By Patrick Cooney
Have you ever noticed that over time your electrofishing electrodes lose their shininess and get a white material coated on them?
This is caused by electrolysis!
As the electric field drives the electrical current through the water between your anode and cathode, the positive ions in the water are attracted to the negative electrode, while the negative ions are attracted to the positive electrode. The electrical current slowly dissolves the materials of your electrodes over time while also depositing the ionic material from the water onto your electrodes.
The problem with electrolysis is that it deposits a non-conductive coating onto the outer portion of the electrodes. This deposit creates resistance that in turn reduces the conductivity of your electrofishing electrode. This is like clogging your arteries and heavily reduces the effectiveness of your electrofisher.
To compensate for the higher resistance and lower effectiveness, people keep turning the voltage on their electrofisher up and up and up in order to get the same amount of current, leading to more deposition on the electrode and additional strain on the equipment. As you can imagine, many of the repairs to electrofishers are simply caused by the lack of keeping electrodes clean.
Therefore, the best way to minimize issues is to keep your electrodes consistently clean!
A sheet of fine grit sandpaper or steel wool work really well for smaller electrodes, especially when cleaned often. A disk sander works well on larger surfaces, like boat hulls, and Calcium Lime Rust Remover (CLR) works well on braided metal electrodes.
Consistency of catchability of fish is more easily achieved when keeping electrodes clean as well as minimizing potentially costly repairs do to unnecessary strain on the equipment. So, get that electrode to a nice shine!
While everyone who electrofishes faces this issue, the people who most often face this issue the worst are those that stitch nets onto their backpack electrofishing pole electrodes. They are unable to clean the electrodes because of the netting, while the netting also prevents the metal electrode from abrading against rocks and sand where some of the deposition would naturally be scrubbed off while working. This is another good reason to not use netting on your electrodes!
A note of when this advice of always keeping your electrodes nice and clean isn’t as useful: there is a situation where additional resistance and non-shiny electrodes can be a benefit…and you would want to use caution and restraint when cleaning your electrodes.
If you are regularly electrofishing in high conductivity water, additional corrosion on your electrodes can help you successfully electrofish while preventing electrofishing equipment overloads. In high conductivity water, electrical current flows much easier because of the low resistance. This high current can strain the equipment and often creates a notification on the electrofisher of “overloaded”. To overcome electrofisher overloads, one could turn down the voltage, turn down the duty cycle, shrink the size of your electrodes, or…use non-clean electrodes! All of these options reduce the total amount of current (and ultimately, the electrical power) being demanded from the equipment, allowing you to successfully catch fish where the equipment would otherwise be overloadsd. Perhaps using “dirty” electrodes are part of the recipe for success for you and your crew in higher conductivity water.
As always, be safe out there electrofishing!