What’s Fresh in February?

Black Sea Bass

Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie

Being a Southern boy, I have found that winter is and always has been my nemesis. As much as I try to conquer this lifelong issue, nothing short of traveling way south to warmer climes can put a smile on my face. I just have to have sunshine along with warmth to put me in my usual happy-go-lucky style. Another downside is many of my usual fish species have bolted south, or seasons are closed until around May, so what is there to do? After pondering this for a bit, one fish came to mind, the black sea bass. Yeah, I know, black sea bass, are you kidding? Absolutely not, because winter time is when the biggest black sea bass congregate. You don’t have to go far to catch them, they will eat just about anything you drop in front of them, and as table fare, they are hard to beat.

Black sea bass is firm and lean, with a mild, delicate flavor.

Let’s hear it for the boys!

During the rest of the year you might catch one or two big sea bass per trip, but right about now, the “bump heads” or large males are out there en masse. If you wonder why there isn’t a large commercial fishery for black sea bass, it is because the meat yield is low due to their large stomach pocket, which is cut away when cleaning them and tossed aside. Only now do I see the large males with a distinctive bump on their head, and these boys triple the meat yield you’ll usually get. Talk about firm, pearly white delicate meat. These big ones make a trip offshore well worth the effort. They can be in as close as the Beaufort 45 reef, the Betsy Ross and a bit further out, on the Hump and Snapper Banks, schools can literally cover your sonar screen.

Tips on catching black sea bass

The spiny and soft ray portions of the dorsal fin are continuous, so there is only one long fin instead of two short separate ones.

Catching black sea bass is about as easy as it gets. Put a piece of bait on a hook, drop it to the bottom and you’re going to hook up within seconds. Cut pieces of squid, fish or GULP! artificials all work. I usually use a two-hook rig with the hooks about 10’ inches apart on 30-40lb. test mono, 4/0 Mutu Light Wire hooks and at the bottom of the rig, 8-10-ounce bank sinkers. Current regulations say they must be 13” tail length, and anglers are allowed 7 per person. Normally, I wouldn’t run offshore just for black sea bass, but February is the exception. The fish are way bigger than you’ll catch any other time of the year. Another plus with these large males is they are stunning with beautiful blues, turquoise, reds and other hues that shimmer as the light hits them.

Cooking black sea bass

I swear that just about any recipe works with these fish. Sashimi, fried, broiled, or baked, the meat is to die for. As you may know by now, my favorite fish seasoning is Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic, which I use on just about every way I prepare fish. One recipe that couldn’t be simpler is broiled sea bass. I set the broiler on low, baste the fillets with melted butter and Redfish Magic and just before the fish is done, baste them on top with a mixture of Hellmann’s mayo, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. It really is delicious. As for frying, try remoulade sauce instead of tartar sauce. That little bit of kick makes all the difference.

LOCAL Life Test Kitchen

Grilled black sea bass


2 pounds black sea bass

3 tablespoons butter

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika

Lemon pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

Directions [1] Preheat grill for high heat. Stir together the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, lemon pepper and sea salt in a bowl. Sprinkle the mixture on the fish. [2] Bring a saucepan to medium heat. Add butter, garlic and parsley. Remove from heat once the butter has melted and set aside. [3] Oil the grill grate. Grill fish for 7 minutes, then turn and drizzle with butter. Continue cooking for 7 minutes, or until easily flaked with a fork. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Wine pairing

Banfi La Pettegola Vermentino

Betsy Trish at Red Fish recommends paring sea bass with this white from Toscana, Italy. Pale yellow in color, the wine is delightfully fresh with an intense fruit forward bouquet of exotic fruit and spices typical of the Mediterranean coast. On the palate, it is fresh and crisp with well-balanced acidity and a clean finish. Pick up a bottle for $19.99 at the Red Fish wine shop.

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