I'm of the opinion that the best part of hunting white seabass is eating white seabass. It's firm, mild, and incredibly versatile--it can be grilled right on the grate, breaded and fried, eaten as sashimi, sauteed, served blackened, made into curries and stews, eaten as cold leftovers in a salad, and even cold smoked. Commercially, white sea bass in season runs $20 - $30 a pound.
If safe to do so, I like to bleed and gut my fish in the water, the sooner the better. This makes for better quality meat both in terms of flavor and food safety, and it keeps the kitchen cleaner. In sharky waters I would never bleed and gut a fish in the water with me, but in southern California the sharks we encounter--particularly in the kelp beds--will range from indifferent to afraid of divers, although a fish left alone for too long (hanging off a boat or buoy, or tied up on the bottom) will eventually attract sea lions, birds, or sharks.
For shoredivers, one thing to remember though is that a fish is much less hydrodynamic after gutting. For fish with air bladders, it will also be significantly heavier after gutting. So, for the one in this write-up, I brained the fish immediately after recovery, then cut the gills to let it bleed, then easily swam it whole about it a quarter mile before gutting it just outside the surf prior to exiting the water.
Refrigeration is of course a primary concern as well. If a cooler and ice is not immediately available, a whole fish will keep cool and fresh in our water for quite some time. And a large fish will have plenty of thermal density to be fine for the length of time it takes you to get your gear together and hike it up of the cliff (most of our shoredive white sea bass spots are not far from the road but are accessible only by a steep goat trail down the face of a seaside cliff). When bringing the big ladies up the cliff, I like to remember the wisdom of the African bushmen who have a saying: "Meat is never heavy."
As I mentioned, there is almost no wrong way to prepare white sea bass, but my favorite recipe, and the recipe we plan to use for the wedding, is this one:
SUMMER SAUCE FOR WHITE FISH (WHITE SEA BASS, HALIBUT, CABEZON, CALICO, LINGCOD)
1 cup mayo
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs Lillet Blanc (or sherry)
Juice of 1 fresh lime
½ tbs sesame oil
2 minced garlic cloves
Handful fresh chopped fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, and tarragon
Couple dashes of Tobasco
Combine ingredients, stir well. It will have the consistency of salad dressing and look disgusting, but after it’s cooked with the fish it is terrific. Cover thick fillets of fish in a very generous portion of the sauce and wrap in foil. Bake 25 minutes at 475F, or lay on hot grill. Sealed in the foil with the sauce, the fillets will come out super moist, rich, and flavorful. It can also be used as a marinade and brushed on fish which is cooking right on the grill. Use the cooked sauce left in your pan as a gravy to serve with sides like rice or veggies.
In the refrigerator, the premade sauce will keep for weeks, so I usually keep plenty of it around for quick and easy fish meals.
Note: We retitled the recipe for our wedding, but it is locally renowned and known by a different name due to its 'effectiveness' as a recipe for dates.