Twila Gates set a Florida freshwater fishing record earlier this month. Her catch of a 1-pound, 5.6-ounce (1.35 pounds) flier on May 9 from a Jackson County pond beat the old record of 1.24 pounds. It had a length of 12 inches and a girth of 11.8 inches. The previous state record came from Lake Iamonia near Tallahassee, in 1992.
“If Gate’s flier is submitted to the International Game Fish Association, it could also could become the new world record,” said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Anglers from North Carolina and Georgia hold the current world record jointly with a pair of 1-pound, 4-ounce submissions.
Gates has been fishing with her father since she was a little girl and has passed her love of the outdoors on to her son, Jantzen, 15. On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, she was fishing from a johnboat with her son and his friend, William Hinson, at a 15-acre cypress pond. She caught the flier on a Shakespeare micro-spin and 6-pound P-Line, using a white grub beetle-spin, at about 4:30 p.m. Hinson thought it was a record and looked it up online and called the regional office.
Chris Paxton, an FWC fisheries biologist, met her to verify the species and carefully measure and weigh the fish on certified scales.
Fliers are probably one of the lesser-known freshwater fish in Florida. They are native and typically found in somewhat heavily vegetated ponds and backwater sloughs, such as the pond where Gates caught this one.
In addition to the record flier, she caught four other nice-sized fliers and the boys added two 10-pound plus trophy bass.
The FWC has several freshwater angler recognition programs including state records, Big Catch, and TrophyCatch.
State records require a biologist to verify the species and have a certified weight for the notarized application. The FWC maintains records for 33 freshwater species.
Big Catch is a long-standing, family-friendly angler recognition for those same 33 species. It recognizes anglers with a certificate if they qualify by submitting a photo of their catch online and if the catch exceeds specified weights or lengths. There are youth, specialist, master and elite angler awards as well. People can learn more at BigCatchFlorida.com.
TrophyCatch is the newest citizen-science conservation rewards program. By catching, documenting and releasing a largemouth bass heavier than eight pounds anglers earn rewards starting with $100 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards, recycle their catch and provide valuable information for conservation biologists. Anglers should be sure to register at TrophyCatchFlorida.com and read the rules, so they will be ready to document their next trophy bass with a photo of the fish on a scale and submit it for rewards. Just registering enters people in a drawing for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury.
“In one day of fishing, right here in the Fishing Capital of the World, Ms. Gates, her son and his friend were on the verge of qualifying for all three programs ─ and topped it off with a potential world record. That is a happy Mother’s Day weekend for a young lady devoted to her son and the outdoors,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
Officials finally have reached a settlement with the railroad company responsible for a fish kill on the Rock River, one of the best smallmouth rivers in northern Illinois.
The Chicago, Central, and Pacific Railroad (CCPR) will pay $570,000 for alleged pollution violations during an ethanol spill nearly six years ago, as well as restoration of the fishery.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will receive $270,000 to fund rehabilitation of two nature areas and another $$150,000 for general restoration in the affected area.
“This settlement ensures funding is in place to complete efforts to restore the natural areas damaged by the ethanol leak,” said Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Additionally, CCPR will pay $150,000 to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and Winnebago County to settle alleged violations of the state’s Environmental Protection Act.
“This derailment caused significant impacts to the air, land, and water, which required a thorough investigation, substantial research and extensive environmental remediation,” said IEPA Director Lisa Bonnett.
“The coordinated efforts of state agencies have completed the investigation and cleanup of the release. And this final consent order brings closure to one of Illinois’ largest environmental emergencies.”
Since the derailment, CCPR also has worked with IEPA to remediate the contaminated areas.
In June 2009, an explosion and fire following a train derailment killed one person, as well as caused the discharge of up to 75,000 gallons of an ethanol and gasoline mixture. It flowed onto the surrounding land and into a creek which flows into the Kishwaukee River, a tributary of Rock River.
Two days later, Sauk Valley residents noticed large numbers of smallmouth, sunfish, and other species washing up on shore along a 54-mile stretch from Grand Detour to Prophetstown. The fish died of suffocation, as the ethanol breakdown burned up dissolved oxygen.
Following public outcry from resort owners, anglers and boaters, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will postpone an invasive species training and trailer decal program that was set to go into effect July 1.
In the state legislature, a House committee voted to cancel the law, while a Senate panel has proposed a compromise that would delay implementation and remove charges for the class and decals. As the law was originally enacted, “lake service providers” are required to pay $50 for a three-year permit.
Passed in 2012, the law also requires boaters and others who tow boats and water-related equipment to take classes about how to avoid transporting aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels and milfoil, form one water body to another and then buy decals for their trailers to confirm that they have taken the class (usually online).
“The DNR supports the education that would be provided under this law, but recognizes there are some concerns with the way the law is currently written,” the agency said. “For example, people transporting boats on trailers through Minnesota to another destination are required to take the course and display a decal even if they don’t put their boat in Minnesota waters.”
DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier added, “With the legislative interest in this educational program and ongoing discussions about possible changes, we are postponing the launch until we see if the legislature acts this session to modify the program.”
State Sen. Tom Saxhaug said, “Education is critical to this whole aquatic invasive species idea. We are not trying to stop tourism in the state in any way, shape or form, but what we are trying to do is to make sure everyone in the state knows how to clean their boats.”
For funding its Invasive Species Program, Minnesota includes a $5 surcharge on watercraft registered in the state and a $2 surcharge on nonresident fishing licenses. Resort owners say current fees and decal requirements already have cost them business.
Twice in a few months, Florida recorded a new shoal bass record. On March 8, Tucker Martin was the most recent, using a spinnerbait to take a 4-pound, 8-ounce trophy from the Chipola River in the northwestern part of the state.
In December, Charles Tucker established the first official record for the shoal bass, also from the Chipola, a tributary of the Apalachicola. The Georgia angler caught a 4-pound, 2-ounce fish on a chatterbait.
“The best destination to catch shoal bass in Florida is the Chipola River,” said Chris Paxton, regional fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“ Whereas central Florida is especially renowned for trophy largemouth, the Florida Panhandle has numerous species of uniquely evolved black bass that we are proud to promote and manage,” he added. “It was a delight getting to document another state record from this area.”
Florida is home to five species of black bass, including the Choctaw, Suwanee, and spotted, as well as shoal and largemouth. While the bigger largemouth is common throughout the state, all five are found in the Panhandle. The first and second dorsal fins are connected in the four smaller species, but separated in the largemouth by a notch. In addition, the upper jaws of the smaller bass do not extend past the eye, as it does in the largemouth.
“People can distinguish shoal bass from Choctaw, spotted, and Suwannee bass because, unlike those other species, shoal and largemouth basses do not have a patch of teeth on their tongue,” Paxton said.
Also, shoal bass have vertical stripes above the midline on their bodies.
Historically found in the Apalachicola River, the shoal bass has all but been eliminated there because of habitat degradation. As their name implies, these fish favor shoal type habitats, which include shallow, fast-moving riffles and runs containing limestone.
Because the northwestern Florida black basses don’t grow as big as the largemouth and have limited ranges, the FWC is considering new rules to help sustain their populations. The proposed regulations would set a statewide five-fish daily bag limit for all five species, with only one fish 16 inches or longer.
In the Suwannee River, areas north and west of that river and any of its tributaries, shoal, Choctaw, Suwannee, and spotted bass of less than 12 inches would have to be released immediately, while largemouth bass would have no minimum size restriction.
Depending on public input and a vote by FWC commissioners, the regulations would into effect in July of 2016.