The state of Florida is proud of its largemouth bass fishing and it wants bass anglers to be proud of their catches, too.
That’s why the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a program that rewards anglers who catch, weigh, photograph, release and report bass of 8 or more pounds.
Called TrophyCatch, the program, which is in its second year, awards gift cards, clothing and, depending on the size of the fish, a fiberglass mount of the catch to anglers.
Given the great bass fishing in the Everglades and at Lake Okeechobee right now, South Florida anglers could really cash in.
Here’s how TrophyCatch works:
Start by registering online for free at trophycatchflorida.com. That makes you eligible for an annual drawing for a Phoenix bass boat whether you catch a qualifying bass or not.
Last year’s winner was Frank Ay, of North Lauderdale. He was awarded the $40,000 19-foot boat after a Big Reel Bassmasters club tournament at Lake Okeechobee.
Ay was one of 4,000 anglers who registered for TrophyCatch the first season. He said his biggest bass the first year was 7.2 pounds, but he was the biggest winner.
You don’t have to be pre-registered to enter a TrophyCatch fish, but checking out the website first will help you properly document your catch.
If you catch an 8-pound or bigger bass, take a photo of the fish on a scale that clearly shows the weight and the entire fish. Additional photos can be taken and submitted for documentation, such as measurements of the fish’s length and girth, then release the bass.
Next, submit the catch and photos for verification online. If the catch is accepted, anglers receive a custom certificate, a decal and prizes based on the weight of the fish. Every verified catch gives the angler 10 additional entries for the Phoenix boat drawing.
KP Clements, the TrophyCatch coordinator, said tournament anglers can enter their catches by submitting photos of their fish and including a link to the website for the tournament or the bass club that has the weight of their catch.
Anglers in the Lunker Club for catching bass weighing 8 to 9.9 pounds receive a $100 gift card from companies such as Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Rapala, and a Bass King T-shirt.
Fish 10-12.9 pounds are in the Trophy Club, which awards a total of $150 in gift cards and a long-sleeve T-shirt.
Bass 13 pounds or more make the Hall of Fame. Anglers receive a free mount of their fish valued at $500 from New Wave Taxidermy, $200 in gift cards, a Bass King duffle bag and apparel and other prizes worth a total of $1,000. In addition, angler names are entered into the Florida Bass Hall of Fame at the Florida Bass Conservation Center.
Clements suggested that anglers who catch a 13-pounder call the TrophyCatch hotline at 855-FL-TROPHY (358-7674). If possible, an FWC staffer will be sent to check out the fish.
The angler catching the biggest bass of the year, which runs from Oct. 1-Sept. 30, receives a TrophyCatch Championship ring made by the company that makes rings for Super Bowl and World Series winners.
Bob Williams, of Alloway, N.J., was last year’s winner for a bass weighing 13-14 that he caught on a live shiner at Rodman Reservoir. A 14-9 has already been certified for this year. Catches can be viewed on the website and on Facebook at TrophyCatchFlorida.
Experience Kissimmee will award $10,000 to the angler catching the biggest bass if the fish comes from the Kissimmee-area fisheries of West Lake Toho, East Lake Toho, Lake Cypress, Lake Hatchineha or Lake Kissimmee.
Just announced is a prize package for the angler who has the first bass heavier than 8 pounds from Lake Trafford, near Immokalee, that receives TrophyCatch recognition.
Besides rewarding big catches, TrophyCatch also promotes conservation. Too many anglers unnecessarily kill big bass for mounts. Instead, they should take photographs and measurements of a fish’s length and girth so a taxidermist can produce a lifelike fiberglass mount.
In addition, TrophyCatch allows FWC biologists to document the number of big bass caught as well as determine which management practices are working the best.