The Trophy Bass Tagging Study 

 TrophyCatch Research Article


Angler with tagged Florida trophy bass


Have you ever caught a tagged bass? The chances are that you have not—yet, but all anglers in Florida should be on the lookout for tagged bass and the opportunity to participate in an important fishery monitoring process. The practice of tagging fish for anglers to later catch is a mainstay in the fisheries biologist’s toolbox that helps them measure critical factors of a fishery. The process begins with biologists tagging fish and releasing them back into the wild. On the tags are a printed identification code, an FWC telephone number, and a reward value for the tag. Later, as anglers catch these fish, they report each catch of a tagged fish via the telephone number printed on the tag. From many results of tagged fish that are caught, biologists are then able to estimate the fraction of the overall population that is caught or harvested each year, as well as other important information.

Prior to the launch of TrophyCatch in fall of 2012, FWC biologists designed and started a Trophy Bass Tagging Study one year earlier to monitor the program’s influence and growth. Biologists have used that study to monitor catch, harvest, and release rates of trophy bass within Florida continuously since then. Tracking these rates through time was important to FWC because a core goal of TrophyCatch has been to encourage anglers in Florida to release their trophy bass alive and in healthy condition, and this is required of all bass submitted to the program. Tracking the rates of catch, release, and harvest would provide insight into the influence of TrophyCatch on fishery trends. Tagged trophy bass also gave biologists the opportunity to track TrophyCatch awareness and participation rates among anglers who’ve caught a trophy-size bass. This was important for understanding the growth and reach of the program over time.

Since 2011, FWC biologists have tagged 1,722 trophy bass that weighed 8 pounds or heavier. Collectively, those bass were sampled from across 165 public waterbodies in Florida. Each year, between 29–56 individual waterbodies had at least one more trophy bass tagged and released by biologists. Anglers have caught and reported 425 (25%) of all bass tagged in the study. Most tagged bass were caught on artificial lures (about 80%), and tagged bass were caught in tournaments 15% of the time.


Map of TrophyCatch and bass tagging water bodies

 This map shows an overlay of Florida waterbodies included in the Trophy Bass Tagging Study (blue circles) with public waterbodies with bass approved for TrophyCatch (yellow circles).


Based on tag return results, yearly estimates of catch rates for trophy bass have varied between 12% and 27% of the entire state trophy bass population, and the overall average was 18%. This suggests that about one out of every five trophy bass living in Florida’s public waters is caught each year.


Graph of trophy bass catch and harvest

Proportion of trophy bass caught and proportion of trophy bass harvested (kept) by anglers each year.


The number of tagged bass harvested (kept) by anglers each year has been quite small. The estimated percentage of Florida’s trophy bass population removed each year due to harvest (often called “annual exploitation rate”) has ranged from 1% to 6%—very, very low. This is due to the fact that a high percentage (77%–95%) of all tagged trophy bass caught each year were subsequently released alive. Interestingly, across the 12 years of the study, release rates show a trend of statistically significant increase through time. So, while harvest of trophy bass was low at the outset of this study, it has gotten even lower since then. Coincident with the trend of increasing release rate, the study has shown a statistically significant reduction in harvest of trophy bass in Florida for traditional skin-mount taxidermy.


Graph of trophy bass released and kept for taxidermy

Proportion of trophy bass released and proportion of trophy bass kept for taxidermy by anglers each year.


The TrophyCatch requirement for live release of submitted bass as well as providing discounted replica mount pricing to anglers in the Lunker and Trophy Club and free replicas to anglers in the Hall of Fame Club is well in line with current trends in Florida’s statewide trophy bass fishery. The patterns in harvest and release underscore that anglers in Florida increasingly value the live release of their catch.

The trophy bass tagging study has shown that both awareness of and participation in TrophyCatch has grown over the years. During the last two years, in Seasons 10 and 11, TrophyCatch experienced its greatest awareness, at about 80%, among anglers who caught a tagged trophy bass. Similarly, participation rate climbed to near 40% at the same time. These spikes in awareness and participation followed the launch of the Season 10 TrophyCatch 10-Tag Challenge (also known as the Pink Tag Challenge), which was hugely popular with anglers and likely responsible for the boost. Anglers: be on the lookout for a new TrophyCatch tag promotion soon!


TrophyCatch awareness and participation

Awareness of TrophyCatch and participation in TrophyCatch by season.


