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Florida Shoal Bass Record Broken Again

The Florida shoal bass record has been broken once again, this time by a 14-year-old angler from Alabama.

Fishing from a kayak, Sheldon Grace caught the 5.95-pound trophy  in the Chipola River.

“I fought him for about 30 minutes and then when I got him close to the kayak, the jig popped right out of his mouth,” said Grace. “I quickly reached into the water and grabbed him because he was the biggest I’d caught all day.”

In 2016, Jimmy Ray Tice claimed the previous record with a 5.2-pound fish, the fourth in little more than a year to be taken in the Apalachicola River.

But it is the Chipola, a tributary of the Apalachicola, that seems most likely to produce bragging-size bass in the near future. Starting in 2006, three low-water years produced big year classes that are now moving into and past the 5-pound range, with the stretch below Marianna typically the best.

“You can definitely tell that the quality and quantity of the shoal bass in the Chipola River are getting better,” said Grace, who often fishes there with his father. “I had caught about six or seven 2- to 3-pounders and then right at the end of the day, I caught the record.”

Additionally, the Chipola, a spring-fed system with a unique range of habitats, is the only fishery in Florida with a population of naturally reproducing, genetically pure shoal bass, a species that Steven Sammons of Auburn University's School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences ranks at the top for stream fishing.

"I used to think smallmouth bass were the ultimate river bass, but shoal bass have completely changed my mind," he said. "They grow faster, consistently reach larger sizes, and may be the most aggressive black bass we have."

The biologist who also is an avid angler said shoal bass "set up like salmon or trout. They are not behind a rock or in an eddy. They set up in that fast water, the first big drop in a shoal."

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