After a successful inaugural campaign, TrophyCatch is back for more.
The program by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission awards anglers around the state who properly record their bass before releasing it for another fishermen to potentially enjoy a moment of their own.
The biggest bass recorded in last year's campaign was reeled in by a New Jersey tourist right in our own backyard. With local fishing guide Sean Rush on Rodman Reservoir, Bob Williams, of Alloway, N.J., hurled out a wild shiner near some lily pads on a cold February morning.
A monster 13-pound, 14-ounce largemouth bass took the bait.
"I've never seen a bass that big (in the wild)," Williams, a 53-year-old utility construction worker, told the Star-Banner shortly after the catch. "I've seen 'em in tanks at Bass Pro Shops and in magazines, but that's it."
Rush, who runs Trophy Bass Expeditions, knew about the start-up program TrophyCatch and alerted the FWC. They put the fish in an aerated live well while they waited for an FWC official to arrive. After it was verified — and a few pictures were snapped — they released the fish.
After waiting until October when the program wrapped up its first year, Williams was notified that no one was able to top his catch. He received about $1,000 worth of prizes, and was back in Florida recently to be recognized as the first TrophyCatch champion by the Florida Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.
So as year two of TrophyCatch is underway, here's what you need to know if you want to throw your hat in the ring.
First, register for the program for free at TrophyCatchFlorida.com.
Then, legally reel in a bass heavier than 8 pounds anywhere in the state. There are three tiers. The Lunker Club is a bass between 8 and 9.99 pounds, the Trophy Club is a bass from 10 to 12.99 pounds and the Hall of Fame Club is anything more than 13 pounds.
A new wrinkle this year doesn't require anglers to call the FWC to get on site for verification. Now, all you need is a photo of the entire bass on a scale where the weight can be read clearly.
Release the fish and upload your photo to the website. Each tier brings different prizes. Rewards for a Lunker Club catch include a $50 Bass Pro Shops gift card and Lunker Club T-shirt. The Trophy Club prizes are $50 gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Dick's Sporting Goods and Rapala lures and a long-sleeve Trophy Club shirt. Hall of Fame Club members get a fiberglass replica of the catch, $200 in gift cards and more.
Millers Boating Center in Ocala automatically registers people for TrophyCatch who compete in its Fish Tales Team Tournament Trail.