April showers bring May flowers, but in Florida there already is an abundance of blooms and a bonanza of freshwater fishing opportunities that began earlier this spring.
All across the state, anglers have reported great catches of a variety of freshwater fishes. Anglers especially target sunfishes moving into the shallows to spawn in spring.
Black crappie (specks), redbreast sunfish and largemouth bass begin spawning when water temperatures get over 62 degrees. Crappie will stop spawning before bass, which continue to work the beds until it warms up to about 75 degrees. They are followed by redear sunfish (70- to 80-degree waters) and bluegill (75-85). Research and angler lore indicate these fish key their peak activity to a few days before and after full and new moons during spring.
April is a favorite time of year for freshwater anglers, not only because fish congregating in the shallows provide great catch rates with lots of quality-size fish, but also because temperatures tend to be comfortable for an outdoor expedition. Another reason is that the first Saturday in April each year was a license-free freshwater fishing day across the state.
In Florida, nearly everyone is within 45 minutes of a fishing hole. For help finding a location or fishing tips and seasonal fishing forecasts, check out MyFWC.com/Fishing (under "Freshwater Fishing," choose "Sites & Forecasts"). Quarterly forecasts by biologists are supplemented with links to local bait-and-tackle shops, marinas or guides for even more timely updates.
Florida's Big Catch Angler Recognition Program provides an opportunity for anglers to commemorate impressive freshwater catches with a certificate and having their photo posted online. Thirty-three different species are included in the program, and all it takes to participate is a photo of a fish that exceeds either a specified length or weight. It's a great incentive for youth, who can qualify by catching fish that are roughly 25 percent smaller than qualifying measures for adult anglers. Visit myFWC.com/bigcatch for more details and to enroll.
The ultimate challenge is the race for the biggest trophy bass of the year. Florida's fame as a bass-fishing destination lies in an abundance of lakes and rivers that consistently produce trophy-size bass. To document locations and frequency of bass catches over 8 pounds, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) launched TrophyCatch (trophycatchflorida.com) in October with support from industry partners. The goal is to enhance and sustain trophy bass fisheries and to promote Florida as the Bass Fishing Capital of the World, based on documented catches.
To participate, catches must be verified by the FWC for the angler to earn awards. For Lunker Club (8 to 9.9 pounds) and Trophy Club (10 to 12.9 pounds), verification requires photos of the entire bass showing its length and weight, and then the bass must be released. Photos are submitted via the website. For Hall of Fame bass, which earn for the angler a free replica valued at $500 and an additional $500 in other prizes, the fish must be caught before the end of April and weighed on certified scales by an FWC representative. If you catch one, keep it alive and call 855-FL-TROPHY.
From May through September, bass over 13 pounds can still be photo-documented as Trophy Club bass, but they won't be entered into the Hall of Fame, to prevent undue stress from warmer waters.
The biggest bass of this season (ending Sept. 30) verified by TrophyCatch earns a $3,000 championship ring provided by the American Outdoor Fund. The biggest bass caught in Osceola County and verified by TrophyCatch will take home $10,000, courtesy of Explore Kissimmee. If a registered guide helped, the guide earns a $2,500 bonus (see website for details). So register now, check out the rules, grab a rod-reel, camera, scale and tape measure, and go catch yourself a lunker, document it and then release it.
By the way, just registering gets you into a drawing for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury.
The biggest fish of the year currently is a 13-pound, 14-ounce monster caught by Bob Williams, while fishing wild shiners on Rodman Reservoir, with guide Sean Rush (Trophy Bass Expeditions). Check out YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to see a video of the current leaderboard, including Williams' catch.