What electroshocking really looks like

Fisheries biologists go out on California's Clear Lake in an electroshocking boat to survey the fish. The fishes' weight, measurement and species are documented for research.

This odd-looking boat took me for a very shocking ride, literally, in May on California’s Clear Lake. It’s an electroshocking boat that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife uses to study the numbers, sizes and species of fish in a body of water.
Photo: Tyler Reed - This odd-looking boat took me for a very shocking ride, literally, in May on California’s Clear Lake. It’s an electroshocking boat that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife uses to study the numbers, sizes and species of fish in a body of water.
Biologist Jay Rowan was one of the crew of three boats that were part of the fish population study. He checked to be sure all his electronics were working on the research vessel before we took off.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Biologist Jay Rowan was one of the crew of three boats that were part of the fish population study. He checked to be sure all his electronics were working on the research vessel before we took off.
Kevin Thomas, left, and Ken Kundargi, right, said the only rule in the boat is not to reach over and touch the water. They said I would die. Or possibly feel really bad for a while.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Kevin Thomas, left, and Ken Kundargi, right, said the only rule in the boat is not to reach over and touch the water. They said I would die. Or possibly feel really bad for a while.
It was very light out for 7 p.m. The crews are taking this ride out for the media only; all their work is done in the dark.
Photo: Tyler Reed - It was very light out for 7 p.m. The crews are taking this ride out for the media only; all their work is done in the dark.
“The fish come up easier in the dark,” said Thomas, as he got the shocking equipment ready. The fish are more aware of the boat in the daytime. At night, they clump up near the banks more, too, which makes them easier to find in a small area.
Photo: Tyler Reed - “The fish come up easier in the dark,” said Thomas, as he got the shocking equipment ready. The fish are more aware of the boat in the daytime. At night, they clump up near the banks more, too, which makes them easier to find in a small area.
Thomas lowered the cables into the water.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Thomas lowered the cables into the water.
And then it was go time. Kundargi and Thomas took their places on the platform and got ready so they could stay dry and safe.
Photo: Tyler Reed - And then it was go time. Kundargi and Thomas took their places on the platform and got ready so they could stay dry and safe.
Kundargi would pull the fish up with the net whenever one floated to the surface.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Kundargi would pull the fish up with the net whenever one floated to the surface.
All systems are a go …
Photo: Tyler Reed - All systems are a go …
… and Thomas draws in the first one.
Photo: Tyler Reed - … and Thomas draws in the first one.
I didn’t even know the electricity had come on yet. I assumed you would hear buzzing or crackling or see the surface sizzling, but everything just looked normal — except that fish were popping up to the surface belly first.
Photo: Tyler Reed - I didn’t even know the electricity had come on yet. I assumed you would hear buzzing or crackling or see the surface sizzling, but everything just looked normal — except that fish were popping up to the surface belly first.
The carp are huge …
Photo: Tyler Reed - The carp are huge …
… and even though several other carp came up, the biologists didn’t scoop them in. They weren’t performing a true count after all; it was just a demo. And the carp take up so much room in the livewell that pulling in more would make it harder to get them all out afterward.
Photo: Tyler Reed - … and even though several other carp came up, the biologists didn’t scoop them in. They weren’t performing a true count after all; it was just a demo. And the carp take up so much room in the livewell that pulling in more would make it harder to get them all out afterward.
This little guy was next …
Photo: Tyler Reed - This little guy was next …
Clear Lake only has nine native species, Thomas explained. It has 27 non-native species, including bass.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Clear Lake only has nine native species, Thomas explained. It has 27 non-native species, including bass.
As long as this is in the water, you don’t want to be in the water.
Photo: Tyler Reed - As long as this is in the water, you don’t want to be in the water.
Finally, a bass. “We’ll get much bigger ones tonight,” said Thomas, referring to the 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift the three men are about to work with two other boats. “We got several 8-pounders last night.”
