With tension and negativity crowding the headlines, I thought we could use a little fun. Luckily, I stumbled across a concept that would provide just that and involves my favorite subject: trophy bass. Care to learn more?
Now before I go any further, I have to admit that I’m a big-bass junkie; many of you will recognize my near obsession with the giants of the species. In fact, had you asked me yesterday to define my level of expertise on the subject, I would have immediately claimed an expert level. And that’s where our little game comes in.
Those of you who keep up with the record books likely recognize Florida’s TrophyCatch largemouth bass program. Here, successful anglers share photos and weights of memorable catches, earning prizes for submitting fish over 8 pounds. The program, designed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been wildly popular, and now celebrates its eighth season. During that period, thousands of trophy bass have been submitted, allowing the FWC to not only increase communication with its stakeholders, but also compile a historic data log of trophy bass sampling.
“When we sample using electro-fishing” said the FWC’s Drew Dutterer “we may only handle 150 or so trophy bass a year. But the TrophyCatch program allows documentation of thousands through a citizen-science program.”
Dutterer is a research associate specializing in trophy largemouth bass. He and his colleagues consider the TrophyCatch program a major accomplishment in terms of engagement, sampling and record keeping.
Not surprisingly, the program hasn’t been without a little criticism from time to time, as we now live in a society where instant experts seem to pop up everywhere. With the Florida TrophyCatch program being a digital platform, it’s susceptible to digital hazards.
The FWC group does admit that the program has addressed a few fraudulent claims in the past, which likely resulted in the development of a manner of estimating fish weights by photographs. Known as the “trophy bass photo analytics” program, approximate weights of bass can be determined from photographs by comparing the fish to objects with known physical dimensions. Using over 200 samples, the FWC found the method quite accurate.
But often the public is anything but understanding. Dutterer mentioned that some “interesting conversations” have popped up in online comment areas, accusing the program of being inaccurate or even bogus. Are these subjective assessments valid?
Surprisingly, the FWC wanted to find out. While most game and fish agencies turn the other cheek in terms of public slander, in this case, instigators are being asked to put their money where their mouths are.
Enter the Eyeball Challenge. Here, the FWC has created a game of sorts to judge the public’s accuracy on estimating the size of big bass from photos. Players are shown six photos of big ’uns, and asked to guess a weight. Participants scoring highly will advance to further rounds, where the top player will win a Bass Pro Shops gift card. There’s no cost to play.
When I first got an invitation to the Challenge, I figured I was a lock. In fact, I doubted program organizers would allow my score to count, as I was obviously knowledgeable well beyond the average part-time lunker hunter.
Boy, was I wrong.
My weight estimates were pitifully inaccurate. It was embarrassing. After five of the six photo pages, I was so frustrated that I quit the game.
Maybe the weights were just guesses, I figured, or derived from those junkie spring scales that guides use to more easily round up. Or maybe the anglers holding the fish in the photos had abnormally small hands, or large heads, or the camera was bogus.
“It’s not as easy as everyone assumes” Dutterer assured me “when you don’t have a history with the person or the fish.” And those fish, he went on to say, were legitimate specimens caught and documented by biologists, and weighed using scales that are routinely calibrated and tested.
In all, I just stunk.
But what does all of this matter? I mean, since when do government agencies give a darn about baseless internet babble?
“This challenge was created as a fun way to engage our anglers,” said TrophyCatch director KP Clements. Together with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Clements keeps close tabs on the TrophyCatch site and confirms a couple thousands views a week. The goal is to increase awareness of the program and assure the concept and competition are fair and unbiased.
Increased traffic leads to more dollars being generated that could be used to further study and improve fisheries. It gives anglers like me a better idea of hot lakes and places to check out. And, perhaps most importantly, increased usage of the TrophyCatch site leads to an even larger database for biologists to track the top fisheries around the state, thus hoping to unlock the secrets behind what makes a particular body of water a world-class lunker hole.
All that from just a fun little quiz. An aggravating, provoking, frustrating quiz that can’t possibly be legit!
Or is it?
Let me know how you do.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)