How Florida’s Biggest Bass Were Caught

Video biggest bass caught in florida

During Season 9, TrophyCatch anglers reached a new milestone, surpassing 100 approved Hall of Fame (HOF) catches weighing 13 pounds or more! To celebrate this incredible achievement, Hall of Fame anglers were asked to participate in a survey to gather unique information about pursuing and catching Florida’s largest bass. Several anglers have multiple HOF entries, and there were 78 anglers total who contributed to the 100+ HOF entries (through end of May 2021, 113 HOF bass have been approved). For anglers with multiple entries, we asked them to answer the survey questions for his or her heaviest entry. In addition to survey results, we poured through catch form data for nine years of HOF bass to summarize any interesting patterns that might emerge. Here is what we learned.

WHAT are we talking about?

The undeniable stars of this show are the bass. We’re talking the biggest of the big—true Florida giants! Bass at or exceeding 13 pounds in weight are exceptionally rare. For one to exist, a number of biological and environmental factors must fall precisely into place. First, it must be female—only females have the growth potential to achieve trophy size. Next, to be a giant, a bass must have available the right size and species of prey through its life. It must not succumb to mortality by an angler or natural causes. The balmy temperatures of a tropical or warm-temperate regions certainly help, providing extended growing seasons. Most importantly, a bass must have the right genetics (Florida Bass Micropterus floridanus genetics, that is). Simply put, bass in Florida evolved to have the greatest growth potential and maximum size of any of the Black Basses. So while the occurrence of HOF bass is rare, fortunately for bass anglers in Florida, the conditions to create them occur at many waterbodies all across the state.

HOW big are they?

Besides clearing the entry requirement of being 13 pounds or heavier, HOF bass come in a variety of shapes. Some HOF bass were exceptionally long. The longest angler-supplied length measurement of a HOF bass was 30.5 inches! Other bass were excessively thick. The greatest girth recorded for a HOF bass was 25.5 inches. Thus far, the heaviest bass in the HOF club was 16.75 pounds, only about one-half pound shy of Florida’s official state record.

Attention anglers: As the volume of HOF bass entered each year has grown, TrophyCatch would like to maximize the amount and quality of data captured, especially recording accurate length measurements. All anglers who submit a length photograph of their HOF fish win an additional $50 Bass Pro Shops gift card if their catch is approved.

WHERE were they caught?

Anglers have submitted HOFs from all over Florida. Roughly one-third of Florida’s counties can claim at least one HOF bass, ranging as far as Lee County in the south to Holmes County in the western Panhandle. Even though the footprint of HOF bass in Florida is expansive, there are certainly some hot spots. Clay and Putnam counties top the list, accounting for 30% of all HOF catches. Starting there and moving south through the center of the Florida peninsula appears to be a trophy bass corridor as the contiguous counties of Alachua, Marion, Lake, Polk, and Highlands account for another 35% of HOF bass.

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The types of waterbodies from which HOF bass were caught was fairly reflective of Florida’s landscape. Natural lakes yielded the most with 90%, followed by reservoirs (8%) and rivers (2%). Waterbody size varied quite a bit, ranging from neighborhood ponds at just a few acres up to Lake Kissimmee, which exceeds 30,000 acres. More HOF bass were caught in waterbodies between 0.25 and 99 acres (43%) than waterbodies between 100 and 999 acres (33%) or 1000+ acres (24%). Anglers in search of the next HOF Champion might hedge their bets by researching waterbodies in some of these hottest areas mentioned above, but the fact remains that HOF have come from diverse waters and just about anywhere in Florida has the potential to grow one.

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WHAT habitats did they come from?

Through the HOF angler survey, we got the chance to ask anglers about a few details not originally captured on our catch forms. When it comes to water depth at the spot where an HOF bass was caught, the pattern is reflective of overall fresh water in Florida—shallow! Seventy-five percent of all HOF bass came from water 10 feet deep or less, which is probably not surprising given that so many of them were caught during the spawn (see below) when all bass have transitioned to shallow habitats. Interestingly, about 5% came from water 20 feet deep or deeper—depths rarely encountered in Florida waters. Perhaps these represent some of the leviathans from lakes Kingsley or Placid.

