Florida Fish Busters’ Bulletin (April 2015)
By: Bob Wattendorf
A new black bass state record, and a potential record tying it, were both caught in March by Florida anglers. Both were shoal bass, a lesser-known cousin of the largemouth bass.
Tucker Martin, 17, from Chipley, set a new state record for shoal bass on Sunday, March 8, around 5 p.m. (Original story: click here) He was bank fishing with a friend on the Chipola River, in northwest Florida’s Jackson County, when he cast a spinner bait up under a bridge and the fight was on. He was expecting to catch a spotted bass or largemouth, but landed a shoal bass that weighed 4.49 pounds (4 pounds, 8 ounces) and measured 20.3 inches in total length, with a girth of 14.4 inches.
Martin and his grandfather, Edgar Bush, met Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regional biologist Chris Paxton at the Main Street Market in Chipley. After congratulating the young angler on his success and verifying the species, the fish was weighed on certified scales. Martin’s bass surpassed the previous record by nearly 6 ounces.
“Whereas central Florida is especially renowned for trophy largemouth, northwest Florida has numerous species of uniquely evolved black bass that we are proud to promote and manage,” Paxton said. “It was a delight getting to document another state record from this area.”
Barely a week later, Jamie Coleman, 18, of Altha caught a 4.5-pound shoal bass on St. Patrick’s Day. The fish’s species and weight was examined by FWC biologists Scott Bisping and Andy Strickland. In honor of “going green,” Coleman opted to release the fish to be caught again another day. The fish measured 20.19 inches in total length and was the third state record shoal bass caught in Florida since December 2014. Because it is only 0.01 pounds heavier that the other, once certified it would become a co-state-record fish rather than a new record. The program rules state that for a fish less than 5 pounds, the weight is rounded to the nearest one-quarter ounce (0.17 pounds).
The FWC dedicated the Florida Black Bass Conservation Center in 2007, as a state-of-the-art hatchery and research center. The FWC followed that commitment by working with anglers and stakeholders to create the “Black Bass Management Plan,” which was approved in 2011.
Shoal bass are one of five black bass species found in Florida. Black bass are all part of the sunfish family, which includes bluegill and crappie. The Florida largemouth bass is by far the most common and largest of the black basses in the state. In addition to the shoal, Florida has Choctaw, spotted and Suwannee basses. All four are found in northwest Florida, whereas the largemouth is found throughout the state.
It is easy to distinguish largemouth bass from the other black basses because the first and second dorsal (back) fins on shoal, Choctaw, Suwannee and spotted basses are connected. The dorsal fins appear separated in largemouth bass by a notch between the spiny and soft dorsal fins. In addition, the upper jaws of shoal, Choctaw, Suwannee and spotted bass do not extend back past the eye as they do in largemouth bass.
People can distinguish shoal bass from Choctaw, spotted and Suwannee bass because, unlike those other species, shoal and largemouth basses do not have a patch of teeth on their tongue.
Because these northwestern Florida black basses don’t grow as big as the largemouth and have limited ranges, the FWC is proposing new rules to help sustain their populations. Anglers can learn more about the proposal and comment by visiting bit.ly/BassRules, accessible by going to MyFWC.com/Fishing and selecting “Freshwater,” “Black Bass Management” and “Bass Regulations.” If passed by the FWC Commissioners, the rule would go into effect July 2016.
The Choctaw bass is a special story of its own. They were long thought to be spotted bass. FWC biologists doing some genetic sampling recently discovered the Choctaw bass is distinctly different species of black bass that was previously undescribed. Geneticists Mike Tringali and Brandon Barthel, of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, along with freshwater fisheries research biologist Wes Porak, and management biologists Chris Paxton and Katie Woodside, unfolded the true nature of this fish in recent years. It took analyses of the nuclear DNA to document the significant evolutionary differences.
A Choctaw bass chapter is contained in the “Black Bass Diversity” book that is currently at the printers. A formal description is anticipated to be submitted to Copeia, a peer-reviewed journal this month. Choctaw Bass are externally distinguishable from northern spotted bass and Alabama bass (two other species of black bass) but only with considerable effort and careful measurements. The northern spotted bass does come into Florida and is found in Gulf, Liberty and Calhoun counties. It is now considered to be a nonnative transplant that did not originally evolve in Florida.
Consequently, for now it is simplest for anglers to identify Choctaw Bass based on their distribution. They occur in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Holmes and Washington counties, and possibly Walton County.
In addition to state records, the FWC also recognizes anglers by giving them a Big Catch certificate for landing shoal or spotted basses that are heavier than 2 pounds or longer than 16 inches, and Suwannee bass heavier than 1.5 pounds or longer than 14 inches. Visit BigCatchFlorida.com to register and submit any of 33 different species of Florida freshwater fishes for recognition. In addition, anglers can claim a Black Bass Slam by catching a largemouth bass, a spotted bass, a shoal bass and a Suwannee bass all within a one-year period.
It may take a biologist to fully appreciate the evolutionary differences among the black basses and their ecological roles. However, these programs help anglers to better understand and appreciate the distinctions and the need to conserve these species and their unique habitats.
With that said, let us not totally forget about the most popular sport fish in North America – the Florida largemouth bass. The FWC has a special citizen-science conservation program to help document and sustain a trophy largemouth bass fishery that is the envy of much of the country and world. For details on how to submit a catch, to earn valuable rewards if you document and release a largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds, and to see documentation and photos of more than 1,000 TrophyCatch bass, visit TrophyCatchFlorida.com. Be sure to follow Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to keep up with the latest news.
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