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TrophyCatch: A Harvest of Data

Fishing Regulations Florida Freshwater Fishing

In 2009, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced an ambitious strategy to establish Florida as the undisputed Black Bass Fishing Capital of the World. One of the innovative action steps of that Black Bass Management Plan was to create a new high-profile angler recognition program to document trophy catches. Launched in 2012 as TrophyCatch, this program rewards citizen-scientists for documenting and releasing bass weighing 8 pounds or more. Now in Season 8, thousands of conservationist anglers have submitted over 10,000 approved bass catches to TrophyCatch. While each of these valuable trophy fish was released as a requirement of the program’s participation, their documentation provides a true harvest of data to guide fisheries biologists in the management and conservation of Florida’s favorite freshwater game fish.

Some remarkable insights about Florida bass biology have emerged from anglers’ catches. Possibly the most interesting is the riddle of Kingsley Lake. As data grew, biologists noticed that this site was home to a disproportionate number of trophy bass. What was going on at Kingsley Lake? Besides harboring big bass, the lake itself is unusual due to its depths to 80 feet, a stark contrast to most Florida lakes. One theory about Kingsley’s big bass is that its depth provides a cool sanctuary for bass during Florida’s warmest months. Florida bass thrive in warm waters, but summer temperatures put their metabolism in high gear, where they burn through calories that would otherwise be available for packing on body weight. To find out what was going on, biologists implanted 10 bass with acoustic telemetry tags equipped with depth and temperature sensors. The tags continuously emit ultra-sonic signals that contain the depth and temperature measurements for where the bass is located. Tracking showed that Kingsley bass do take advantage of access to deeper, cooler waters which allow them to maintain lower body temperatures during summer. This may also reduce their natural mortality rate by minimizing some of the stress that bass undergo after spawning, as water temperatures quickly rise. Kingsley bass may also attain such large size simply by living much longer than the average Florida bass.

While biologists find the management potential of such information fascinating, anglers are more practical. When is the best time to go fishing? Data from almost 10,000 TrophyCatch bass show that the peak months to catch a trophy are February and March. While Florida bass might spawn between December and June, February and March coincide exactly with peak spawning months. This is the time when large females can be found in shallow water and are more accessible to anglers. The spawn is a stressful time for bass, and an additional outgrowth of TrophyCatch is the TrophyCare web page (TrophyCatchFlorida.com/TrophyCare) which provides best practices for safely landing and live-releasing your trophy.

Anglers can catch a Florida trophy year-round, but statistically February and March is best. If you have submitted an approved TrophyCatch bass, your fish is included in this graph!

Ever wonder just how many trophy bass there are in Florida? Thanks to TrophyCatch’s citizen-scientist anglers and FWC’s trophy bass tagging study, we now have a unique way to answer that question. By tracking the number of tagged trophy bass that anglers enter into TrophyCatch, biologists measure the program’s participation rate among anglers and the rate at which tagged bass are documented in the program. Knowing these rates allow biologists to expand TrophyCatch’s annual totals to the statewide level. These angler-supplied data indicate that Florida’s public waters hold 18,000-33,000 trophy bass, of which 3,000–6,000 are caught by anglers each year!

As the body of TrophyCatch data continues to grow, so does the FWC’s ability to optimally manage Florida’s bass fisheries. We thank our thousands of program participants as well as conservation partners like Bass Pro Shops for making this program successful, fun and rewarding!