Barely a year ago it was just a good idea waiting to happen, now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is preparing to give away the first TrophyCatch championship ring and a slew of other prizes – a boat, fiberglass fish mount and more – to the winners, including a special $10,000 prize presented by Experience Kissimmee.
“TrophyCatch is the ultimate reward program for anglers, offering great prizes for doing the right thing,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
TrophyCatch is FWC’s latest angler-recognition program and goes much further than ever before to reward anglers for documenting and releasing trophy largemouth bass. The largemouth bass is the most sought-after recreational species in North America. Florida is home to a unique subspecies that has long been known for it’s superior growth rate and trophy size. The FWC will use data from this program to help enhance and promote trophy bass fisheries throughout the state.
Anglers who register for free at www.TrophyCatchFlorida.com are immediately eligible for an annual drawing for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury. Then, when they catch a bass over 8 pounds, they simply take a quick photo of the entire fish on a scale clearly showing the weight, snap a few more optional photos and release the bass to thrill another angler another day.
By submitting photos for verification online, anglers become eligible for a custom certificate and decal, plus awards based on the bass’ weight. Lunker Club entrants (8-9.9 pounds) receive a $50 Bass Pro Shops gift card and Bass King T-shirt. Trophy Club participants (10-12.9 pounds) earn a total of $150 worth of gift cards (Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and/or Rapala), plus a long-sleeve T-shirt. To be entered into the Hall of Fame, anglers must catch, carefully document and release a bass weighing more than 13 pounds – but it’s worth it. Hall-of-Fame entrants also receive a free $500 fiberglass mount of their fish from New Waves Taxidermy, $200 in gift cards, a duffle bag full of Bass King apparel, a Glen Lau video library and other prizes worth a total of $1,000.
Bob Williams of Alloway, N.J., was fishing on Rodman Reservoir with guide Sean Rush of Trophy Bass Expeditions on Feb. 18,2012, when he hooked a 13-pound, 14-ounce largemouth on a big shiner. Rush contacted the FWC to have the fish certified in Florida’s new TrophyCatch program, the result being that Williams gets more than $1,000 in rewards for documenting and releasing his catch.
Williams will also claim the statewide grand prize of the TrophyCatch ring. Over 4,000 anglers registered this first year, and 132 Lunker Club bass and 58 Trophy Club bass were documented. According to KP Clements, TrophyCatch coordinator, there were innumerable other huge bass reported around the state this first year, including one that may have been nearly 17 pounds, but these submissions could not be verified.
“Next year, we want everyone to be prepared to take a photo of their fish on a scale, quickly release their bass and submit photos to www.TrophyCatchFlorida.com,” Clements said.
The winner of the 2013 Phoenix 619 bass boat, powered by Mercury, will be announced following a random drawing in the near future. In addition, Experience Kissimmee will announce the winner of its $10,000 cash award for the biggest verified TrophyCatch bass from Osceola County caught between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sep. 30, 2013. The catch must have already been caught and be documented and verified by Oct. 8 to count. Keep an eye on Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to see who wins.
For the second year, which began Oct. 1, the only required photo, for all three club levels, must show the entire bass (head to tail) on a scale, with the weight clearly visible. Additional photos of the the angler holding the bass, the entire bass on a measuring board with the length clearly visible, and the fish being released can be submitted, but are not required.
Anglers who catch a Hall-of-Fame Club-level fish (13 pounds and larger) are encouraged to contact the FWC at 855-FL-TROPHY (358-7674). If possible, an FWC employee will meet the angler to collect data and document the catch. If someone cannot immediately respond, anglers will be advised to photograph and release Hall-of-Fame bass as soon as possible. Experience Kissimmee will again offer a $10,000 prize, so check the TrophyCatch website for important updates on the process and leader board.
For trophy bass caught and released during organized bass tournaments, anglers can either submit a photo of the entire bass on a scale with the weight visible, have the catch verified by an FWC employee or volunteer working that event, or submit a photograph of the fish with a Web link to the documented weight.
The FWC is seeking additional input from the public on how to best promote the program and to encourage anglers who catch trophy bass to document them and then release them. In addition to rewarding themselves and being able to say, “My trophy swims in Florida,” anglers will be helping biologists learn the best ways to ensure the presence of trophy bass for future generations.
People can also “like” us on www.Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to hear about all the big winners this year. Anglers should register now and be sure to have a scale and camera in their boat, so they can be the FWC’s next TrophyCatch winner.