Tony Stewart Goes Bass Fishing Before Daytona 500
It was a perfect Florida February day, with mostly sunny conditions and a high in the low 70s. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and the director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, Tom Champeau, were on a tour of the upper St. Johns River in the vicinity of Three Forks Marsh Conservation Area. Led by fishing guide Capt. Mike Tipton, they caught 36 bass in just a few hours. Champeau got a strike and then landed an 11-pound, 8-ounce trophy. Such is the stuff dreams are made of and the basis for which the FWC launched TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com).
“Catching and releasing a trophy bass while fishing with the founder of our major sponsor was an incredible experience,” said Champeau. “The only way I could have scripted it better would be for either Johnny or Tony to catch her,” he added.
Bass Pro Shops is a major TrophyCatch partner, and with their expansion to 12 stores throughout Florida, this partnership is a win-win for the fishing industry, conservation and anglers. Morris was ecstatic himself, exclaiming, “What a way to promote this great conservation program!”
Stewart, who hoped to spend the day relaxing before the Daytona 500, said, “Seeing Tom catch that fish was awesome, I was so excited to be there for it.” Three-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart will drive the #14 Chevrolet sponsored by Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Marine on Sunday, February 24th, in the 55th running of the Daytona 500.
Capt. Tipton took photos of the beauty, showing the weight registering on the scale, as required for TrophyCatch documentation.
Champeau’s catch will be submitted to the TrophyCatch website; however, as an FWC employee, he is not eligible for any rewards other than a handsome certificate commemorating his catch.
“Catching a bass of a lifetime, with Johnny Morris and a racing legend like Tony Stewart, was the best reward I could ever ask for,” said Champeau.
Florida’s fame as a bass fishing destination lies in an abundance of lakes and rivers that consistently produce trophy-size bass. To document locations and frequency of catches over 8 pounds throughout the state, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) launched TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com) in October with the support of more than 20 industry partners.
The goal is to use catch information to better conserve and manage trophy bass fisheries and continue to promote Florida as the Bass Fishing Capital of the World.
Tony Stewart's Daytona 500 car.
“Florida leads the nation with more than 25 million days of freshwater fishing participation and attracted more than 1.2 million anglers from all over the world to fish famous lakes like the Kissimmee Chain and Okeechobee and the St. Johns River,” said Champeau. While Florida’s marquee fisheries receive most media attention, Champeau said that anglers should not overlook the countless smaller lakes, ponds and canals.
“TrophyCatch is already revealing that many trophy bass are caught in typical neighborhood ponds,” he said.
While touring the Three Forks Marsh Conservation Area with Morris and Stewart, Champeau explained how the area is being reclaimed through a partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District and the FWC. Vast marshes that were once drained for agriculture are being reclaimed as impoundments to protect water quality in Indian River Lagoon and St. Johns River. One such impoundment is Stick Marsh, which opened for fishing in the 1980s and is well-known in fishing circles. Within the next five years, more than 47,000 additional acres of water will be thriving with trophy bass, and the FWC is taking measures now to ensure that these fisheries continue to produce decades into the future.
“We estimate the economic impact, once the entire Upper St. Johns Project is completed, will be around $20 million to local businesses,” Champeau said. “The reservoir-enhancement projects being completed now will provide increased depth and more complex lake-bottom topography, which will be more beneficial than simply flooding an old sod farm.”
To learn more about TrophyCatch and register to win a $40,000 bass boat, go to TrophyCatchFlorida.com. Registering is free, and anglers can win valuable incentives by following the Catch-Photograph-Release format to ensure that these memorable fish will be caught again and again in the future.