I wonder what a 20-pounder would look like on the measuring board. "It would be about here," says Bottroff, putting his hand near the one-meter mark on the measuring board.
When the last fish is back in the lake, Bottroff returns to the steering wheel. In the quarter hour it took to measure, clip, and release all of the fish, the cool spring wind whipping up over the dam has pushed us northeast up the lake. Bottroff now drives the boat in the same direction for about 20 minutes until we reach a small, shallow cove on the north shore of the lake. Bottroff cuts the outboard and starts a tiny electric outboard to the right of it. Dupras adjusts the boom chains so that the cables hang down into the water. Then he picks up a fishnet mounted on a 12-foot pole. Larry starts a generator that is hidden from view in a cabinet under his seat. "When Matt steps on that pedal on the floor up there," Larry explains, "that will start the current. A beeper will sound when the current is on. When you hear it, don't touch the water. It won't kill you, but you won't like it, either."
With that, Matt steps on the pedal, and while the annoying high-pitched beeper sounds, down in the water around the front of the boat, the white bellies of overturned, paralyzed bass start to appear. Matt lets his foot off the pedal, scoops one up, and reaching the net back, deposits the bass in the livewell. There they float, slowly coming back to consciousness. He repeats this process, sometimes scooping two or three at a time. As Larry guides the boat into the tight nooks and shallows of the cove, Matt hits the pedal again, and a new crop of bass freeze and flip, their white undersides shining in the sunlight.
How close do the fish have to be to the boat?
"It depends on a few factors," Bottroff answers. "When the water is colder, it increases the range a little bit, and the shock seems to last longer. Their size is another factor. The larger fish are more susceptible to the shock because they have larger mass to absorb the electricity. It also depends upon the speed at which they're traveling. The faster they're swimming, particularly if they're swimming away from the boat, the less effect it has on them. Generally, they'll revive within five minutes."
When no more white bellies can be seen in this cove, Larry steers the boat along the shore into the far northeastern corner of the lake, where Barona Creek, which has wound its way through the nearby reservation, spills into the lake. In this area the shocking not only nets largemouth bass, but red-eared sunfish — a round, flat fish so named because of a red spot just behind the eye. Along with the bass, channel and blue catfish, crappie, and seasonally stocked trout, the "red ears," as Bottroff calls them, are one of the game fish anglers hope to hook in San Vicente. They were introduced into the lake five years ago. The Florida largemouth bass were introduced in San Diego city lakes in 1960 and, despite heavy fishing, were last stocked in 1972. "They've done very well here," Brown boasts, "better than in their native Florida."
After working this far corner of the lake for 20 minutes or so, the livewell is packed full of fish, many of whom are fully revived. Now and again, one of them wiggles and sets off a chain reaction of flailing and jumping. Sometimes, a panicked bass clears the top of the tank and lands flopping on the deck. Again, Bottroff steers the boat out into the middle of the lake, where he begins to measure, clip, and release them.
San Diego is the only municipality in the country that owns a shock boat. Brown explains why the city made the unusual investment. "It allows us to capture a sample, mark it, and return it to the lakes. Then, over the [fishing] season, Larry looks for those fish when anglers come in and keeps track of the marked fish he sees compared to those not marked. And from that he can project very accurate population data."
Before we pull back up to the dock around 3:00 in the afternoon, Bottroff and Matt fill and empty the tank three more times. In all they've caught 200 fish today.