While awareness and participation of TrophyCatch have tracked well with one another over the years, participation has consistently lagged behind the program’s awareness among anglers. In other words, many anglers are aware of the program but, due to a variety of reasons, miss out on the opportunity to enter their bass in TrophyCatch when that elusive catch happens. To help close that gap, our number one recommendation to anglers is to be prepared and plan ahead. One of the best ways to do so is to register with the TrophyCatch program now and become familiar with the guidelines for participation. Double check those batteries in your scale and practice that “scale-to-tail” photo with a smaller fish—so you are ready when that trophy strikes! Even if you don’t think you are likely to catch a trophy bass, being counted when you register also shows your support for Florida bass conservation to the fishing community and to potential TrophyCatch partners and supporters. Registration also enters you into the annual free boat drawing! In the meantime, keep a watchful eye out for any tagged bass! Tags will be located next to the dorsal fin and protrude about three inches. If you happen to catch one, please clip the tag and call it in.


What to do if you catch a tagged bass

A tagged Florida trophy bass

Freshwater fish biologists tag bass that weigh eight pounds or more on their left side near their dorsal fin with 3.5-inch-long yellow plastic high-reward ($100) dart tags at a range of water bodies across the state. If you catch a tagged bass, clip the tag close to the fish’s back and save the tag. You are not obligated to release tagged bass but must comply with harvest regulations. When you report the tag, an FWC staff member will ask a few brief questions about your catch to help you claim the monetary reward. During tag-return interviews, anglers should be prepared to provide the following information: fish fate (harvest vs. live release), date of catch, weight at catch, fishing method used (artificial lure vs. live bait), tournament participation, and whether they were aware of TrophyCatch and planned to participate with the tagged fish.



Creel surveys: What are they and how is creel data used? 

 TrophyCatch Research Article


FWC biologist conducting creel survey


Have you ever been approached by someone in a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) uniform while fishing on your favorite water body and expected a license check or boating safety inspection — but instead were asked, “How’s the fishing?” The FWC has been conducting such “creel surveys” in Florida since the early 1960s. The person surveying you is referred to as a creel clerk. The word creel refers to a traditional wicker basket for anglers to store their catch. Currently, we perform creel surveys on 20 to 40 water bodies annually. Creel clerks will ask you questions about how many and what species of fish you caught. They will also ask you some demographic information about your residency status. They may even ask if you are aware of the current black bass regulation or if you are registered for the TrophyCatch program. Ever wonder how your answers are used?


The answers to these questions allow us to track the fishery over time, provide feedback on management decisions, and estimate participation in various programs. Effort (number of hours spent angling), catch (number of fish caught), and harvest (number of fish kept) are typically estimated for popular sportfish like largemouth bass, black crappie, or bream for each water body. Knowing the status of fish populations through continuous data collection from your favorite waterbody helps us develop research projects, as well as inform and evaluate management actions to make your fishing experience better and improve the fishery.


To better understand how many of Florida's anglers are likely to also be registered for the TrophyCatch program, in 2019, we began having creel clerks ask anglers: Are you registered for TrophyCatch? This allows us to estimate how many anglers fishing at each waterbody are registered with the program. This has enabled TrophyCatch biologists to evaluate TrophyCatch registration rates, which species registrants targeted, their residency status, as well as fishing effort, catch, and success. We can identify locations where additional TrophyCatch promotion is needed and assess if registered angler effort is increasing to document growth of the program. These data can help us evaluate changes in TrophyCatch submissions and participation. Out of all the anglers reached by our creel surveys this year (10,454), 15% were registered for TrophyCatch. The highest frequencies of registered anglers were seen on Lake Kissimmee, Rodman Reservoir, and Lake June in Winter.


Many anglers use the TrophyCatch website to understand where, when, and how the biggest bass in Florida are being caught to see which water bodies stand out from the rest. Comparing water bodies is complicated by the fact that TrophyCatch registered anglers are not equal across all waterbodies. Certain water bodies might seem outstanding because of the many trophy bass being caught and some submitted to TrophyCatch. However, other water bodies may have just as many trophy bass caught, but fewer of the anglers are registered for or participating in TrophyCatch. However, by leveraging our creel surveys to estimate TrophyCatch registration rate by anglers at many water bodies, we gain new insight into trends in TrophyCatch data.


For instance, in the figures below, Rodman Reservoir has a high value for the trophy bass caught per day based on TrophyCatch approved catches (red arrow in first graph), as well as high numbers of bass of all sizes being caught by TrophyCatch registered anglers (red arrow in second graph). Lake Garcia and L-35B Canal, on the other hand, display low catch per day of trophy bass (green arrows in first graph), but registered TrophyCatch anglers are still VERY successful at catching bass in general on these water bodies (green arrows in second graph).


Graph of creel data 1




Graph of creel data 2




Using more TrophyCatch creel data, we can start to see trends over years. Between fiscal years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, TrophyCatch registered anglers caught more bass in Orange Lake and Rodman Reservoir, below.


Graph of creel data 3




The FWC hopes to continue collecting this valuable information for years to come so we can better evaluate patterns in bass fishing and TrophyCatch data. Thank you in advance for taking the time to chat with a creel clerk, and stay safe while on the water!






