With the holidays here, many thoughts are turning towards gifts. Rather than visions of sugar plums, five lucky anglers who signed up at TrophyCatchFlorida.com were anxiously awaiting their own special Santa, and he delivered big, with a boat and motor, or fishing trip and gift cards.

TrophyCatch is a special reward-driven angler recognition program that encourages Florida anglers to take extra care to document and live-release largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds. The program is conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and supported by corporate partners, who provide the incentives.

By simply registering, more than 4,000 anglers became eligible the first year in a drawing for a Phoenix 619 Pro bass boat powered by a Mercury 200SX outboard. In October, a random drawing was conducted to select five finalists for the boat and special consolation prizes. The finalists were announced by Teresa Johnson, Phoenix’s chief operating officer, along with Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management and KP Clements, TrophyCatch coordinator (see video at YouTube.Com/TrophyCatchFlorida).

Here is a profile of the winner who won the boat, and the runners-up who each won a trip to Bienville Plantation, and $100 gift cards ($300 total) from FWC TrophyCatch partners, including Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Rapala lures, as well as a Bass King T-shirt.

Frank Ay, the grand prize winner, originally learned about TrophyCatch through an email sent out by FWC (Note: Anglers can sign up for custom emails at MyFWC.com by selecting the red envelope in the top banner). Ay lives in North Lauderdale and works at Sy Katz Produce as an inspector, where his boss sympathizes with Ay’s bass fishing addiction. Ay is a member of Big Reel Bassmasters of Margate which is known for its charity Ghosts & Goblins fishing event. Ay said his biggest largemouth bass was 10 pounds, 2 ounces. He caught it in a small pond in Coconut Creek.

Ay was surprised at a “Big Reel Bassmasters” club tournament on Lake Okeechobee on Nov. 24, 2013 by pro angler Bobby Lane, Champeau, Clements and television celebrity and producer Keith Alan, where he was awarded the $40,000 Phoenix 619 Pro Bass Boat powered by a Mercury 200 horsepower outboard (see video at bit.ly/Phoenix-giveaway).

The first of the four runners-up in the TrophyCatch registration giveaway was Rocco Cantalupo from Clearwater. Late last year,Cantalupo was online looking at California bass fishing programs and stumbled onto Florida’s TrophyCatch Facebook page. Luckily for him, he registered. Though Cantalupo enjoys both salt and freshwater fishing, he says his passion is chasing largemouth bass, and he goes fishing about three times a week. Rocco has been following the TrophyCatch Facebook page and really likes seeing the submissions that are posted there.

Cantalupo has a 4-year old son and fishing buddy, Rocco Jr. and a newborn daughter, Gianna Marie. Rocco’s personal best was a bass reaching double digits, but a scale wasn’t part of his tackle box – at least not until registering for TrophyCatch.

Mark Frost the next runner up is from Melrose. Frost learned about TrophyCatch from the Sean Rush, the guide that helped Bob Williams, the season-one TrophyCatch winner, land his the winning 13 pound, 14 ounce bass. Frost’s lifetime record was a 10 pound, 4 ounce bass. Frost is an avid angler who gets on the water three or four times a week.

Jason Haynes is from Lady Lake, in Lake County and must be thinking it was “Lady Luck” who shone on him when he learned he was a finalist. Jason is a member of the Harris Chain Bass Masters Club. He heard about and registered for TrophyCatch when FWC staff showed up for a club meeting to talk about the new program. Haynes says he has had a very good fishing year having caught eight or nine bass larger than 8 pounds, before learning about TrophyCatch! Haynes’ current lifetime catch was an 11 pound, 6 ounce bass from Orange Lake.

The last finalist, Andrew Walton, is serious about fishing. He lives in Toronto where bass fishing is only from late June to mid-September. He escapes to Cape Coral every chance he gets to go fishing, which has him coming to Florida almost monthly. Walton likes fishing both salt and freshwater, and his largest bass to date is an 8 pounder from Kissimmee. Since Walton doesn’t live here, he will sometimes hire a professional guide to take him out in search of largemouth bass or saltwater sport fish. His next freshwater guide trip will be on the famous Lake Okeechobee, hopefully with Scott Martin.

Be sure that every angler in a household registers seperately, since Phoenix and Mercury will be providing another boat for a lucky angler for season two (Oct. 1, 2013-Sep. 30, 2014), whether you catch a fish or not, you are eligible for the drawing. If you are already registered, you do not need to register again. However, this year, for every bass you have verified in TrophyCatch, you’ll get 10 additional chances to win the boat. So register, go fishing and document your catches at TrophyCatchFlorida.com.

By submitting photos for verification online, anglers also become eligible for a custom certificate and decal, plus awards based on the bass’ weight. Lunker Club entrants (8-9.9 pounds) each receive a $50 Bass Pro Shops gift card and Bass King T-shirt. Trophy Club participants (10-12.9 pounds) earn a total of $150 worth of gift cards (Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and/or Rapala), plus a long-sleeve T-shirt. To be entered into the Hall of Fame, anglers must catch, carefully document and release a bass weighing more than 13 pounds – but it’s worth it. Hall-of-Fame entrants also receive a free $500 fiberglass mount of their fish from New Waves Taxidermy, $200 in gift cards, a duffle bag full of Bass King apparel, a Glen Lau video library and other prizes worth a total of $1,000. The biggest bass of the year, for the second season will again win a TrophyCatch championship ring, from the American Outdoor Fund.

Logo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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