out there, they’re just not on the radar – yet. A few years back we had a junky fluking spring, only a fair summer season but fall broke loose as if the only fish in the sea was summer flounder.
The most common email questions I get asked are seeking info on what bait, plugs, umbrellas, spreaders, rod, reels, general equipment, mental attitude, super-strategy being used during successful session. If you’re willing to share – and this does not have to include location and such – please drop me a line with such info – or add it to reports.
Jay, I got a cooler full of seabass last week and filleted them all. Someone said they read in your column that it’s better to cook these fish whole. If so, how’s it done?
It is absolutely better to cook these fish in the round (whole). My thinking is firstly moved by wanting to fully respect the resource. You’ve kept the fish, why not totally maximize the meat you get from it?
I have gone to the inane trouble of actually proving, ounce-wise, how much more edible material is gained by cooking an entire seabass. I used four fish of nearly the exact same size and filleted two and simply gutted the other two. After identical oven cooking, I had roughly 20 percent more meat when I forked the flesh of the whole fish, as opposed to the filets. What more, the filets were not as moist – or even as tasty, as the whole-cooked fish.
The cooking in the skin holds in moisture and eliminates the post filleting wash-off, which also washes away essential oils, especially in thinner filets like seabass.
As indicated above, all you do to whole cook a seabass is to gut it good -- no need to de-scale or behead -- and bake it on a oiled tray in a hot oven. I often use tin foil but don’t wrap the entire fish.
The trick to cooking any fish is going hot and fast. After maybe 15 minutes of baking a seabass (no need to turn), lift up the skin from the belly flap to check for doneness. Whiteness is doneness. Visually, the skin will look fairly rigid and dry as it nears cooking completion. To eat, peel back skin (hot as all get-out so watch for stream burn if fish is just out of the oven) and fork off the white meat. Try dipping in butter or black bean sauce. Gets no better -- as is the case of most fish when cooked in the round.