Bass handling—its effects on recovery, feeding, and survival 


TrophyCatch Research Article



Anglers care about big bass, which means that they should also care about how they handle big bass. Especially in recent years, concerns have been voiced about how anglers handle bass during catch-and-release fishing. For example, check out the article How not to hold a hawg that explores pro angler Bernie Schultz’s personal evolution on holding bass. Requests to provide anglers with best handling practices encouraged Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and University of Florida biologists to develop a research project to examine this important issue. This experiment critically evaluated three common holding techniques used on bass and their effects on bass survival, feeding behavior and success, and recovery. Recovery time following handling was defined as when the bass regained balance, stopped adjusting its jaw, and resumed normal swimming. The three types of tested holds included bass 1) held by the jaw and body, with two-handed support, 2) held by the jaw using a lip gripping device, and 3) held by the jaw using only one hand and rotated to a horizontal position by leveraging the jaw.


The results showed that none of the three handling types caused any permanent damage, and there were no differences among handling types on bass feeding or survival. However, there were differences in how long it took the bass to recover based on how they were held. 


  • Bass held with the full support of two hands recovered fastest when released, in less than 10 seconds on average. 
  • Bass held by the jaw with one hand in a tilted, fully horizontal position recovered within 12 seconds on average but required major jaw adjustments in many cases for the fish to return to normal behavior. 
  • Bass held vertically by the jaw with a grip device recovered slowest, within 33 seconds on average, but with NO major jaw adjustments.


TrophyCatch receives occasional comments about how anglers are pictured holding their catch. We recommend a two-handed horizontal hold because it provides the greatest support of a trophy bass and the fastest recovery. In TrophyCatch, the vertical hold IS acceptable, but we still recommend that an angler minimize the time that a bass is supported by only one hand. We do not recommend a horizontally tilted one-hand hold by the jaw. This study documented increased sores, lesions, and inflamed gill and mouth parts on bass 30 days after handling; therefore, we also recommend wetting your hands and anything that the bass will touch to reduce damage to the fish and its protective slime coat. Across all holding types, bass weight decreased after handling. Earlier research showed that after a tournament or a catch-and-release angling event fish did not feed right away. This could have negative effects on the fish’s health over time. Thus, we should perform our due diligence to minimize the time spent handling bass after catching them and be sure they are cared for in the best way possible by: 


  1. Having a camera, scale, and measuring device ready in advance to document your catch. 
  2. Landing the fish quickly. 
  3. Securing the fish in a live well or beside the boat in a net while preparing to measure, weigh, and photograph it. This allows for easier documentation and minimizes the fish's time spent out of water. 
  4. Handling the fish minimally, only as necessary. Wet your hands and all surfaces the fish will come in contact with. 
  5. Releasing the fish carefully by holding it upright in the water until it regains balance and swims away. 


See our TrophyCare page for detailed information and recommendations about best handling practices for trophy bass. Being cognizant of these practices when catch-and-release fishing likely reduces mortality (both immediate and delayed) for the fish. 


The FWC thanks our citizen-scientist anglers and fellow conservationists for your questions and concerns which prompted this study! Our researches were pleased at how difficult it was to find photos of TrophyCatch anglers holding their catches in a horizontally tilted position using just one hand (the least-recommended hold). We are proud to see anglers taking good care of their trophy bass to increase their chances of surviving, reproducing, and being caught again! Further details of this bass handling study can be found at Bassmaster at What’s the proper way to hold a hawg? who helped FWC and University of Florida to publicize these results.



All photos above were used from submitted catches to the TrophyCatch program. Three types of bass handling techniques included in a FWC and UF study. Left to right: 1) Most recommended: Bass held by the jaw and body, two-handed support, 2) Recommended: bass held by the jaw with a lip gripping device, and 3) Not recommended: bass held by the jaw with only one hand and rotated to a horizontal position by leveraging the jaw. 


TrophyCatch is a citizen science conservation program for anglers who catch, document and release largemouth bass 8 pounds and heavier in Florida. The primary goals of the program are to promote freshwater fishing, engage anglers, collect catch data to help FWC with bass management, and work with industry partners to promote bass conservation. 


This study was also published as an article in North American Journal of Fisheries Management. To cite it: Skaggs, J., Y. Quintana, S. L. Shaw, M. S. Allen, N. A. Trippel, and M. Matthews. 2017. Effects of common angler handling techniques on Florida Largemouth Bass behavior, feeding, and survival. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 37:263–270. To link to this article:


The feeding study we referenced: Siepker, M. J., K. G. Ostrand, and D. H. Wahl. 2006. Journal of Fish Biology 69:783–793. To link to this article: