The Shocking Truth

As my family continues the quest for the perfect boat, we have reflected on some fun boating memories. I have been on the water in an assortment of vessels and, as strange as it may sound, a significant part of my boating experience has been on a “shock boat.” In fact, I met (caught?) my wife electro fishing.

Perhaps you have seen one of these flat-bottom heavy-gauge aluminum boats with the railings at the front. This isn’t for herding cattle during high water conditions; these specialized boats serve as a valuable method for the assessment and management of a fishery.  In addition, electro fishing is for licensed researchers only.

With great caution and protective features, a portable gas-powered generator provides the electrical current that is passed through the water via electrodes, generally several dangling cables and a metal basketball-sized sphere. Fisheries biologists then follow the shoreline and sample the fish population at timed intervals. Because this is a shallow fish sampling method, electro fishing is often done at night, when some fish may be more active and near shore.

What happens next depends on many variables such as the amount of dissolved minerals in the water, the type of bottom, vegetation, and temperature.  Different types and sizes of fish react differently to the current as well. On the Missouri River (sampled during the day for safety issues), most fish rolled over, stunned, just a few feet from the boat. However, tiny flathead catfish would feel the electrical current further away than most and looked like someone skipping a pebble 30 feet away. On the polar opposite were the grass carp, which would launch like a torpedo, sometimes right into the boat.

Stunned fish were netted and placed in large tubs of water.  By the time the fish were in the tub, most were already starting to recover. When we would meet a school of gizzard shad,  it reminded me of a game show where contestants were placed in a glass tube full of dollars fluttering all around and they were suppose to stuff as many bills in their shirt as they could in 30 seconds… too many fish to net. When the time was up, data such as lengths and weights were recorded and the fish were released.

If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend tagging along an electro fishing study. In previous years, the Oklahoma Wildlife Expo (September 24-25) has had electro fishing field trips, but this year’s event will have alternative clinics and seminars.  You may not find the catch of a lifetime (as I did), but you will obtain a better grasp of the fishery and some of the science behind its management.

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Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.