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Entries in Florida (152)

Wednesday
Aug262015

World-Class Suwanee Bass on Display in Florida

If it's not already, a world record Suwannee bass soon will be swimming in the 9,200-gallon aquarium at Bass Pro Shops in Tallahassee, Fla. It was just two ounces shy of the record when released there this sumemr, after being caught in the Ochlockonee Rivery by Ferrol "Roscoe" Holley, Jr.

After catching the fish on June 26, Holley contacted Andy Strickland, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), who immediately went to meet him. The 3.75-pound bass was weighed on a certified scale and measured 16.5 inches long. The state and world record is 3.89 pounds, caught by Ronnie Everett in 1985 on the Suwannee River in Gilchrist County.

Give it a few good meals in the Bass Pro Shops’ aquarium and customers should soon be watching a world-record feed at noon each Tuesday/Thursday and at 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

First, Brian Claborn, Bass Pro Shops’ aquarist, treated the bass to ensure it was healthy and held it in quarantine. Once it was given a clean bill of health, Claborn and Strickland arranged for Holley and his family to come to the store and release the bass into the aquarium. Strickland also presented Holley with a “Big Catch” certificate.

Big Catch is the FWC’s oldest angler-recognition program, which traces its history to 1953 when a “fishing citation” program was run by Florida Wildlife Magazine (now the free online FloridaWildlifeMagazine.com). The actual Big Catch Angler Recognition Program began in 1990, and since then thousands of anglers have enjoyed having their catches recognized.

Anglers can register for free at BigCatchFlorida.com to submit their catch or view other anglers’ catches. A customized certificate is rewarded to any angler who legally catches and photographs one of 33 popular Florida freshwater fish species that exceeds the qualifying length or weight. The program includes categories for specialists (five qualifying fish of the same species), masters (five qualifying fish of different species) and elite anglers (10 qualifying fish of different species). In addition, a youth category makes this a family-friendly way to get kids involved.

The final Big Catch category includes the freshwater grand slams. A Bass Slam includes catching a largemouth, spotted, shoal and Suwannee bass in the same year. A Bream Slam is awarded for catching any four of bluegill, redear sunfish, spotted sunfish, warmouth, redbreast sunfish or flier in one day, and an Exotic Slam requires catching a butterfly peacock, Mayan cichlid and oscar in one day. These programs help encourage anglers to try new species, locations and techniques, and provide fun family challenges.

Holley’s near-world-record Suwannee bass is in the same group of black basses as largemouth bass, shoal bass, spotted bass and the newly-identified Choctaw bass. With the exception of the largemouth, these other basses are all primarily riverine and within Florida are only located in the panhandle and tributaries of the Suwannee River. The FWC is proposing new rules to continue to protect all of these species (see MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Speak out on bass rules” to learn more and comment.)

Friday
Aug072015

Florida Fishery Restored by Dedicated Volunteers

The way it used to be: Gator sunning in the muck at Lake Trafford. Photo by Naples Daily News

Those who doubt that hydrilla can destroy a fishery need look only to Florida’s Lake Trafford.  Nearly 40 years ago, the invasive plant covered its 1,500 acres, and efforts to control the plant with herbicides resulted in a buildup of muck that reached 6 feet deep in places. 

That organic debris smothered native plants and hard bottom, fed algal blooms, and led directly to several fish kills, culminating with a massive die-off in 1996.Less than 20 years later, however, Lake Trafford also is a testament to what anglers and other involved citizens can do to make a difference. The fishery once again is vibrant and healthy, as evidenced by three TrophyCatch bass (8 pounds or better) being caught there earlier this year.

“A number of dedicated people, past and present, put in a lot of effort and energy to help bring this fishery back,” said Jon Fury, deputy director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Seeing a largemouth bass entered into TrophyCatch from this lake is very gratifying.”

That effort began with Annie Olesky, who started a campaign to raise money to remove the muck.  Sadly, the wife of Ski Olesky, owner of Lake Trafford Marina, died just before the multi-million-dollar project began in 2005. Financed by Friends of Lake Trafford, FWC, the South Florida Water Management District, and the Collier County Tourist Development Council, the project began with 6.4 million cubic yards of muck being dredged from the lake.

“The removal of the muck was a key step,” said FWC biologist Barron Moody. “It impacted the ability of fish to spawn. It also reduced nutrient loading and improved water clarity so sunlight can get to submerged vegetation.

Plantings of bulrush, pondweed, and other native plants followed, as did stocking of 500,000 largemouth fingerlings by FWC. But those recent TrophyCatch bass weren’t the result of those 2010 and 2011 stockings. They were a few of the hearty survivors.

“In our sampling, we’ve seen that the hatchery fish aren’t that large,” Moody said. “They’re more in the 2- to 3-pound range.”

Additionally, hydrilla remains in the lake, but FWC and the water district are hopeful that they can keep it under control this time.

“I am so very proud of the partnership built between our local community, Collier County, the FWC, and partner agencies,” said FWC Commissioner Liesa Priddy, “The grassroots efforts by the local community, businesses and the people of Collier County set in motion the process that brought us to this successful conclusion -- this celebrated catch.”

Monday
Aug032015

Bill Introduced to Block NPS Plan to Restrict Access at Biscayne National Park

Following the National Park Service's (NPS) decision to close more than 10,000 acres of Biscayne National Park to fishing,  a bipartisan bill, H.R. 3310,  has been introduced in Congress to help stop this and similar unwarranted fishing closures from occurring.