In targeting HOF-caliber bass, should you keep to the banks or explore offshore? Our HOF anglers indicated that either is fine, as nearly equal numbers of them caught their bass within a cast’s-length of the bank as those who were farther out. One key habitat feature that many HOF anglers identified was aquatic plants. Thirty-four percent of HOF catches occurred in moderate aquatic plant coverage. Amazingly, anglers indicated that 27% of HOF catches were somehow snatched from heavy vegetation. For anglers whose interests or skill sets lie outside of fishing among plants, they are still in the mix, as a plenty of HOF bass were caught from open water areas (34%).

WHEN were they caught?

As we zoom out and take a look at HOF catches over the years, it’s clear that TrophyCatch anglers have been building momentum. TrophyCatch launched in fall of 2012, and in Season 1 there was one HOF bass documented. Anglers tallied six the next year in Season 2. Fast forward to Season 8, and a new record was set as the number of HOF bass exceeded 20. Currently, with several months remaining in Season 9, there is legitimate possibility that anglers could shatter the existing season record, pushing the total beyond 30.

The numbers present a clear trend that numbers of HOF have been steadily increasing. We know that angler awareness of TrophyCatch and their participation in the program have increased through the years. This has been documented through interviews with anglers who’ve caught and reported tagged trophy bass. Additionally, the increasing trend of HOF could be indicative that there are simply more of them that exist recently. In 2010 and 2011, drought across much of Florida caused substantial drop in water levels in many waterbodies. Some dried up nearly completely. However, heavy rains in the following years restored water levels to normal or higher. Bass cohorts spawned right after the water-levels reset would have likely been abundant and fast-growing. Perhaps it is those bass, now approaching 10 years old, that are responsible for the present abundance of HOF bass around the state.

To further examine timing of HOF bass catches, we graphed the proportion of HOF catches that occurred in each month. While anglers documented at least one HOF bass for each month of the year but September, there was a distinct seasonal trend. Catches in February and March well exceeded catches during the rest of the year. In fact, these two months accounted for 60% of all HOF catches. It’s also interesting how much more seasonal the HOF catches are compared to overall tallies of TrophyCatch bass (which also includes Lunker and Trophy club catches). It almost goes without saying, but this springtime boom corresponds to peak bass spawning season in Florida. At that time, female bass will likely reach their greatest weight for the year, more of them will be in shallow habitats and likely more vulnerable to being caught, and knowing all this, anglers are on the water in greatest numbers.

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One of the most interesting trends in the timing of HOF catches revolves around lunar phase. Many anglers are devout followers of solunar tables that predict peak fishing times throughout the month and day based on position and phase of the Moon. As well, many freshwater anglers will attest that prime spawning for their favorite species occurs around a full moon, targeting fishing around those times to maximize catches. To investigate the potential influence of lunar phase, we corresponded the catch date for each HOF bass with the percentage of the Moon illuminated that night. Full moon corresponded to 100% illumination. A new moon corresponded to zero illumination.

A plot of these data showed two unmistakable patterns—a disproportionate number of HOF catches occurred on either a full moon (19%) or a new moon (25%). Each of those two moon phases accounted for nearly twice (or more) the number of HOF catches that occurred during any one of the other lunar visibility groupings. One caveat to keep in mind is that these data do not consider how frequently HOF anglers went fishing. If many of them specifically targeted full moon or new moon periods over the rest of the month, that could boost the overall catches during these times even if the chances of catching a giant bass were relatively stable throughout the month. That being said, with so many different anglers and fishing styles contributing to the HOF total, there might not have been a drastic difference in fishing effort across each lunar month. Scientific discussion aside, the plot is compelling, and anglers seeking the next HOF champion bass might do well by making fishing arrangements for full moons and new moons, especially in February and March.

