Current Waters: Holy Mola!
Capt. Carl Bois •
The Fourth of July weekend was a whirlwind and now we’re really in the thick of it. We’re only at the dock for brief moments right now getting in on the fishing action while we can.
These long days of summer mean warmer waters. This is when the fishing starts to get tougher. It’s no longer every line in anywhere. You’ll find that now is where fishing knowledge and skill really start to come into play. For those fishing these waters every summer, there is a home field advantage. If you’re new to fishing Nantucket this time of year, check in with any of the tackle shops. Hire a charter, if you have the time. Or just make some fishy friends down at the watering hole.
On the water this week, the stripers are holding strong, but we’re starting to have to work for them a bit more. As the water warms, the big ones seek cooler, deeper water. Bluefish are good as well, especially around Great Point.
We’ve been playing cat and mouse with the black seabass lately as they have been on the move. Surprisingly for this time of year, the fluke fishing hasn’t been as good as is typical.
The fishing highlight lately has really been the tune bite. Tuna fishing is outstanding right now. They’re hungry and feeding well. Call your favorite charter and get out there if you can.
With the warmer waters, and more people on the beaches, we also have some sharks moving in closer to shore. More bait, more fish, more sharks. Sharks are always in the water, they just may be more visible as they chase the food. July brings more visitors to the island’s beaches and, so, more opportunities for sightings.
July 3rd was the first confirmed shark sighting of the season at ‘Sconset Beach. It was far enough out that the species couldn’t be confirmed, but the fin sighting was enough to close the beach for a few hours.
Also over the holiday weekend, a few “wanna-be” sharks were spotted at various beaches. Tall fins just outside the surf are enough to incite panic in any parent or and order to get out of the water ASAP. No other beaches were closed, though, as these look-a-likes were reported to actually be sunfish.
The ocean sunfish or Mola mola is one of the heaviest known bony fish in the world, averaging around 2,500 lbs. and topping out at around 5,000 lbs. The average Mola mola is roughly 8.2 feet by 5.9 feet, but they can grow as large as 14 feet by 10 feet. The Mola mola, or common mola, looks like a flat head floating with fins – not the least bit sharky. The mola’s English common name — ocean sunfish — is a nod to its habit of basking on the ocean’s surface so seabirds will rip parasites out of its skin.
The surfacing fin can fool a novice, but there are some distinct clues for telling the difference among fins. The Mola mola dorsal fin is usually very tall and curves in a convex manner. It can appear to flap back and forth due to the Mola’s swimming style which involves it using its dorsal fin like a paddle. The slow-moving, bobbing motion of the Mola mola also gives it away as “not a great white”. Great white shark fins tend to be “on the move” since they are much stronger, faster swimmers. Great whites have large, triangular dorsal fins that come to a point at the peak. The rear edge often has tears and notches.
In addition to that signature fin on the surface, Mola mola are known for their weird looking teeth. Their upper and lower teeth are fused into a parrot-like beak that’s stuck permanently open. It’s perfect for chomping jellyfish! To break its food into more manageable pieces, the mola doesn’t chew. It sucks the jellies in and out of its mouth until they're reduced to gelatinous chunks. A Mola mola will also occasionally eat squid, fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates.
Now that we’ve had some reports of Mola mola, we’ll soon see jelly fish – their preferred food. Warm waters of mid- to late summer often see schools of jellyfish around Nantucket beaches. We’ll report more about that another week.
So keep an eye out for sharks or Mola molas. Either way, a fin can be a cool sighting. And, if you’re unsure, it's always best to get out of the water just in case.