How to Release a Black Sea Bass
by Bob Hetzler
Our local black sea bass (sometimes called a Jew fish) has been protected for the past twenty years or more. They are slow growers so it didn’t take much effort to reduce the population to very low levels. In its early fishery, catches were common in the three to five hundred pound size.
Back in the late forties and early fifties, in the beginning development days of free dive spear fishing (before scuba gear), there were a group of divers called the Bottom Scratchers who targeted black sea bass. They developed the powerful spear guns found today and also developed a power head to drive the dart through very large fish. In the late summer months, the black sea bass came into the kelp beds off La Jolla to spawn. There would be schools of twenty to thirty fish in the 250 to 500 pound range and one could swim very close to them. It was quite a sight. The divers started to spear these fish and bring them to Casa de Manana Beach in La Jolla.
Spearing a black sea bass was not difficult in those days as the fish were not afraid and one could swim right up to them. The problem was landing the fish after spearing it. A three to five hundred pound fish is very powerful and once speared could swim quite a distance. No line tied to the spear was strong enough to hold them. The secret was spearing the fish behind the head near the backbone, which would instantly kill the fish.
The black see bass fishery off La Jolla didn’t last long. The divers moved to the Coronado Islands where the fish were plentiful, but too, it become fished out. Lack sea bass became listed as an endangered species and all fishing for and keeping black sea bass is prohibited. Catches of black sea bass are becoming more prevalent today, although the size is generally less than 100 pounds.
Black sea bass have a unique bladder that gives them the right ballast in all depths. The problem in catching black sea bass is to release them unharmed. Even in relatively shallow water of ten to fifteen fathoms, the sea bass’ bladder will expand prohibiting it from swimming back to the bottom.
One method of releasing a black sea bass is to pop its air bladder with a needle. The challenge is hitting the bladder without perforating tis stomach, intestine or other organs that will eventually kill it.
The other method is to take a hook and crimp down the barb. Tie a line from a fishing pole to the circle part of the hook with another line tied to the eyehook where there are added weights. Kip hook the fish and drop the weights. The weights pull the fish to the bottom thereby compressing its air bladder. Pulling on the line tied to the hook releases the hook out of the lip and allows the weights to be recovered.