Fishing & Boating News

Angler-recognition programs enhance pleasure

by: Bob Wattendorf,

Terrence Alford caught this 14 lb, 2 oz bass in April from Doctors Lake.
Photo by courtesy FWC
The first Hall of Fame bass in Florida's TrophyCatch program was caught by Bob Williams, with the help of his guide Sean Rush.
Photo by courtesy FWC
(May. 16, 2013 - Tallahassee, FL)

Anglers of all ages enjoy showing off their catch and recalling the memories. In fact, that's pretty much been the case for all historical "ages" as well. For instance, Chinese anglers used bamboo rods, reels and silk lines in 3,000 B.C., and one can imagine their pride in a big catch. Egyptian art, from the age of the Pharoahs, shows hook-and-line fishing not only for food but for pleasure and seems to proudly document their prowess. "The Compleat Angler - or - the Contemplative Man's Recreation," by Izaak Walton, published in England in 1655, boasted of the comparative size of catches between streams. Thaddeus Norris in "The American Angler" (1864) referred to the need for conservation and describes techniques for catching the biggest and best fish.

At least 46 of the 50 states have an angler recognition program to enhance angler enjoyment and satisfaction, increase participation rates, attain fisheries data and increase license sales. Nearly 75 percent of the states require a photo to document the catch and more than half require use of a certified scale. Almost all provide a customized certificate. A few also offer rewards (three states provide drawings and seven provide incentives like shirts or lures). Special categories for youth (13 states), recording multiple catches of different species (14 states) or "slams" for catching a specific group of different species in a specified time (six states) are also popular.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) does all this and more for freshwater anglers.

April 30 concludes the first Hall of Fame season for the innovative new TrophyCatch program. No doubt about it, though, TrophyCatch, Big Catch and the State Record program are still going full speed ahead year round. Read on for a more detailed breakdown of the requirements for each program:

State-record freshwater fish
Florida recognizes state records for 33 species of freshwater fishes. Some of these are game fish and some are nongame fish, and some are native while others are non-native. The poster illustrated here (also see MyFWC.com/BigCatch to print one) shows the various species along with the current state record. To be listed as a state record, there are several stringent requirements. First, the fish must be weighed on a certified scale. Second, the fish must be identified to species by an FWC biologist. Third, the fish must be legally caught by a licensed (or legally exempt) angler in waters where access and fishing gear were legal. State records are only issued for active hook-and-line catches. Bushhooks, trotlines or bow-and-arrow do not count. A certificate is issued for all state records, but specific line-class or lake records are not maintained.

Big Catch angler recognition
This program began in 1953 as a "fishing citation" program to provide an incentive for anglers to share photos of their Big Catch with Florida Wildlife Magazine. In 1990, the FWC introduced new criteria with minimum weights for each species. A 1996 revamp included new categories for specialists (five qualifying fish of the same species), masters (five qualifying fish of different species), elite anglers (10 qualifying fish of different species) and youth (approximately 25 percent smaller than adult minimum sizes). We also began allowing anglers to enter fish based on length or weight, making it easier to document a catch. In 2012, the FWC added slams for Black Bass, Bream and Exotics (see MyFWC.com/BigCatch). Big Catch remains a very popular, family-oriented program that allows legal catch-and-release or harvest, and only a simple bragging photo and statement of the length or weight is required. Big Catch promotes fishing for a diversity of species and, as a result, there is always a species that anglers can target, regardless of the time of year or location.

TrophyCatch
This is Florida's newest and most rewarding angler recognition program. It rewards anglers for documenting and releasing 8-pound and heavier bass. This helps promote ecological, economic and social values while supporting conservation efforts and providing valuable data to scientists. Largemouth bass are the most popular recreational fish in North America, and trophies over 8 pounds take a while to grow (typically six to eight years, although some fast growers may attain this weight in four years, and others may never reach that size).

Since TrophyCatch helps market Florida as the Fishing Capital of the World and generates business, industry partners provide incentives to encourage anglers to recycle and report their catch. The data provided helps identify environmental variables and FWC conservation efforts, such as habitat enhancement, stocking, vegetation management and regulations, which support trophy fisheries. Since accurate data is needed to manage trophy fisheries and to reward anglers, the verification process is more stringent than for Big Catch.

Bass club levels
There are three club levels and for each the bass must be legally caught in Florida and released:

Lunker Club (8-9.9 pounds)
- Requirements: Photographic documentation showing entire fish with weight and length discernable.
- Rewards: Bass King T-shirt, certificate, decal, discounts and weekly drawings for $50 Bass Pro Shops gift cards.
Trophy Club (10-12.9 pounds)
- Requirements: Photographic documentation showing entire fish with weight and length discernable.
- Rewards: Long-sleeve Bass King T-shirt, certificate, decal, discounts, $100 in gift cards for each released bass (from Bass Pro Shops, Rapala or Dicks' Sporting Goods) and drawings for guided fishing trips.
Hall of Fame Club (13 pounds or greater)
- Requirements: Certified by FWC staff, and verified on certified scale. - Due to the need to hold the fish alive until certified, they are only recognized from Oct. 1 to April 30 each year, when the water is cooler and survival is better. Any other time of year, 13-pound bass may be photographed and submitted for Trophy Club rewards.
- Rewards: Free $500 fiberglass fish replica from New Wave Taxidermy; $150 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Rapala and Dicks' Sporting Goods; a hoody, duffle bag and other fishing apparel from Bass King; a Glen Lau fishing video library; a Pro Line Fishing Rod with US Reels' casting reel; and more.

In addition, the biggest bass of the year caught in Osceola County and verified as a TrophyCatch receives $10,000 from Explore Kissimmee. If a guide helps to catch the fish, the guide is also rewarded with $2,500.

The biggest verified bass of the year caught in Florida wins the TrophyCatch Championship Ring from the American Outdoors Fund.

To learn more and register, visit the TrophyCatchFlorida website. Just registering, makes you eligible for a Phoenix Bass Boat powered by Mercury. Once registered, you can submit photos of your catch for any of these angler-recognition award programs. Remember, for state records (33 species) a biologist needs to examine the fish (alive or dead), and for Hall of Fame an FWC employee needs to see certify your largemouth bass prior to its release. In both those cases, the fish must be weighed on a certified scale. For TrophyCatch's Lunker Club and Trophy Club, you take photos showing the length and weight and release the bass alive. For Big Catch just take a photo and ensure the fish is longer than or heavier than the qualifying weight. One last thing: If you have old photos for Big Catch, and know the length or weight of the fish, they can be entered at any time.

Details are at the TrophyCatchFlorida website. Be sure to friend us on FaceBook/TrophyCatchFlorida and "like" us at YouTube/TrophyCatchFlorida.

Whatever your age, wherever you fish in Florida, remember: The FWC is ready to help commemorate and immortalize your memories. Post your photos and share them with your social network.

Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to Tip@MyFWC.com. Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and select "more news," or scr.bi/Fish-busters for more Fish Busters' Bulletins.
Big Catch Poster
Photo by courtesy FWC