Holley got in contact with Andy Strickland, an FWC research biologist, who immediately went to meet him. The 3.75-pound bass was weighed on a certified scale and measured 16.5 inches long. The state and world record is 3.89 pounds caught by Ronnie Everett in 1985 on the Suwannee River in Gilchrist County. So Holley’s catch was just 2 ounces shy of the world record. Give it a few good meals in the Bass Pro Shops’ aquaria and customers may soon be watching a world-record feed at noon each Tuesday/Thursday or at 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
In between the time the bass was turned over to Brian Claborn, Bass Pro Shops’ aquarist, and its release into the public aquaria, Claborn treated the bass to ensure it was healthy and held it in quarantine. Once it was given a clean bill of health, Claborn and Strickland arranged for Holley and his family to come out and release the bass. Strickland also presented Holley with a “Big Catch” certificate.
Big Catch is the FWC’s oldest angler-recognition program, which traces its history to 1953 when a “fishing citation” program was run by Florida Wildlife Magazine (now the free online Florida Wildlife Magazine.com). The actual Big Catch Angler Recognition Program began in 1990, and since then thousands of anglers have enjoyed having their catches recognized.
Anglers can register for free at Big Catch Florida.com to submit their catch or view other anglers’ catches. A customized certificate is rewarded to any angler who legally catches and photographs one of 33 popular Florida freshwater fish species that exceeds the qualifying length or weight. The program includes categories for specialists (five qualifying fish of the same species), masters (five qualifying fish of different species) and elite anglers (10 qualifying fish of different species). In addition, a youth category makes this a family-friendly way to get kids involved.
The final Big Catch category includes the freshwater grand slams. A Bass Slam includes catching a largemouth, spotted, shoal and Suwannee bass in the same year. A Bream Slam is awarded for catching any four of bluegill, redear sunfish, spotted sunfish, warmouth, redbreast sunfish or flier in one day, and an Exotic Slam requires catching a butterfly peacock, Mayan cichlid and oscar in one day. These programs help encourage anglers to try new species, locations and techniques, and provide fun family challenges.
The FWC also operates the Trophy Catch citizen-science, conservation rewards program for anglers who catch and release largemouth bass greater than eight pounds. Bass Pro Shops is one of the major sponsors of Trophy Catch (Trophy Catch Florida.com) and awards gift cards for each of the three club levels: The Lunker Club (8.0-9.9 pounds; $100), The Trophy Club (10.0-12.9 pounds; $150) and the Hall-of-Fame Club (greater than 13 pounds; $200). Trophy Catch requires each bass to be legally caught and released after photographing the entire bass (head to tail) on a scale.
Holley’s near-world-record Suwannee bass is in the same group of black basses as largemouth bass, shoal bass, spotted bass and the newly-identified Choctaw bass. With the exception of the largemouth, these other basses are all primarily riverine and within Florida are only located in the panhandle and tributaries of the Suwannee River. The FWC is proposing new rules to continue to protect all of these species