The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) scheduled the first of four license-free recreational fishing days on the first full weekend in April each year (April 5-6, this year), because it coincides with a productive freshwater fishing period, when the weather is usually pleasant. Many of Florida’s recreational sport fishes, including black bass, bluegill and redear sunfish, move into shallow waters to spawn during spring, making them more available for anglers to catch.
License-free freshwater fishing weekends are a great time to introduce other family members, friends and neighbors to fishing and see if they and you would like to take up the sport. Besides enjoying the fun of reeling in a fish, many people find recreational fishing to be a good motivator to enjoy the great outdoors and living a more active, healthy and natural lifestyle.
During license-free freshwater fishing weekends (the first weekend in April and the second weekend in June), no recreational fishing license is required. However, all other bag limit and season, gear and size restrictions apply.
To further encourage recreational fishing, the FWC will conduct a special contest during April to collect photos of anglers. All you have to do is post a photo of your family fishing in Florida’s fresh waters on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #FLfish (or use #FWC-FamilyFishing). In return, the FWC will enter you into a drawing for one of six surprise packages, each including a $50 gift card from Bass Pro Shops, thanks to TrophyCatch; a Glen Lau video library on DVD; and assorted fishing lures, hooks, line and goodies to make your next trip even more productive.
Submitted photos must be your own. Editing software must not be used, and the photo cannot include inappropriate content. Photos should be taken during April while freshwater fishing in Florida and include multiple anglers enjoying their day together on the water. The FWC may subsequently use the photos for educational or outreach purposes.
So where will you go (FWC link) for your next freshwater fishing trip? Plenty of resources are available online to help you choose. Start by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and under “Freshwater Fishing” pick “Sites/Forecasts.” There you can find the top destinations for pursuing bass, bream, catfish and other species in 2014, as well as regional forecasts and tips for local waters; information on all 80 FWC fish management areas; and links to our boat ramp finder and freshwater fish attractor locations. Another good resource is the Take Me Fishing website.
Freshwater anglers have enjoyed wonderful fishing so far in 2014 across Florida, and this spring should see a continuation of that trend.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) incentive-based conservation program, TrophyCatch, rewards anglers for participating in citizen-science, by catching, documenting and releasing largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds. Besides the immediate gratification of releasing these older bass to fight another day, anglers provide valuable information about the number and distribution of these trophy bass and what it takes to sustain a trophy fishery. Biologists compare the findings to existing conservation programs such as habitat restoration efforts, aquatic vegetation management strategies, bass stocking histories and various regulation management approaches to determine what works best.
Between Jan. 1 and March 23, anglers entered 220 Lunker Club, 89 Trophy Club and three Hall of Fame bass. That is a three-fold increase over the same period last year. Part is due to simplified rules and more anglers being aware. Nevertheless, it is clear that Florida is producing and recycling vast numbers or trophy bass.
You never know when you may find a lunker on the end of your line. To be prepared, visit the TrophyCatch website, register and check out the rules and prizing. Just registering makes you eligible for a random drawing in October for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole. However, every time you have a TrophyCatch bass verified, your name is entered 10 more times.
Moreover, every verified bass earns you not only bragging rights on the Web but also a customized certificate, decal and club shirt, plus at least a total of $100 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and/or Rapala. Bigger fish earn greater rewards: Anglers who have 13-pound-plus Hall of Fame entries also get a $500 fiberglass replica of their catch.
So far there are already four Hall of Fame bass this season. Joseph “Brooks” Morrell’s 14 pound, 9 ounce-bass from Lake Kingsley in Clay County is the current season leader. If it holds up, he will earn the TrophyCatch Championship ring in October, which is donated by the American Outdoors Fund.
However, there is still a lot of fishing to be done before then, so get out there and see what you can catch.
Bob Watterndorf is a columnist for Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. For more Fish Busters columns, visit the FWC website and select News/Monthly Columns. Instant licenses are available at on the FWC website or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356).