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The 'if only,' 'got one' and future of TrophyCatch

Young anglers like Louie Echols who are passionate about fishing and conservation are the future of recreational fishing. He understands the value of getting outdoors, connecting with nature and being active.

From FWC Press Release

On Oct. 1, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) kicked off TrophyCatch to reward anglers for catching, documenting and voluntarily releasing trophy-sized bass in Florida.

On the first day, Larry Campbell caught an 11.25-pound, 26.5-inch-long bass while fishing in the St. Johns River with his younger brother, using live shrimp. They had caught and released several 4- to 7-pound bass before Larry broke the 10-pound barrier for the first time in his 20 years of fishing. They found where they could boast online about their catch and posted it on, an FWC website hosted by the World Fishing Network (WFN).

If only Larry had read the rules first and taken photos of his bass on scales, with the weight showing, and on a tape measure with the length showing, he would have had the first entry into the new Trophy Bass Club. However, without appropriate photos to verify the weight and length for TrophyCatch, his fish was at least entered into the Big Catch Program.

“I'll know next time,” he responded graciously. “Things are just starting to heat up here. Thanks for the awesome recognition program.”

On Oct. 9, Marcus Arrendondo caught a 29-inch bass with a girth of 24 inches and estimated at 14 pounds.

If only he had called the FWC, toll-free, at 855-FL-TROPHY (855-358-7674) while he had the live fish in his possession, an FWC employee would have come out to examine the bass, ensure it was live-released and healthy, and weigh it on certified scales. If it exceeded 13 pounds, it would have been entered into the Hall of Fame. The FWC would have provided a free fiberglass replica from New Wave Taxidermy and a bundle of other prizes (see below for details).

Then, on Oct. 16, Corey Dolan got one. He landed a 12.3-pound largemouth bass on Lake Talquin and released it to become the first entrant in the TrophyCatch program. Dolan started fishing at sunrise on his last day off before starting a new job and was rewarded when, around 1:30 in the afternoon, a huge bass struck his artificial worm. Dolan found on his smartphone and ultimately connected with the TrophyCatch hotline. FWC biologists arrived an hour later to determine a certified weight of 12.3 pounds – just short of the Hall of Fame mark (13 pounds), but qualifying for the Trophy Club. Dolan will receive $100 in gift cards from sponsors such as Bass Pro Shops, Dick's Sporting Goods and Rapala Lures, plus a long-sleeve Trophy Club shirt from Bass King, and discounts from New Wave Taxidermy, and

KP Clements, the FWC's TrophyCatch coordinator, said that as the first TrophyCatch angler, Dolan will also receive a special one-day pass to fish at the famed Bienville Plantation and is entered into drawings for other prizes.

The future is bright for angling in Florida. The latest National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation showed an 11-percent increase in recreational fishing nationally over the past five years. Florida remains the No. 1 destination for anglers, and bass are the most popular fish in North America.

The future seems even brighter when you hear about young anglers like 11-year-old Louie Echols from Highlands County.

Louie caught his first bass at age 3. He has a stack of Big Catch Angler Recognition certificates from the FWC, including Specialist, Master and Elite Angler recognitions. He also is the star of an episode of “Lunkerville Television,” titled “Louie, Louie,” which airs on WFN.

Louie is a passionate reader of fishing and natural history books, and is very familiar with Glen Lau's “Bigmouth” and “Bigmouth Forever” videos. It's not surprising that a youngster like Louie, mentored by a loving grandfather and other family and friends, has a passion for sport fishing and desire to conserve our natural resources.

\While fishing from shore with his grandfather, Dan Echols, and while grandpa was starting to pack up, Louie cast a little minnow one last time along the bank. The result? He caught a 14-pound “hawg” that he released, so she could grow, and perhaps be caught again. A fiberglass mount of the fish adorns his bedroom wall with his other fishing mementos.

Personally, I can't wait until we get a call on the TrophyCatch hotline to come certify him into the Florida Bass Hall of Fame.

TrophyCatch includes three tiers to encourage reporting and live-releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds that are caught in Florida waters.

“It is important for anglers to read and understand all the rules and details about rewards, which may change during the year, since they are provided by various sponsors,” said Clements (see However, just for registering, an angler is entered into a drawing for a Phoenix bass boat, Mercury motor and trailer.

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