TrophyCatch looks to lengthen lives of lunkers


Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.

Florida bass fishers will be excited to learn of a new statewide program beginning Oct. 1.

Called TrophyCatch, the program’s goals are to promote conservation of trophy bass and to document catches of trophy bass in Florida.

This is Florida bass anglers’ best chance ever to make their big catches pay off ... while also helping conserve trophy bass in our state.

There are three tiers of the program, with rewards for each properly submitted qualifying fish. The reward values increase with each tier, and criteria for entering vary by tier.

The tiers are as follows:

*Lunker Club: 8-to-9.99 pounds

*Trophy Club: 10-to-12.99 pounds

*Hall of Fame: 13+ pounds

To enter a fish at the Lunker or Trophy levels, you just need a photo of the fish on a scale with the weight visible ... and a photo of the fish on a measuring board. Then submit the fish photos through the TrophyCatch web page to be verified.

Things ramp up a bit if you’re fortunate enough to catch a Hall of Fame class fish.

If you catch a bass of at least 13 pounds between Oct. 1 and April 30, call 1-855-FL-TROPHY and FWC personnel will come to the lake you’re on with tested scales to certify the fish.

By executive order, anglers will even be allowed to temporarily hold big bass they have caught in catch-and-release lakes as long as they have immediately contacted the TrophyCatch coordinator.

Prizes vary by tier, but every verified 13-pound bass will be worth more than $1,000 in prizes.

In order to be eligible, your fish must be released alive.

To preregister for the program and to learn more about it, visit trophycatchflorida.com.

Any given day might find Tim Clark pulling big bluegill from an area lake. Then a couple of days later, he could be cranking up big grouper far off the gulf coast. Lately, though, the versatile Gainesville angler has spent time enjoying mullet fishing in the St. John’s River. Clark reports the Green Cove Springs area has become a hotspot for multiple pursuits. By day, the fishing pier at Shands Bridge is busy with folks armed with stout rods and reels or cane poles. They are hook-and-lining for mullet — and plenty of the hard-pulling Florida staples are available. But when the evening light fades, Clark says the mullet seekers on the pier are replaced by folks with cast nets looking to harvest now-sizable river-run shrimp. And the shrimping, too, is apparently not half bad.

Nearer Gainesville, most freshwater fishers have speckled perch on their minds.

Mike Baker, this area’s most highly decorated crappie angler, fished Lochloosa last Sunday, slow-trolling Ron’s Zip Jigs in water 6- to 7-feet deep. He released all but the best fish in the 1- to 1 1/2-pound range, and bagged 25 specks of that size. Baker said the Lochloosa crappies that day preferred brightly colored jigs in pink, yellow, or orange.

Two mornings later, Larry and Terry Nutt and George Dekle arrived at the Lochloosa boat ramp at 9. Like Baker, they found the specks biting, and soon put 26 near-slabs on ice. Their bait of choice was live minnows.

Larry and George returned to the speck-producing area Wednesday. When they phoned me at the store that morning, they were again catching fish at a nice pace. And later in the afternoon when they ramped out, they called again to report they were about to fillet 42 big specks they had fooled with both minnows and Hal Fly Jigs.

Another crappie specialist, Brian Roe fished a smaller lake near Keystone Heights last Thursday. Slow-trolling Crappie Slider Jigs out in open water, the Gainesville angler hauled in 35 specks and 20 bass, releasing most of his catch. What’s more, he caught every fish before 11 a.m.

Although speck-catching season is at hand, that’s not the only good panfishing choice. On the Suwannee River, the redbreasted sunfish that locals affectionately call “redbellies” have also gone on a major bite ... and Wyman and Wyatt Clark have been catching their share. Last Thursday, the Live Oak brothers fished Firefly Shimmy bugs and small spinnerbaits to haul in well over a hundred of the colorful beauties. Of these, 74 big ones went in the live well.

Speckled trout and redfish catches continue to pick up slowly, and cooler water temperatures have lots of gulf fishers thinking Spanish mackerel.

So far, no inspiring mackerel stories have come from Seahorse Reef or Spotty Bottom, but fishers have run across scattered pods of fish from Homosassa to Steinhatchee.

John Stork and Jane Inouye located one of these Monday near Horseshoe Beach. On a grassy dropoff during a falling tide, the Gainesville couple found feeding fish working over a large wad of baitfish. Casting small jigging spoons, they caught a variety of predators including ladyfish, blue runners, jack crevalle, spinner sharks, and a dozen Spanish mackerel.

Gary Simpson, a veteran tournament angler, operates Gary’s Tackle Box at L & S Auto Trim.

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