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Entries in Florida (131)

Monday
Jan262015

Georgia Angler Catches Hall of Fame Bass at Rodman

Georgia angler Dwight Whitmore with 14-1 largemouth that he caught and released at Rodman Reservoir.

As the St. Johns Riverkeeper extorts the city of Jacksonville to help in a campaign to destroy Rodman Reservoir, the 9,000-acre impoundment on the Ocklawaha River continues to confirm its reputation as a world-class bass fishery.

Georgia angler Dwight Whitemore recently caught and released a 14-pound, 1-ounce largemouth there while fishing with guide Sean Rush.

“This lake is truly one of the best bass fishing and wildlife sanctuaries in the world,” said Rush, who added that he loves showing his customers the eagles and other wildlife that live there.

“During a remarkable three-day bass trip with Rush, the visiting Georgia anglers caught-and-released 66 bigmouths, which included two fish each weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces; an 8-pound, 8-ouncer; and others weighing 9-pounds-2; 9-pounds-12; 10-pounds-10; 11-pounds-9; plus the massive 14-pound-1 behemoth,” reports Bob McNally in The Times-Union.

 “When I got hold of that fish I knew it was a monster, and we started going crazy in the boat,” Rush said. “I told my anglers it would weigh between 12 and 15 pounds, and they just went wild, high-fiving and back slapping. They knew it was a fish most anglers only dream about catching.”

Once boated, the fish immediately was entered in Florida’s TrophyCatch program.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports:

Although not required to verify a Hall of Fame fish (larger than 13 pounds), FWC fisheries biologist Travis Tuten came off holiday leave with his kids to witness the catch, obtain additional measurements and take a fin clip for genetic analyses. They were also able to video the live release of the first Hall of Fame entry for Season 3 of TrophyCatch (visit www.Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to see the video).

As a Hall of Fame entrant, Whitmore will receive a free replica of his bass, produced by New Wave Taxidermy, $200 in gift cards from TrophyCatch partners like Bass Pro Shops, a Fitzgerald rod and a sweatshirt-sunglasses combo from SpiderWire™. Right now, he also is in contention for the TrophyCatch championship ring that will be awarded by the American Outdoors Fund for the largest verified bass at the end of Season 3 (Oct. 1, 2014 to Sep. 30, 2015).

During their three-day trip, Whitmore also caught and released four additional bass that are eligible for other TrophyCatch awards, and his buddy caught two more.

People can participate in this citizen-science effort and help encourage live release of trophy bass by registering at TrophyCatch. Simply registering makes people eligible for a Phoenix bass boat, powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole anchoring system and Navionics charting.

Monday
Jan192015

Divers Capture Another Invader in Florida Waters

Surgeon fish photo by Deb Devers

Congratulations to two divers who had the good sense to report and then capture an exotic fish. Their actions might have prevented its establishment in Florida waters.

The two first noted the small, bright yellow fish while SCUBA diving beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge, and realized that they never had seen one like it. They took photos and later reported what they had seen to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit that keeps track of exotic marine fish species.

According to the Miami Herald, REEF identified the fish as a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish, also known as a chocolate surgeonfish. It’s native to the Indo-Pacific, and this was its first sighting in Florida waters. Upon learning that, the divers returned to where they had first seen the fish and captured it.

"We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” REEF said. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”

Taking out the surgeonfish could prove to be the fourth preemptive strike against a non-native marine fish species in Florida coastal waters, according to the organization.

In 1999 and 2002, REEF staff and volunteers captured four large Indo-Pacific batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish from the east side of the Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, Miami divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes speared an exotic humpback grouper on a reef off Biscayne National Park and turned the carcass over to REEF. None of those three species are known to have reappeared in Florida waters since their removals.

“Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” REEF said. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.”

Anyone who spots a strange-looking fish that they suspect is invasive is advised to take a photo and report the sighting to REEF.

