April 01, 2013
I don't know about you, but every time I hook a fish, whether it ends up being a lunker largemouth or a mudfish, the adrenaline starts flowing and my imagination reels as fast as my bait caster. Unfortunately for me, reality sets in pretty quickly—maybe the price of being a fisheries biologist—so I want to know what I really have. Not everyone has a scale to weigh their fish in the boat. Even if they do, they may not be accurate. The combination of adrenaline, wishful thinking and just not knowing may have lead to anglers' reputations of telling “fish tales,” as captured in this quote from Silken Lines and Silver Hooks, 1954: “We ask a simple question And that is all we wish: Are fishermen all liars? Or do only liars fish?” ~William Sherwood Fox Consequently for programs like TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com), where biologists want to use the information to make management decisions and sponsors want to ensure prizes are given for legitimate catches, extra documentation is needed. After all, the reports help evaluate not only a fishery's natural potential, but also the impact of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) efforts such as habitat restoration, fish stocking, aquatic plant management, special regulations, and enhancing access, so we know what works to enhance and sustain trophy-bass fisheries.
TrophyCatch requires photos of the entire fish showing its weight and length (see images of Terry Duggins' 10 lb, 1 oz bass from Johns Lake, FL), prior to releasing it. Photos are submitted to the website and reviewed by biologists. If verified, the angler receives special rewards for releasing them. Bass 8-9.9 pounds qualify for Lunker Club and those 10-12.9 pounds for Trophy Club (see prizes on the website) and are publicized on FaceBook (like FaceBook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida for updates). For Hall of Fame bass heavier than 13 pounds, FWC staff goes even further. We need more details on these fish, including a genetic sample. Since awards are valued at over a $1,000, they require accurate measurement. Hall of Fame catches will be permanently recorded in a Florida Bass Hall of Fame, currently planned for the Florida Bass Conservation Center in Sumter County. Since we require staff to witness release of these fish and weigh them on certified scales, they are only documented from Oct. 1 to Apr. 30 each year to avoid handling stress from warmer temperatures. However, bass over 13 pounds are eligible for the Trophy Club, even if not certified for the Hall of Fame. So how can you estimate a bass' weight and how do biologists use the length/girth data to substantiate reported weights before verifying? FWC biologists have compiled an immense amount of data that they used to create a complex formula (remember logarithmic scales from high school?). Anglers can use some simple equations (e.g., TL*TL*G/1200) to ball park the weight. Now you can enter the length and weight in a program online and see both our most accurate estimate, as well as estimates from the more simple equations on line. Go to bit.ly/Bass-Formula to check it out (you can learn more at MyFWC.com/Fishing). For Terry Duggins' bass, the log-log equation generated an estimate for a 24.0-inch long bass, with a girth of 20.25 inches as being 10.11 pounds. Duggins' scale also showed 10.1 pounds. Other estimates ran from 9.7 to 12.3 pounds. Try it yourself next time you want to estimate a bass' size. This is also a good approach before calling the 855-FL-Trophy hotline to report that you have a 13-pounder ready for FWC to certify.