Up North, anglers are hunkered down, dreaming of fishing in Florida. Here in the Fishing Capital of the World, freshwater sunfish are already on spawning beds in the southern half of the state. In north Florida, they are getting ready to come to shore to let loose the next generation of finned wonders.
Sunfish refers to the family of fishes that include largemouth bass, crappie, redear sunfish, bluegill and others, which provide a majority of the freshwater sportfishing in the southeastern United States. They spawn in spring and come into shallow areas to find mates and reproduce.For anglers, the question is not just when but where to go fishing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has answers to both those questions at MyFWC.com/Fishing.
Go there then click on “Fishing Sites/Forecasts” in the center column. There you’ll find a wealth of information, including a “Top Sites Map.” At the top of the page is background information about peak fishing seasons for various species, temperatures at which they spawn, and how sun and moon phases affect them.
Below that you get into the meat of the site, with the ability to go right to the region of the state that interests you and read up on some of the key fishing resources in your area, find access points, local contacts and a quarterly fishing forecast customized to include useful tips for the current season.
If you prefer to target a particular species, there are top destinations for bass, crappie, bream, catfish and stripers that are updated each January. FWC biologists use information such as the previous year’s creel surveys (interviews with anglers about actual catches), electrofishing results, documentation from TrophyCatchFlorida.com and BigCatchFlorida.com, and biologists’ knowledge of habitat trends related to water levels and aquatic plants. Try the fish range finder to see what species are in each county.
Other links let you focus on finding a boat ramp, fishing pier, fish attractors, fish management areas, stocking locations or bathymetric maps. A hot link takes you to the TrophyCatch gallery, where more than 1,000 bass over 8 pounds are documented that were caught and released.
Choose Big Catch to look for quality-sized catches from other freshwater species. A search feature lets you look for a particular water body, county, species or angler to help refine your results. Below the resulting map is a table with all the catches; clicking on one lets you see more details.
So what is the difference between TrophyCatch and Big Catch? Both are programs of the FWC designed in part to recognize anglers for outstanding catches. Big Catch has been around for decades and provides a frameable certificate and window decal. It is a family-friendly, freshwater-angler recognition program with 33 different freshwater fishes from which to choose. There is something biting near you all the time.
To participate, go to the TrophyCatchFlorida.com and register for free (one registration covers both Big Catch and TrophyCatch and keeps your records for you). Simply catch a fish that exceeds the qualifying length OR weight for that species, take a photo and submit. There are special youth sizes to invite their participation. Qualifiers get a customized full-color certificate, decal and discount for a replica fish mount. Under Big Catch, advanced anglers continue the challenge, seeking Specialist, Master and Elite Angler status. The purpose is to encourage anglers and youth to experience a wide range of species and locations.
TrophyCatch goes way beyond a typical angler recognition program. It is a citizen-science, conservation effort that is strictly for anglers who catch largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds and live-release them in the same water system where they were caught. Since its inception in October 2012, well over a thousand verified bass have been caught, documented and released and more than $200,000 in rewards provided by corporate partners. Each verified catch earns at least $100 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops or other sponsors (e.g., Rapala or Dick’s Sporting Goods).
By carefully documenting the actual weight of these bass, the FWC attains valuable information to enhance, conserve and promote trophy bass fishing. To document your catch, take a photo of the entire bass (head to tail) on a scale showing the weight. TrophyCatch promotes catch-and-release of the biggest, oldest, most valuable bass that are difficult to replace and most tempting for anglers to harvest for bragging purposes. Rather than prohibit harvest, TrophyCatch rewards anglers for releasing them and provides bragging rights via the website, social media, certificates, window decals, shirts and, in the case of Hall of Fame bass (heavier than 13 pounds), a free fiberglas replica.
Now you know when and where the best fishing opportunities are, so check your license and get out there. There is a new app that makes it easier than ever to purchase and keep up with your fishing license. Search for “FWC Fish and Hunt” in the App Store or Google Play and download it for free.
Grab a friend and go enjoy fishing, right here in Florida – The Fishing Capital of the World.