Wednesday
Jan072015

Would Florida-Strain Bass Improve Your Fishery? Maybe . . . Not

In southeastern Oklahoma one winter, hatchery ponds for the state’s Florida bass stocking program were covered by ice for three weeks. One hundred miles to the south, at Lake Fork, just three days were below freezing.

Anglers at Fork during that time probably found the bite tough, but the world-class fishery suffered no long-term damage. In those ponds, meanwhile, 60 percent of the Florida bass brood stock died.

Yes, Florida bass grow faster and larger than their northern counterparts. And stocking them outside their native range has resulted in the creation of some spectacular trophy fisheries in states such as Texas, California, Georgia, and Alabama.

But desired outcome from the expensive effort is not a guarantee.

“In Oklahoma, we finally decided that stocking Florida bass was a waste of time in some places, no matter what fishermen want,” said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director and former assistant chief of fisheries for that state.

Still, anglers continue the drum beat to stock Florida bass in waters that biologists say are inappropriate, as Ron Brooks knows all too well.  And in their arguments for stocking, they cite “evidence” that really isn’t evidence at all, explained the Kentucky fisheries chief.

“We receive requests to stock the Florida strain fairly regularly, and they always site Tennessee’s stockings in Kentucky Lake and the larger bass there as a result,” he said, echoing the experiences of fisheries managers in several states.

But biologists haven’t verified that those large bass are the result of Florida strain stockings. “The truth of the matter is that Kentucky Lake is a very fertile lake with very abundant forage species,” Brooks added.

Recently, some wanted Kentucky to stock Florida bass in Cave Run Lake, an infertile fishery east of Lexington, with limited forage and almost no habitat in the lower end. And, oh yeah, muskies, fish that like cold water, do quite well there.

Still, Brooks said, explanations for why Cave Run is inappropriate fell on deaf ears.

In a nutshell, here’s what introduced Florida bass need to thrive: mild climate, abundant forage, and plentiful habitat, preferably vegetation. Originating in subtropic Florida, they’re most at home in shallow water with a long growing season and plenty to eat.

Simply for survival, climate is the most critical of the three. Temperature drop of just a few degrees can stress Florida bass, and rapid and/or severe drop can kill them. Unfortunately, a clear geographic boundary for determining where Florida bass can live and where they can’t does not exist.

 “It’s not a north/south thing,” Gililland said. “It’s a diagonal, with cold moving from the northwest to the southeast.”

To thrive, meanwhile, Florida bass require plenty of food both throughout the year and during all stages of their life cycle. In their native range, that means mostly golden shiners, shad, and sunfish. But they will grow large and fat on other species, including trout in California and tilapia in Mexico’s Lake El Salto.

Shallow-water, vegetated habitat is the least critical of the three components, especially if the climate is mild and food plentiful.

Okay, some of you say, “I understand that. But what’s the big deal if you stock Florida bass in a lake and they don’t do well. No harm, no foul. Right?”

Wrong.

Introducing Florida bass is not the same as a supplemental stocking to enhance a depleted fishery. There’s only one reason to stock them: To grow trophy fish. If a water body isn’t conducive for that, then Florida genes mixed into the native strain actually can harm the fishery, making them less hearty, at least in the short term. Eventually, Florida genes will disappear from the population.

But the money wasted to maintain brood stock, spawn them, and stock the offspring still will have been wasted.

Additionally, as Florida bass breed with native bass, the potential for growing to trophy size is lost over time. “You can’t just stock and leave them,” Gilliland said. “As long as you have 50 percent or greater Florida genes, there’s still the potential. Below that, it’s no greater than with just native fish.”

Still, many anglers who want big bass in their home waters continue to lobby for something that is not in the best interests of their fisheries.

