Largemouth bass – Florida bucket-mouths – are showing up in abundance this winter, with an outstanding year projected by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists.
The first year of TrophyCatch ended, and the awards were all given out, but the challenge is on for year two.
TrophyCatch rewards anglers for catching, documenting and releasing largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds in Florida.
Bob Williams of Alloway, N.J., earned the TrophyCatch Championship ring for the first season. It was presented at Bass Pro Shops in Orlando last month by Keith Alan, from the American Outdoors Fund, and Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. Williams’ winning catch was a 13-pound, 14-ounce largemouth from Rodman Reservoir. He previously earned a free ($500 value) fiberglass replica of his catch and other awards totaling approximately $1,000.
A $10,000 check was handed to Peter Perez at a special ceremony at West Lake Tohopekaliga by Experience Kissimmee representatives Debby Guertin and Terry Segraves, along with Champeau. Perez caught the largest TrophyCatch-verified bass from Osceola County to win the prize. He caught his winning 12-pound, 3-ounce bass last March in a neighborhood pond on a Rat-L-Trap.
The winner of the 2013 Phoenix 619 bass boat, powered by Mercury, was surprised angler Frank Ay. His prize was presented to him following a club tournament on Lake Okeechobee by professional bass angler Bobby Lane, Champeau and KP Clements, the TrophyCatch coordinator. Ay won the $40,000 grand prize via a random drawing from among 4,000 anglers who registered for TrophyCatch the first season. See the TrophyCatch Florida YouTube channel (YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida) for coverage of these awards.
For the second year, which began Oct. 1, documenting a TrophyCatch has gotten simpler. Start with a free registration at TrophyCatchFlorida.com, and you will be entered to win a Phoenix bass boat, powered by Mercury and equipped with a PowerPole. This year the only required photo is one of the entire bass (head to tail) on a scale, with the weight visible. Always attempt to get that shot, but if it isn’t perfect, supplement it with a close-up of the scale, a photo of the entire fish on a bumpboard or tape measure, and maybe even a shot of the bass’s girth. This will help biologists determine if the fish is eligible for recognition. You can also submit a bragging photo and perhaps a release photo on the website. Every verified entry gives you 10 more chances for the Phoenix boat drawing in October.
The second year is off to a great start, with 63 Lunker entries (8-9.9 pounds) and 26 Trophy Club (10-12.9 pounds) recorded in less than the first four months, and more than twice as many entries in December 2013 compared with December 2012. The first possible Hall of Fame entry (greater than 13 pounds) is awaiting verification. Besides checking out the gallery, under “view catches” at TrophyCatchFlorida.com, you should also review the rules and prizes. Then follow us at Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to see the latest entries and get updates on special events.
The peak season is still in front of us, and FWC biologists have worked to narrow down a list of top sites to recommend to bass anglers for 2014 based on data from anglers, scientific sampling and an understanding of habitat trends and local conditions. By participating in TrophyCatch, you can help these biologists improve management and conservation of trophy bass. By releasing them alive (a mandatory condition of TrophyCatch), you will help sustain the fishery for the future and be rewarded. Rewards start, for Lunker Club entries (8-9.9 pounds), with $100 in gift cards, from partners like Bass Pro Shops, Rapala and/or Dick’s Sporting Goods and are complemented by custom apparel by Bass King Clothing, a personalized certificate and window decal.
Below is a list of top bass fishing sites. See MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Fishing Sites/Forecasts” to find more details, lots of specific local fishing tips, local contacts, specific rules, access points, attractors, ramps and quarterly updates. The website also includes top destinations for other black bass species (e.g., spotted bass, shoal bass and Suwannee bass) and other freshwater fishes (e.g., bream, crappie, catfish and striped bass).
• West Lake Tohopekaliga (Lake Toho; 18,810 acres)
• Lake Kissimmee (34,976 acres)
• Lake George (46,000 acres)
• Lake Monroe (9,400 acres)
• Rodman Reservoir (9,500 acres)
• Lake Tarpon (2,500 acres)
• Lake Istokpoga (28,000 acres)
• Tenoroc Fish Management Area (8,400 acres)
• Winter Haven Chain of Lakes (more than 4,000 acres of fishable waters)
• Mosaic Fish Management Area (1,000 acres)
• Lake Weohyakapka (Lake Walk-in-Water; 7,500 acres)
• Lake Okeechobee (470,000 acres)
• Everglades Water Conservation areas 2 and 3 (1,125 square miles)