Led by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), and 28 other original sponsors, the “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act” requires the NPS and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to have approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before closing state waters to recreational or commercial fishing.

“Probably the most concerning aspect of the Biscayne National Park marine reserve decision is the total disregard for the fisheries management expertise of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association.

 “The states are responsible for nearly all of our nation’s saltwater fisheries management successes. This legislative safeguard will prevent the federal government from ignoring the fisheries management expertise of the states in these types of situations.”

Throughout the development of the General Management Plan for Biscayne National Park, through which the marine reserve is being implemented, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided detailed recommendations to improve the condition of the fisheries resources in the park. The Commission has continually insisted that the proposed marine reserve is overly restrictive to the public and will not be biologically effective.

 It also argues that less restrictive management tools can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and conserve habitat.

The recreational fishing and boating community has echoed these concerns, but nevertheless the National Park Service ultimately elected to close nearly 40 percent of the park’s reef tract to fishing.

“The Congressional leaders who are sponsoring this bill are to be commended for this common sense approach to protect saltwater anglers from unwarranted access restrictions,” said Chris Horton, Fisheries Program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The Biscayne National Park marine reserve is part of a concerning trend of closing marine areas without scientific basis or an understanding of the critical role anglers play in the economy and in funding conservation.”

“Marine reserves are a tool in the fisheries management toolbox, but too often we see them promoted with questionable-at-best motivations,” said Jeff Miller, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s Government Relations Committee. “This bill will ensure that Florida has a say in important fisheries management decisions in Biscayne National Park, including marine reserves, and that similar issues don’t arise in other parts of the state and country.”

Today the  House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Small Business will hold a joint hearing to explore the potential implications of lost access due to the Biscayne marine reserve.

Thursday
Jul302015

Exotic Catfish Are in Our Waters Too

Asian carp are the exotic fish species that we hear the most about, but plenty of others are established in our waters as well, mostly because of an under-regulated exotic pet industry and irresponsible aquarium owners. Clinton Richardson recently caught this unusual catfish while fishing the lower Susquehanna River.  Biologists identified it as a hybrid catfish from the aquarium trade, a cross between a redtail catfish and a tiger shovelnose catfish. Both grow large in their native South America.

"Irresponsible aquarium owners continue to introduce exotic and at times invasive fish to our waterways when their pet fish become too large or they tire of them," noted the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "The introduction of the northern snakehead is a perfect example."

The big question now is whether climate is too cold for such exotic catfish to establish breeding populations that far north, if they haven't already.

USGS photo

In Florida, meanwhile, the suckermouth armored catfish, also from South America, is firmly entrenched over much of the peninsula. And almost certainly it came from the aquarium trade as well, as it often is labeled a "plecostomus" or "algae eater."

The burrows that they make for spawning likely cause or exacerbate erosion on shorelines of canals and rivers, although no quantitative data is available on that. Additionally, they have been observed browsing on the algae that frequently grows on the backs of manatees.

"Manatee responses varied widely; some did not react visibly to attached catfish whereas others appeared agitated and attempted to dislodge the fish. The costs and/or benefits of this interaction to manatees remain unclear," said the U.S. Geological Survey.

Thursday
Jul232015

Put Used Baits and Lines Where They Belong--- In the Trash

Great blue heron hanging by monofilament line. Photo by Robert Montgomery

In general, anglers are good stewards. Because they enjoy the outdoors, they understand that it makes good sense to take care of it. This is especially true with fish care and handling.

As a group, however, we've been a little slow to address the need to properly dispose of used plastic baits and monofilament line. Fortunately, that's changing.

B.A.S.S. first started emphasizing proper disposal of baits a few years ago, and Eamon Bolten followed with the founding of a ReBaits program to recycle those baits. Today, we have  Keep America Fishing's national Pitch It campaign, which encourages anglers to pitch their worn-out baits into trash cans or recycling containers.

Additionally, more states, organizations, and companies are providing recycling bins for discarded monofilament line, both in stores and at boat ramps. Florida is one of the leaders, with its Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program and more than 40 counties providing recycling bins.

"Every day, improperly discarded monofilament fishing line causes devastating problems for marine life and the environment," says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

 "Marine mammals, sea turtles, fish and birds become injured from entanglements, or might ingest the line, often dying as a result.  Human divers and swimmers are also at risk from entanglements and the line can also damage boat propellers.

Dolphn crippled by fishing line. FWC photo

"The Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program is a statewide effort to educate the public on the problems caused by monofilament line left in the environment, to encourage recycling through a network of line recycling bins and drop-off locations, and to conduct volunteer monofilament line cleanup events."

FWC researchers note that clumps of monofilament line are the most common foreign objects found during manatee necropsies. They also point out that birds frequenting piers and other fishing hotspots  often are hooked accidentally when trying to grab bait off an angler’s line. Additionally, discarded monofilament line hanging from trees, piers, and other structures can ensnare birds. Once entangled, birds can have a difficult to impossible time flying and feeding.

“It is not uncommon to find dead pelicans entangled with fishing line and hooks,” said FWC biologist Ricardo Zambrano.

Please, properly dispose of both used baits and fishing line, and encourage others to do so as well. It's the right thing to do for fish and wildlife and the future of the sport that we love so much.