The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) fisheries biologists certified a new state record shoal bass weighing 5.95 pounds and measuring 22.4 inches long, caught by 14-year-old angler Sheldon Grace from Headland, Alabama. Sheldon was excited to catch his shoal bass from a kayak in the Chipola River near Altha, Florida.
“I fought him for about 30 minutes and then when I got him close to the kayak, the jig popped right out of his mouth,” said Sheldon. “I quickly reached into the water and grabbed him because he was the biggest I’d caught all day.”
Sheldon and his father often fish for shoal bass and enjoy the beauty of the Chipola River. Shoal bass are one of the five black bass species in Florida.
“You can definitely tell that the quality and quantity of the shoal bass in the Chipola River are getting better,” said Sheldon. “I had caught about six or seven 2- to 3-pounders and then right at the end of the day, I caught the record.”
The former state record shoal bass weighed 5.20 pounds and was caught in 2016 by Jimmy Ray Tice on the Apalachicola River.
The Chipola River is a spring-fed system with an incredibly unique range of habitats and is the only waterbody in Florida where there is a population of naturally reproducing, genetically pure shoal bass. The FWC has implemented several conservation projects to enhance this unique fishery. A video highlighting the charm of the Chipola River and the partnerships forged to protect it can be viewed on YouTube by searching “FWC Chipola River.”
To properly certify a new Florida state record, a FWC biologist must identify the fish species and witness its weighing on a certified scale. Anglers can check the current state records at BigCatchFlorida.com by clicking on “State Record,” and should notify the nearest FWC regional office if they believe they have caught a record fish. Contact information for FWC regional offices can be found at MyFWC.com/Contact by clicking on “Contact Regional Offices.”
The FWC recognizes other memorable freshwater catches through its Big Catch program, which provides certificates commemorating trophy catches of 33 different freshwater species. Largemouth bass catches are recognized by the TrophyCatch program, which is a citizen-science program that partners with industry leaders, such as Bass Pro Shops, to offer rewards for the catch, documentation and release of largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or heavier.