Photo: Tyler Reed - Finally, a bass. “We’ll get much bigger ones tonight,” said Thomas, referring to the 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift the three men are about to work with two other boats. “We got several 8-pounders last night.”
“And this would be a great spot at night,” Thomas added, “right up against the edge.” Their spots for that night, however, had already been scientifically mapped out, and this was not one of them.
Photo: Tyler Reed - “And this would be a great spot at night,” Thomas added, “right up against the edge.” Their spots for that night, however, had already been scientifically mapped out, and this was not one of them.
Rowan would steer them to the correct spot later that evening. They would hit six areas for precisely 500 seconds each. The biologists survey most water bodies on an annual basis to check for trends in size and population changes of multiple fish species.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Rowan would steer them to the correct spot later that evening. They would hit six areas for precisely 500 seconds each. The biologists survey most water bodies on an annual basis to check for trends in size and population changes of multiple fish species.
This bass is stunned but OK. He’ll stay in this state for just a few minutes, then he’ll come to and be completely unharmed.
Photo: Tyler Reed - This bass is stunned but OK. He’ll stay in this state for just a few minutes, then he’ll come to and be completely unharmed.
That’s a solid-looking bass for sure. We’ll measure them all once the 500 seconds is up. (That’s 8.33 minutes if you’re trying to do it in your head.)
Photo: Tyler Reed - That’s a solid-looking bass for sure. We’ll measure them all once the 500 seconds is up. (That’s 8.33 minutes if you’re trying to do it in your head.)
Time’s up. Now the scientists take each fish out to document it.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Time’s up. Now the scientists take each fish out to document it.
Thomas will handle the fish, Kundargi will handle the weights and Rowan will handle the documentation.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Thomas will handle the fish, Kundargi will handle the weights and Rowan will handle the documentation.
“I love this part of my job,” said Thomas. “I get to be out of the office, and I never fail to catch fish!”
Photo: Tyler Reed - “I love this part of my job,” said Thomas. “I get to be out of the office, and I never fail to catch fish!”
Each fish is measured …
Photo: Tyler Reed - Each fish is measured …
… and weighed. Rowan takes down any notes about the fish.
Photo: Tyler Reed - … and weighed. Rowan takes down any notes about the fish.
All the fish are still pretty stunned at this point, so they lay flat on the measuring board and in the weight basket.
Photo: Tyler Reed - All the fish are still pretty stunned at this point, so they lay flat on the measuring board and in the weight basket.
As each fish goes back, it gets its bearing in the water and begins to flop around …
Photo: Tyler Reed - As each fish goes back, it gets its bearing in the water and begins to flop around …
… and swims away on its own.
Photo: Tyler Reed - … and swims away on its own.
The Clear Lake hitch is one of the few native fish in California’s largest freshwater body.
Photo: Tyler Reed - The Clear Lake hitch is one of the few native fish in California’s largest freshwater body.
A small bass goes back to the water.
Photo: Tyler Reed - A small bass goes back to the water.
Now it’s time for the last one, the big carp, to go back.
Photo: Tyler Reed - Now it’s time for the last one, the big carp, to go back.
The near-20-pounder hits the water with a clunk then swims off.
Photo: Tyler Reed - The near-20-pounder hits the water with a clunk then swims off.
Now we’re done, and it’s a short ride back to the dock …
Photo: Tyler Reed - Now we’re done, and it’s a short ride back to the dock …
… but these guys’ work isn’t done. They’ll be right back on the water as the sky darkens, out until the wee hours of the morning documenting fish. Thank the next fish biologist you see for keeping an eye on the habitat and fish populations so you have plenty of bass to catch — and so your grandchildren do, too.
Photo: Tyler Reed - … but these guys’ work isn’t done. They’ll be right back on the water as the sky darkens, out until the wee hours of the morning documenting fish. Thank the next fish biologist you see for keeping an eye on the habitat and fish populations so you have plenty of bass to catch — and so your grandchildren do, too.