Bottroff awaits the bass caught by competitors in a local bass tournament, where he’ll care for and survey them prior to release – Photo by Regina Seaberg

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  • Although I was nearly 800 miles away at Humboldt State, I was able to roughly follow what Larry was up to through my father who fished pretty much twice a week and would regularly see Larry at Otay or El Cap. My dad was a very well known bass fisherman and was liked by those who worked at the lakes. Given that he’d had some serious health issues I know that Larry regularly helped him with his gear and think that Larry kind of looked out for him as someone he was fond of.

    After returning home and transferring to San Diego State I had minimal contact with Larry until 1971 when as a recreation leader for the city I was selected to open Chollas Lake to public fishing for the first time. The lake was pretty marginal as a fishery and since it was open only to kids, I hounded Larry for fish and he made a point of ensuring that the little lake got some, mainly through fish transfers using his shock boat and tank-mounted truck.

    Our relationship dialed up in 1974 when I became the manager of the San Diego City Lakes Program and was able to instruct staff to do a better job with creel census reports once Larry gave them some training. At that time, Larry was the only permanent DFG staff, but he had help in the form of Mike Lembeck and at most two seasonal aides to help with his monitoring of local reservoirs.

    no one since the inception of the City Lakes Program in 1913 did more for the fisheries on city reservoirs, or with greater effort and sincerity than Larry Bottroff.

    I think we worked as closely as was possible for two people from two different agencies. To encourage city lake staff to do a better job with the creel census, he would invite them to go out shocking with him which most enjoyed and all commented on how hard Larry worked at it. Having been out on quite a few of those excursions with him I was only too aware of how relentless he was. Much to the chagrin of others on the boat, going out at sunset for “a few hours” of shocking and marking fish often meant you would also see the sunrise. Larry’s most repeated and frustrating phrase in the cold and dark was “let’s just get a few more,” because the larger the number of fish in the sample results in greater confidence in the data that would later be produced.

    At this point it should be noted that because of the cooperation of lake staff in performing creel census, Larry was able to project population data based on as high as 90% of all anglers being checked, hence some of the highest confidence levels found anywhere while biologists in other areas were making their projections based on spot checks in which a very small percentage of fishermen were observed, resulting in a much lower level of confidence in the numbers game.

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  • I don’t think Larry had much understanding of what might be called “the 40 hour work week” and I doubt he ever logged that few hours in a week. He simply worked until everything was done which meant that he rarely stopped working. This helps to explain why so many anglers have commented “Bottroff is everywhere.” A friend once told me that in the course of a week he had devoted to fishing, he visited Otay, El Cap and San Vicente and Larry checked him at each stop. My guess is that if he’d gone to Hodges and Sutherland he’d have run into Larry a couple more times.

    Few realize that his creel work on the lakes which was typically from noon until the last angler left the lake after sunset, was just part of Larry’s work day. Mornings may well have been taken up with Environmental Impact Reports and site visits associated with them, as Larry somehow found a way to get everything done and done well.

    Things seemed to go along pretty well until Larry’s Long Beach-based supervisor was replaced with another who did not seem to place much value on reservoir work. Instead, the new supervisor decided that Larry should drive to Riverside four or five days a week to work on the Steven’s kangaroo rat, a species threatened by development and Larry did all that he could to perform that work and still continue his work on the reservoirs. To that end, we hired Larry as a Lake Aide which meant that he could still work on the lake to collect his data, but would also be cleaning boats along with any other tasks that needed to be done. When he wasn’t chasing rats in Riverside, he was on the lakes, but it was exhausting and he was increasingly unhappy with the emphasis on rats over fish

    Unlike the last few years of my career which resulted in my early retirement, for most of my career I enjoyed the implicit trust and confidence of my superiors who left me to manage the lakes as I saw fit. Accordingly I requested and was granted permission to hire Larry as a biologist which worked out perfectly as he was able to retire from the state and begin work as a biologist for the city. We even purchased a state of the art shock boat for his use.

    Because of his knowledge and experience not just in biology, but on the lakes in general, Larry was invaluable to me. He was in the field almost all of the time while I was in the office or attending meetings most of the time. Because of our long association and friendship, we had no problem telling each other what we thought, even in those rare instances when we did not necessarily agree.

    The key for me is that in working so closely and so well together, I believe we did a good job of getting things done for the lakes and their patrons, but like all good things, our work together eventually came to an end.

    For most of my career with the city, I was given free rein to do what I thought was best for the program and I derived great personal pleasure from doing that as well as I could. Toward the end however I was being required to carry out things which were not in the best interests of the program or could rationally be justified on any level, so I made the difficult decision to retire in June of 2003.

    I don’t recall how much later it was that Larry retired or why, but I do know that no one since the inception of the City Lakes Program in 1913 did more for the fisheries on city reservoirs, or with greater effort and sincerity than Larry Bottroff.

    About Author

    Jim Brown

    Jim Brown ran the San Diego City Lakes Program from 1974-2003, where he oversaw the operation of the fishing programs of the county's biggest and best fisheries. Over his 70 years as a native San Diegan, including 65 of them as an avid fisherman, Brown describes himself as someone who has fished most bodies of water in and around the county that hold fish, and all of those that don't.

    1 Comment

    1. People tend to denigrate public servants and especially it seems, DFG and now DFW personnel. I’ve met and worked with quite a number of DFW biologists and some, I have to say, should not have the positions they have which is being responsible for protecting the public trust. By far the greatest majority of them however are like Larry Bottroff and are committed to doing what’s best for the resource. Jim Brown does a fine job of describing what a hard working public servant can get done while not receiving anything more than a paycheck and being constantly harangued. Thanks for sharing a great story.