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SPORTS WEEKEND | OUTDOORS / PETE THOMAS

Angler Won Ugly With Big Cat

March 17, 2000|PETE THOMAS

Roger Rohrbouck was turned off by the sight of the slithering black glob at the end of his line. He thought he had set his hook into a trophy-sized largemouth bass, not an overgrown catfish.

His wife said it looked like a baby seal--an ugly one at that.

Well, chances are, the big blue catfish isn't happy with the situation, either.

Having lived so high on the hog for 15 years in east San Diego County's sprawling San Vicente Reservoir, she's now residing in a 10,000-gallon tank at Del Mar Fairgrounds, the star of a freak show of sorts during the Fred Hall Fishing Tackle and Boat Show, which runs through Sunday.

A fat cat in the truest sense, the blue catfish checks in at 101 pounds, measures 53 inches long and 39 inches around. She's a state record, but also is being called the largest freshwater fish ever caught in California by those at the lake, who don't count sturgeon because they also inhabit saltwater.

In any case, she's huge, and she probably will land Rohrbouck, 29, a Navy electronics technician, in the international book of world records in the 10-pound-line category.

He will not, however, get the more prestigious all-tackle category, which is held by an angler who landed a 111-pound blue catfish in Alabama's Tennessee River in 1996.

But that's OK with Rohrbouck, who said the spotlight he's enjoying now is bright enough.

"The phone's been ringing all hours of night," he said. "I've talked to, like, eight different magazines and one radio guy who wants me on his show."

*

Larry Bottroff, a biologist for the San Diego City Lakes, said Rohrbouck's fish was one planted, at two pounds, in 1985.

"She's really a super fish, considering that some in this group have come in [as small as] 19 pounds, so there's great variation," he said.

Another bunch of blues was dumped into the lake in 1972, and the largest caught from that group was a 46-pounder, though electro-shocking studies have raised some in the 70-pound class.

Bottroff clipped fins of fish from each group so he could tell them apart. Since there has been no evidence of reproduction among the lake's blue catfish, most anglers who target them practice catch-and-release.

Rohrbouck might have been disappointed that his catfish was not the "wall-hanger" bass he was trying for, but he has grown rather fond of the big slug and vows to return it to San Vicente after the show.

"I felt sorry for it at the boat dock," he said. "I had it tied to a rope and everybody kept pulling up the rope and looking at her. She didn't look very good then, but she looked much better once we got her in the transport tank."

SOUTH OF THE BORDER

A groundswell of opposition to the apparent increase of commercial long-line gear in Mexican waters is mounting.

Swordfish crews have been lobbying for more than a year for permission to use the gear inside a 50-mile zone intended to protect billfish and other game fish. So far, they have been unsuccessful, but it's widely known and even acknowledged among fisheries officials that the long-liners do not pay serious attention to the 50-mile zone.

Long-line gear--vessels deploy miles of lines with hundreds or thousands of baited hooks--is indiscriminate as well as destructive. The collapse of the East Coast swordfish fishery is believed to have been caused by both drift gill nets and long-line gear. There's no way to use long-line gear strictly for sharks--and shark populations are embattled enough as it is, many believe.

Mexico used to allow foreign long-line vessels into its ports, but expelled them in the 1980s in a move hailed as an important step toward conserving billfish and other game fish, which attract tourists who contribute millions to the Mexican economy each year.

"There is something very strange going on," says Geronimo Cevallos, harbor master and sportfishing fleet operator at El Cid marina in Mazatlan. "[Fisheries officials] don't want to listen or are getting money from somewhere, but something is going on."

Cevallos and others in the sportfishing sector say part of the problem is a demand for smoked marlin in Mexico and that the bycatch of marlin and other species is probably more important than the sharks and swordfish taken.

"The reason these [long-liners] survive is the bycatch," Cevallos says. "They catch a few swordfish, which they export, and two to three tons of sailfish and marlin, which they sell in local markets. For some, that is what pays the bills."

Who will pay the bills if the billfish disappear?

SIERRA RAINBOWS

Those anticipating a wintry wonderland for the April 29 trout season opener might have just that. But despite recent storms that blanketed much of the Eastern Sierra with snow, all but the highest lakes figure to be ice-free.

Crowley Lake, which never fully iced over this winter, is already almost totally open. Twin Lakes in Bridgeport and Bridgeport Reservoir are expected to be open, and the lakes on the June Loop are all but ice-free.

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