"TrophyCatch Season 3 ended on a very positive note, and Season 4 is off to an even better start, with peak fishing time right around the corner," according to the Florida Fish and Widllife Conservation Commission (FWC).
TrophyCatch is the citizen-science program that allows FWC to collect data on largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds. In return, corporate partners reward anglers for properly documenting the catch with a photo of the entire bass (head to tail) on a scale with the weight showing, and releasing it.
During Season 3, the FWC verified 1,744 TrophyCatch bass, with more than 70 percent of the submissions being approved. The previous season, 993 bass heavier than 8 pounds were verified, which was about 60 percent of submissions. The first season, 185 were verified, which was less than 40 percent of submissions.
“This reflects an increasing awareness by anglers of the TrophyCatch program and how to document their catches, but also shows how prolific the trophy bass fishery is in Florida,” said KP Clements, director of TrophyCatch.
By going to TrophyCatchFlorida.com anglers can register, submit fish, and examine other catches from around the state. Just registering makes you eligible to win a $40,000 boat package. Ed Prather was the lucky winner of the third Phoenix Bass Boat given away by TrophyCatch. The boats are powered by Mercury and equipped with a PowerPole shallow-water anchoring. To be eligible for the random drawing at the end of Season 4, simply ensure you are registered and your information is up-to-date.
Data has shown FWC biologists that while there are hot lakes, like Kingsley Lake in Clay County (which has limited access to the military and homeowners), numerous catches come from small urban or rural ponds or even golf course ponds. Large popular public lakes like Istokpoga, Tohopekaliga, Okeechobee and Kissimmee provide equal opportunity for all anglers and are popular tourist destinations.
At TrophyCatchFlorida.com you can search for catches by county or water body to determine how your favorite area is doing or where to try next.
Last season about 50 TrophyCatch bass were verified in December, which doubled to more than 100 in January, then increased to about 150 in February and peaked in March with almost 400 approved submissions. Trophy bass catches then declined through November before picking up again, in a typical annual cycle. Of course, this is keyed to the bass’ spawning cycle and anglers’ enthusiasm for finding bass during early spring.
March panned out very well for the 15 Hall of Fame winners from Season 3, who were honored in December at an event at Bass Pro Shops, Orlando. Those anglers caught, documented and released 17 bass over 13 pounds, five of which were caught in March. This included Seth Chapman, who earned the TrophyCatch championship ring, donated by the American Outdoors Fund, for a 15-pound, 11-ounce bass submitted from Kingsley Lake. The ring goes to the biggest verified bass of the season.
Porschia Gabrielse was the first angler with three Hall-of-Fame bass — a 13-, 14-, and 15-pounder — all from small Polk County ponds. She has contributed a total of 41 TrophyCatches to the program.
“TrophyCatch provides significant data to help manage our valuable, ensuring that Florida remains the ‘Fishing Capital of the World’,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
Each Hall-of-Fame fish would be a state record in 28 states, and Florida has had 23 documented in three years. A 15-pounder exceeds the records in all but 12 other states.
To become a TrophyCatch winner yourself, catch, document and release a largemouth bass legally that is 8 pounds or heavier in Florida. To enter a trophy bass, take a photo of the entire bass on a scale with the weight visible, and release it alive. Being legal includes having a Florida freshwater fishing license or approved exemption, so make sure you are covered.