Contributors: Andrew Dutterer and Justin Hill
We (FWC biologists) are offering Florida bass fishermen a revised version of an age-old adage. “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it could be 13…pounds that is.” What we are referring to are largemouth bass, and in particular, one monster that had nearly grown to the 13 pound mark. As it would turn out, it had a bit of history with FWC and with at least one angler on its way to trophy status.
We collected this bass as part of annual spring electrofishing surveys in January 2015. The bass, a female due to her size, measured 26-inches in length, tipped the scales at 12 lb, 15 oz, and was tagged as part of a study that is linked to FWC’s TrophyCatch program and measures catch and harvest rates of trophy-size bass across the state.
As we went to insert the tag, we realized that this fish had been tagged previously, which was a bit of a surprise. There was a small scar just to the side of the spines of the dorsal fin — exactly where our tags get placed. The base of the tag was still present beneath the skin, indicating that the external portion of the tag (bearing the ID, telephone number, and reward value) had been removed by an angler. This bass’s lake was included in a past study that measured angler catch and harvest rates for bass in FWC’s northeast management region. We know that it would have been tagged the first time in fall of 2010, and through some deductive reasoning, we have narrowed it to one of three bass that were caught and released by anglers in spring 2011. Those fish ranged in weight from six to eight pounds, meaning the fish grew somewhere in the neighborhood of five to seven pounds over four years. While those growth rates aren’t uncommon for many of Florida’s highly productive bass fisheries, they are above average, as trophy bass average about one pound of weight gain per year over their life.
The trajectory of this bass — having been caught and released by an angler at least once at a very respectable size of six to eight pounds and then continuing to grow to likely surpass the teen threshold this spring — provides an excellent example of a situation that the proposed new state-wide bass regulation hopes to promote. The proposed regulation would still allow harvest of five bass per angler per day; however, all but one must be less than 16 inches. Its intention is to shift harvest away from larger bass and towards smaller ones, which are much more abundant. It reflects the value that bass anglers place on trophy-size bass and should foster increased opportunity for anglers to catch and release them. After all, it is impossible to catch a bass at 13 lbs if it gets harvested when it is eight.
Did you notice the ruler in our top photo? It is a compulsion of bass biologists to measure big bass in every conceivable way. If you’ve got a new way to measure a bass, sign us up. In concert with TrophyCatch, we are investigating ways to accurately estimate a bass’s weigh from photographs. Using a ruler for scale, we can measure length and body depth, and we are trying to establish formulas to predict weight from those measurements, similar to the way a fish’s weight can be estimated by measurements of length and girth (of the actual fish). If deemed reliable, the new photographic method could streamline the TrophyCatch documentation process and allow anglers to get fish back in the water with a quicker release.
What a fish! Not only has it survived but it has thrived, providing valuable data to at least three largemouth bass research projects that will aid in FWC’s freshwater conservation efforts. Yet her story as we know it may continue. She now bears a new tag and if caught, would contribute further data to the trophy bass tagging study. Plus, her current size would stand a good chance of landing a lucky angler in the TrophyCatch Hall of Fame if her future catch were documented with that program.
Let us know what you think in the comments section. We value any and all input we can get from our stakeholders. Remember to follow FWRI on Facebook at facebook.com/FWCResearch and check out more of our research articles at myFWC.com/research/freshwater.