“Believe me, if past research projects indicated that Florida strain bass would produce lunker bass in Kentucky, we would have stocked them years ago,” said Brooks, voicing the frustration of many fisheries managers. “We strive to produce the best fisheries possible within the limits of our resources.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Dec192014

Georgia Angler Sets Record for Florida Shoal Bass

Charles “Anthony” Tucker of Albany, Ga., established the first official Florida state record for a shoal bass just three days before his 57th birthday. Shoal bass are, pound-for-pound, one of the top fighters in the black bass family. His weighed 4 pounds, 2 ounces and was 20 inches long, with a 13.5-inch girth.

Tucker caught it using a Z-man Chatterbait with a Paca-Craw trailer, Shimano reel and Carrot-stick rod at about 2 in the afternoon on Dec. 6.

“Hooked on shoal bass,” is how Tucker described the outcome of his experience. “They are a unique fish that fights well.”

Tucker was having an early family birthday celebration in Florida and staying at Crippled Coon Lodge in Altha when he established the record. In making his plans, he checked out MyFWC.com and found out the shoal bass record was vacant and required a bass heavier than 4 pounds to establish the record. It was a slow day in northwest Florida but Tucker’s experience told him that often, when you aren’t catching lots of small bass, a real trophy will show up and make your day.

Shoal bass are similar in body shape to largemouth bass. Quick ways to tell them apart include the fact that the upper jaw extends beyond the back edge of the eye on largemouth bass and not on shoal bass or other black bass species. You can also look at the dorsal fins along the midline on top of the bass. In largemouth, the spiny first dorsal fin is separated from the soft dorsal fin, which does not have scales. On the shoal bass, there are scales on the base portion of the soft dorsal fin, which is connected to the spiny dorsal by a thin piece of skin.

Shoal bass have vertical stripes above the midline of the body; they resemble tiger stripes and help distinguish them from other black bass in Florida – the spotted and Suwannee basses. In addition, shoal bass do not have a tooth patch on the tongue, whereas spotted bass do.

Although historically found in the Apalachicola River, habitat degradation has all but eliminated shoal bass from the river proper. As their name implies, shoal bass favor “shoal" type habitats that include shallow, fast moving riffles and runs containing limestone.

“The best destination to catch shoal bass in Florida is the Chipola River, where Tucker caught his new state record,” said Chris Paxton, regional fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Since shoal habitats are limited, the FWC is considering various ways to protect that habitat and all of the black bass species in Florida,” he said.

Paxton met with Tucker to verify the identity of the fish, weigh it on certified scales, and ensure Tucker took it legally, with a valid fishing license or exemption. His application was notarized and approved as the Florida state-record shoal bass.

Tucker was impressed by Paxton.

“He was very knowledgeable and thorough in ensuring the catch was properly certified, and he came out on a Sunday morning to meet me.”

State records require a biologist to verify the species and certified weight. Other high-quality catches, from the same 33 freshwater species for which the FWC maintains records, are recognized online and with a certificate, if they exceed specified weights or lengths. Simply register online and upload a photo of your qualifying catch. There are even special youth, master and elite angler challenges.

Tuesday
Dec162014

'Recreational Fuel' Ripoff in Florida

Florida anglers and other boat owners are really lucky to have a state government that is looking out for them.

A state law makes it illegal to sell non-ethanol gasoline for anything other than boats, motorcycles, small engines, and “classics.” Consequently, most stations offer ethanol only fuel. But some stations scattered around the state offer “recreational fuel” just for anglers and boaters.

Isn’t that great?

Not really. In truth, Florida anglers and other boat owners are being ripped off by the state because they must use non-ethanol gas to keep from destroying their engines.

Here’s what I mean: When I was down at Lake Okeechobee last week, 10-percent ethanol gas sold for $2.69, while “recreational fuel” at the same station cost $3.69.

That’s right. If you want to run to your older outboard without destroying it, you must pay $1 more a gallon for a fuel that actually is cheaper to produce than 10-percent ethanol gasoline.

By contrast, where I live in Missouri, “recreational fuel,” which is available at just about every station, was selling for $2.38 when I left on Nov. 29 and just $2.19 when I returned.

Here’s an article that explains the situation in Florida.