Twenty-five years ago, the first largemouth bass entered in Texas’ fledgling ShareLunker program also proved to be a state record, weighing 17.67 pounds.
Since then, anglers fishing Texas waters have caught more than 500 bass weighing at least 13 pounds, including 50 that weighed 15.38 pounds or better. Among them, an 18.18 record caught in 1992.
It’s almost a certainty that all of those fish were either Florida-strain largemouths or carried Florida genes that enabled their trophy stature.
Coincidentally, Florida’s state record, weighing 17.27 pounds, also was taken in 1986.
Since then, anglers fishing Florida waters have caught . . . Well, we don’t know how many trophy largemouths that they’ve caught. Texas has done a great job of recording and promoting Florida bass in its waters. But the state for which they are named?
Not so much.
That’s all about to change with TrophyCatch, set to commence in October 2012.
“We do mirror the ShareLunker program in some ways,” says Tom Champeau, fisheries chief for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“A lot of anglers like the Sharelunker program so we sent some of our staff to Texas to see what they’re doing.”
A key difference, though, is that the Lone Star State uses those big bass in its hatcheries to create even more lunkers for its reservoirs. Florida bass are not native to Texas.
By contrast, many of the Sunshine State’s lakes, ponds, and rivers are naturally populated by Florida strain bass. In other words, breeding stock is not needed.
A golf course lake, a retention pond, a canal, just about any body of water in Florida could be home to a state-record bass just waiting to be caught --- and entered into TrophyCatch.
As a matter of fact, in this state that the Florida bass calls home, dozens of fish of state-record proportion --- and possibly even a world record or two --- have been caught but were not verified by FWC personnel. At RiverBassin.com, you can see a list of “unofficial” big bass, including several of more than 20 pounds and more than two dozen heavier than the current record.
Appropriately, then, FWC states proudly on the TrophyCatch website that “no other place on earth has this largemouth bass promotion opportunity.”
If bass aren’t needed for reproduction, what is the value of offering incentives to anglers who catch, document, and report their catches of bass weighing 8 pounds or more?
Genetic research certainly, to find out more about the unique strain of bass that soon might by reclassified from a subspecies to a separate species of black bass. But also to “promote and celebrate our fisheries,” says Champeau.
“We want to promote fishing, catch and release, and environmental stewardship to keep our fisheries healthy,” he explains.
That’s one of four cornerstones upon which TrophyCatch was created as the “promotional engine” for the state’s new Black Bass Management Plan. Use of sound science, public involvement in management of the resource, and adaptive management are the other three. The latter involves constant monitoring and periodic adjustment to reach an end point, as opposed to inflexible policy.
To make TrophyCatch a success, sponsors will be needed, along with angler input and participation. Champeau is looking to businesses both in and outside the sport for prizes to offer participants.
“The response that we got from industry at ICAST (annual fishing industry show) to TrophyCatch was very positive,” he says.
“If we can get a truck manufacturer onboard, we could offer a truck (for biggest bass of the year),” he says. “We want to make it newsworthy.”
And how about $1 million for a new state record?
“If we can afford an insurance policy to offer that, it would be awesome,” the fisheries chief says.
“We get lots of reports of bigger bass out there, and we can’t disprove them. But we want to make sure that record-size fish are certified and legitimate.”
By starting at 8 pounds for entry, TrophyCatch could be documenting thousands of bass annually once it’s up and running. With tourists, guides, and resident anglers all participating, biologists theorize several hundred of those fish could weigh between 10 and 13 pounds and an impressive 30 to 50 could be heavier than that.
Not long ago, an 8-year-old caught and released a 15-pounder in Polk County.
“Those big fish are out there,” says Champeau. “And it’s a shame that people aren’t getting credit. With TrophyCatch, we want to document and reward them for their effort.”
(A variation of this article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)