By Bob Wattendorf, with Jason Dotson, FWC
This past spring, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists tagged 136 trophy largemouth bass greater than 8 pounds in Florida’s public waters. Each trophy bass had a yellow plastic dart tag inserted into the back of the fish just below the dorsal (back) fin. Each tag has a unique number that identifies a monetary reward value and information on how to report catches. Tagged bass came from 41 lakes and rivers that varied in size, water quality, habitat types, fish populations and angler demographics. Angler catch and harvest rates vary between lakes and rivers, so this approach allows for a more informed statewide estimate.
After six months, results are already revealing. So far, 21 percent of tagged trophy bass have been caught and reported, and 83 percent of them were released alive. Anglers fishing in tournaments accounted for 22 percent of reports. Thirty percent of trophy fish reported were caught on live shiners. Interestingly, 28 percent of tagged bass heavier than 10 pounds have been caught, but just three of seven (43%) of those were released. This shows bigger bass are equally susceptible to capture but suffer increased harvest. Most anglers harvested trophy bass to have a skin-mount made, rather than for food. The most recent capture was a fish stocked by FWC as a fingerling, which weighed more than 10 pounds when it was recently caught and released in Lake Talquin.
Another recent tagging study by the FWC and University of Florida revealed that 20 percent to 35 percent of all largemouth bass longer than 14 inches were caught annually by anglers. Since trophy bass typically take six to 10 years to reach that size, it’s evident that recycling plays an important role. Although catch rates of individual trophy bass may be about the same as for smaller fish, there are fewer trophy fish.
This information will provide an important baseline for when TrophyCatch (see below) launches in October. The FWC will continue the statewide tagging study for the next five years to estimate changes in catch-and-release rates of trophy fish and angler participation. Anglers should look for tagged fish. The plastic tags are 5-inch yellow streamers with “Trophy” printed on them, followed by a number, reward value and contact information. Over time, tags may get covered by algae, which can be rubbed off to reveal tag information.
If you catch a tagged fish, cut the tag as close to the skin of the fish as possible and return the tag to the FWC. Anglers may release or harvest tagged bass as they normally would, depending upon local harvest regulations; however, only released bass are eligible for separate TrophyCatch recognition and rewards. For more information about this study, or to report tags, contact Jason Dotson at (850) 363-6037.
This tagging study was initiated partially to implement the Black Bass Management Plan that was developed with input from biologists, anglers and stakeholders (MyFWC.com/Fishing), and which the Commission approved in June 2011. Anglers indicated that greater opportunities for trophy-size fish should be an important component of the plan. Thus, the FWC made trophy largemouth bass management a priority and it plans to launch a trophy bass documentation program called TrophyCatch this October (www.TrophyCatchFlorida.com).
TrophyCatch is an incentive driven, angler recognition program to encourage reporting and live-releasing bass greater than eight pounds (Lunker Club) that are caught in Florida waters. Bass over 10-pounds (Trophy Club) that are caught, documented and released will receive greater rewards. Those heavier than 13 pounds will be examined by FWC staff to verify their condition (including genetic status) and entered into the Hall-of-Fame club, making them eligible for the greatest prizes. TrophyCatch incentives such as free fiberglass replica mounts for Hall-of-Fame fish, customized clothing from Bass King, gift cards (Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Rapala Lures) and Fish-Photo Replica discounts will encourage anglers to recycle trophy bass. The World Fishing Network is partnering with the FWC to promote and document trophy bass (TrophyBassFlorida.com). Sponsors Kissimmee CVB and Carls Rental Vans hope to drive angling traffic to central Florida.
The goal of TrophyCatch is to establish Florida as the undisputed “Bass Fishing Capital of the World,” while promoting catch and release of trophy bass. Documenting trophy bass, encouraging their release and managing for them, based on the knowledge gained, will provide economic, ecological and social benefits.
Largemouth bass are sunfish, and their native range originally extended over much of eastern North America. With two subspecies, the northern and Florida largemouth bass widely recognized, biologists and anglers have keyed in on the larger size and fighting prowess of Florida largemouth to produce trophy fish.
States like Texas and California have imported Florida bass to improve their stocks, and Florida bass have been planted in other countries. Manabu Kurita’s 22-pound, 5-ounce largemouth bass from Japan’s Lake Biwa was caught in July 2009. According to International Game Fish Association rules, it tied the world record bass caught by George Perry in 1932, and it was a Florida bass. Florida’s own certified record is a 17.27-pound fish caught by Billy O’Berry in Polk County, in 1986. Because the state requires freshwater fish to be examined by a fisheries biologist and weighed on certified scales, Fritz Friebel’s 20-pound, 2-ounce bass from Pasco County, which was declared the world record in 1923, is an “uncertified” Florida state record. Unofficially, the certified state record has been surpassed several times, as documented by the IGFA’s 10-pound bass club.
In March 2010, BassMaster Magazine (Mccormick 2010) summarized 12 years of its Lunker Club applications, reporting that, “Considering the number of largemouth entries the Lunker Club has received over more than a decade, it’s not surprising that more entries have been caught in Florida (514 lunkers reported) than any other state; after all, Florida’s official state freshwater fish is the largemouth bass, which has ideal conditions and plenty of time to grow big and fat. Texas and California – the second (300) and third most commonly reported sources of lunkers – also offer ideal bass habitats.”
BassMaster’s top 25 bass (Ken Duke 2009) of all time include 20 fish from California, two from Florida, two from Japan and one from Georgia. In California and Japan, bass are nonnative imports that came from Florida. Ironically, in Japan they are considered a nuisance. In California, the few deep artificial reservoirs (typically with limited, gated access and entry fees) that yield these trophy bass were heavily stocked with trout, which are great forage for largemouth.
The public perceives Florida to be among the top bass fishing states, but numerous pressures challenge fisheries managers, including human population growth and development, declining water quality and current water management and fisheries management policies.
In Florida, black bass annually provide anglers more than 14 million days of healthy outdoor recreation and generate approximately $1.25 billion in economic impact (U.S. Census Bureau, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006). The FWC’s management programs hope to increase the enjoyment for more anglers and thus provide an even greater tourism and economic bonus for Florida. Your participation in reporting any tagged bass and helping to recycle trophy bass for rewards through TrophyCatch will help ensure Florida is recognized as the Bass Fishing Capital of the World.
Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to Tip@MyFWC.com. Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and select “more news,” or scr.bi/Fish-busters for more Fish Busters’ Bulletins.