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July 12, 2013

Fishing for wolf fish in local waters

Sal Sorace leaned into the rod as he felt the light strike some 300 feet below. With two quick jabs he set the hook. He had already brought two nice cod to the Yankee Clipper and was ready for another.

“Wow! This is a big one!” he exclaimed. “It’s really heavy.” The electric reel he was using was giving out a high-pitched whir as it wound the fish up off the bottom. When the big fish broke the surface next to the boat, Sal looked down and his eyes went wide.

“Look at this thing. What is it? That’s the ugliest fish I have ever seen,” he said. “Look at those teeth! We don’t catch anything like this in New Jersey.”

Folks leaned over the rail to watch as the mate, Ross Clayton, hauled the huge wolf fish over the rail and onto the deck. Sal was right. It is one of the ugliest fish in the ocean. Over the centuries it has evolved into a very efficient grinder of shelled ocean life. As a result, it’s mouth looks like a bear trap. However, because of what it eats, this fish is also one of the tastiest in the ocean. Unfortunately because of the decline in their numbers, they are now a protected species and can not be taken.

“Stand back,” cautioned Ross. “This baby could really hurt you if he accidentally glommed onto you.”

The Atlantic Wolf fish (Anarhichas lupus, for you Latin fans) has an unusual body structure geared for the specific way it gathers and consumes food. They eat almost exclusively crabs, sea urchins, sea clams, star fish and other hard-shelled bottom dwellers. Because of that, their mouths are specially designed to capture and crush hard things.

They have four to six conical teeth that protrude from their jaw. They look like weird fangs jutting out of their face. Just behind those teeth are rows of what can best be described as hard nubs on both the top and bottom of the inner mouth. The great projecting tusks, rounded nose, and small eyes give the wolf a singularly savage aspect.

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