Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 9:33 am | Fog/Mist 65º

Captain's Log

Captain’s Log: ‘Fish Elevator’ Gets Rockfish Back Where They Belong

An improvised safe-release device tackles a surface problem and reduces the opportunity for "floaters"

It may not look like much, but Capt. David Bacon's Deep Release Device, dubbed the
It may not look like much, but Capt. David Bacon’s Deep Release Device, dubbed the “fish elevator” by passengers on his WaveWalker charter boat, is proving surprisingly effective at getting released rockfish back to where they belong. (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

The word “Barotrauma” scares the heck out of me and seems to be the perfect word to describe the bulging eyes, protruding stomach and overstuffed appearance of rockfish anglers reel up from deep water. Many of these fish are undersized and must, by law, be released.

Article Image
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

A surprising percentage of released fish will equalize air bladder pressure after several minutes on the surface, swim back to the bottom and recuperate. Others float (hence called “floaters”) on the surface, dead, to become “bird bait” (much to the delight of gulls and pelicans). Floaters are wasteful and work against us in the process of fisheries management. Besides, most anglers are conservationists who only want to kill enough for the family dinner.

What can be done to reduce the number of floaters? The old school method was to use hypodermic needles or other needle-like devices to puncture swim bladders so fish could swim down on their own. Unfortunately, a few folks stuck the needle through the sac protruding from the fishes’ mouths. Big mistake. That is not the air bladder. It is the stomach. Many anglers never quite knew how to find the air bladder and therefore punctured other vital organs. Even when done properly, needles were not sterilized and the risk of infection was great. We needed a more fish-friendly method.

There has been considerable work done to come up with devices. Coastside Fishing Club came up with a device called a “Frankenator,’’ so named for founder Bob Franko. Entrepreneurial fisherfolk are working on various live fish release products. Most products are basically an inverted and weighted plastic crate with line attached. The best device has been an upside down weighted milk crate with 100 feet of light rope. That distance under the surface of the sea is relatively equal to the pressure of three atmospheres, which is sufficient to re-pressurize most fish’s air bladders so they can swim strongly back to the structure spots they call home.

With the help of Bill Hopper of West Marine in Santa Barbara, I have a device (see the nearby photo) aboard my charter boat WaveWalker, that is proving very effective. In fact, I have yet to see a fish float back to the surface after lowering it to 100 feet. The name I use is Deep Release Device, or DRD. My charter passengers have assigned it many comedic nicknames including my favorite, “fish elevator.’’ I am pleased to see more and more anglers working hard to let the little guys go healthy.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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