Saving the bloated rock cod that are prohibited to keep

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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It’s a common problem when you’re drifting in the ocean, letting your shrimp flies down into the depths. When your bait is down there and a fish bites, until you bring it to the surface, you have no idea what specie you may have hooked.

It might be a vermillion. It could be a China cod. It could be any of the variety of bottom fish you’ll happily put into your sack.

But then, there are times when you might bring up a Canary rock cod. Or, it could be a Yellow Eye. Both are protected species you aren’t allowed to keep.

The problem in bringing them up from 100 feet is you bring them up quickly, so most are affected by barotraumas problems. In other words, their swim bladder massively inflates. What appears to be the inflated swim bladder in their gaping mouths is actually their stomach, pushed out by the inflated bladder.

What happens when you release that prohibited species to the water? With that swim bladder so inflated, they’re unable to return to their depths. They float away, being worked over by nearby seagulls.

There is a way, however, to ensure that fish will have an excellent chance of survival.

Don’t puncture the swim bladder to deflate it. If you do, you’ve just ensured their death sentence.

Some party boats carry devices capable of correctly returning Canary and Yellow Eye rock cod to the bottom of the ocean. If you take your boat, take a descending device.

What works well is something like a milk carton. You might have to add weights to the side of it to allow it to adequately descend. Just add a rope to the bottom of it, one long enough so the inverted box can descend to the bottom.

What you’re emulating is a barometric pressure machine that divers experiencing the bends are put into. They’re returned to the depths and slowly brought to the surface by pressure.

By quickly placing the unhooked fish into the box and slowly lowering it to the bottom, you’ll equalize the pressure that was created by quickly bringing up the fish.

The swim bladder will return to normal, the pushed-out stomach will return to its position, and the fish will survive.

There’s nothing you can do about what species of bottom fish grab your offering. It’s fun. It’s a lottery to see what breaks the surface. And they’re all excellent eating.

When you do catch something like a Canary or Yellow Eye, just remember the fish doesn’t have to die when you unhook it.

Current fishing

Lake Almanor: The fishing turned around, but not for everybody. In the last week, we’ve pretty much found the fish and have limited or near limited every day on a mix of Chinook salmon, rainbow trout, German brown trout and even smallmouth bass to 3½ pounds. Big mouth here, and that’s my job — telling everybody at the lake and you, the readers, just how, when and where to get into a great bite.

The bite isn’t necessarily hot and steady, although we’ve had as many as two fish at once and bit on another rod or two at the same time. Early in the morning, we’ve experienced a pretty good bite, but then it often goes dead with a real sporadic bite for a couple of hours, when the bite picks up again.

We’ve found the majority of fish in the 35- to 45-foot range, and everything has been caught on a threaded night crawler, only using the tail portion of the worm, enough to cover the hook and have part of the tail swinging off the back end.

In fact, I quit using real night crawlers and started threading on the tail portion of a rubber worm that looks much like a night crawler. We would have all four rods rigged that way, and all four caught trout.

Most of the fish came off lead-core line and we’d have six colors out, fully in the water. The downriggers did get bit, just not as commonly, and they were set at 26-28 feet.

The top biting area has been the east shore from the point at the north end of Lake Cove and going north for probably a mile or so. Just keep going in big loops, and you’ll eventually limit. If you find the bite stopping, keep fishing. It will pick up again.

All of the fish we caught — and kept — were two-pounders plus. The largest brown trout weighed 4-14. The big smallmouth bass were caught trolling for trout.

And because of our tenacity, we’re seriously outfishing even the professional guides. You can, too.

Local waters: Salmon are still making their way up the river system from the ocean. It can be good one day, one hour, and then very slow. You just have to be there when the school moves through. It’s not unusual seeing anglers nodding off waiting for their rod to double over. However, the action is still rated pretty good from the lower American River down through Discovery Park and down the Sacramento River from the mouth of the American.

Fort Bragg: There isn’t going to be much traffic in this region now. Rock cod fishing is closed, the tuna are gone, and the salmon has been spotty with just a fish here and there. They’re hoping for the big Humboldt squid to move in, but nothing yet.

Folsom Lake: The bass bite has remained slow, but the big cool-down and even a sprinkle or two at the end of last week will help the situation. Another warming is expected but not for a long period, from what I’m hearing. Get on the lake at the crack of dawn; you actually can convince a bass to hammer a top-water offering. Otherwise, once the sun comes up, work the rocky areas with dartheads or dropshotting. Crawdad patterns and colors have been working the best.

Contact George deVilbiss at