Effective July 1, anglers fishing Florida waters statewide can keep smaller, more abundant largemouth bass, with the creel limit remaining at five and one fish of 16 inches or longer allowed. Additionally, many specific rules for different water bodies will be eliminated, according to changes approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“The intent is to simplify existing rules and increase abundance of larger bass statewide,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
The new rules will eliminate the three zones that currently regulate bass harvest along with 42 site-specific regulations for largemouth bass. This simplification has been a long-standing desire of anglers and resource managers.
For Suwannee, shoal, Choctaw and spotted basses, the current 12-inch minimum size limit will remain in effect, but there will be no minimum length limit on largemouth bass. In addition, the proposed changes include a catch-and-release-only zone for shoal bass in the Chipola River.
Anglers are practicing voluntary catch-and-release at record levels, report biologists. While reduced harvest of large bass is beneficial, allowing more bass under 16 inches to be kept may improve some fisheries by reducing competition so other individuals grow faster and larger.
The existing bass tournament permit program will continue to allow anglers participating in permitted tournaments temporary possession of five bass of any size. This successful program has been in place for more than 20 years and allows delayed-release bass tournaments to remain viable, but requires proper care, handling and release of all bass caught during the tournament (even those that could otherwise be legally harvested).