Many anglers likely qualify as amateur meteorologists, spending countless hours over their lives interpreting wind and weather forecasts to pick the best times to go fishing or how weather might affect fishing conditions when they are able to go. In this vein, we asked anglers what weather conditions were present when they caught their HOF bass. Interestingly, HOF bass were caught across a wide range of weather conditions. About as many anglers indicated there was no wind to light wind as those who indicated the wind was moderate to strong. Clear skies versus cloudy?—either seems fine. The least credited conditions were rain, cold snaps, and post front, so if you weren’t already doing so, maybe those would be good times to skip. But when it comes to weather, perhaps the best time to go fishing is simply when you can.

In Florida, where there are well over 1 million freshwater anglers, there’s something to be said for finding ways to avoid the crowds. Weekday fishing is a potential way to do so. However, when it comes to days of the week during which HOF bass were caught, Saturdays and Sundays, when most folks have the day off, were still on top. More evidence that the best time to go fishing is when you can!

How many of you set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to ensure that you are on the water and fishing at first light? How many stay on the water until the last hint of sunlight fades into night? No doubt these are great times to be on the water, and as predators, bass take full advantage of low-light conditions to feed. However, when it comes to HOF bass, maybe we don’t have to try so hard. When we asked about the time of day during which their HOF bass was caught, anglers indicated that dawn, dusk, or after dark were the least frequent times. Periods of morning, midday, and afternoon accounted for the large majority of HOF catches, and anglers caught the most during afternoon. Likely these times are reflective of when the most anglers are on the water.

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HOW were they caught?

We asked anglers to categorize the trip in which their bass was caught. Through this we learned that equally as many were caught during solo outings as ones that included a trip shared with friends or family. Only a handful each were caught during a guided trip or during tournament. Whether it be club tournament or a Florida stop on a national tour, how thrilling would it be to bring a 13-pound-plus bass to the scales in front of friends and fans?

Anglers indicated that 59% of HOF catches were caught by artificial lure and 41% were caught on natural bait. For HOF bass caught on bait, a large majority were caught on wild golden shiners (92%) compared to commercially raised shiners (8%).

When it came to breaking down the types of artificial lures that HOF bass were caught on, the tried-and-true plastic worm came out on top, accounting for 41% of the catches. Combining all soft plastics, they accounted for 71% of the catches. Jigs, bladed jigs, crankbaits, and topwater lures also made the list. It’s no surprise that many of these lures are ones designed to be fished weedlessly through aquatic plants or above them. Interestingly, 80% of anglers indicated they used at least one TrophyCatch partner product to catch their HOF bass, and many anglers were using products from quite a few of them.

WHO caught them?

Where were HOF anglers from? – Florida resident anglers were responsible for catching the most HOF bass (88%), while the rest were caught be non-residents (12%). Nearly all required some traveling to accomplish their angling feats. The shortest calculated distance traveled (from angler residence to a waterbody) for a HOF bass was 1.1 miles. The longest was 824 miles. The average distance traveled to catch a HOF bass was 92 miles, and cumulatively, HOF anglers logged more than an estimated ten thousand miles. And those miles were just for the approved HOF bass. How many more were driven for trips that did not yield a bass in this exclusive club? One thing is for sure—dreams of giant bass are an intense motivator, making bass fishing in Florida a substantial part of the state’s economy.

The average distance traveled to catch a HOF bass was 92 miles, and the longest distance traveled was 824 miles.

What motivated them? – We asked HOF anglers to tell us their primary reason for participating in TrophyCatch. Similar to past survey results, they indicated that the number one reason to participate was to provide data to the FWC. We think this is great and applaud all anglers who share their catches with TrophyCatch! Each year, TrophyCatch anglers provide FWC with information on about ten times as many trophy bass as we encounter during on-the-water sampling. Collectively, through thousands of contributions, TrophyCatch data have become a powerful asset for FWC’s management, research, and conservation of largemouth bass in Florida.

In a close second to providing data, HOF anglers acknowledged that receiving rewards was a strong motivator for participation. We extend a gracious thank you to all our partners in conservation. TrophyCatch would not be the program it is without the support of our partners who provide angler rewards. Anglers, please support our partners!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>