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Angler Recognition Program Shines Spotlight on Fishing Excellence

ATHENS – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Angler Recognition Program (ARP) exists to recognize fishing excellence in Texas, and to further that purpose, TPWD staff recently completed a revitalization initiative for the program. The ARP was established in 1971 and maintains the fish record lists for all public and private waterbodies across the state, inspiring anglers to get outside and enjoy the water.

“I have seen how this program inspires and brings joy to people, and I know from personal experience the fond memories that fishing can provide,” said Grace Simms, TPWD Angler Recognition Program coordinator. “My dad started taking me fishing when I was a young child, and he and I still fish together.  Seeing people of all ages with such passion and joy for this program makes me feel privileged that I get to work with these amazing anglers.”

The Angler Recognition Program, which is now housed at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens, features multiple award categories, including rod and reel, fly fishing, bow fishing and the new state record all-tackle category. In June 2021, the all-tackle category replaced the state record/other methods. The all-tackle category recognizes records for largest fish by species caught by any legal means.

Records are registered based on weight or length at the state level as well as for individual waterbodies. The ARP accepts length-only record applications for the catch and live release of selected species in Texas public waters. This record provides an opportunity for conservation minded anglers who don’t have a certifiable scale available to weigh a record fish before returning it to the water.

Anglers can also be recognized with a First Fish AwardBig Fish AwardElite Angler Award and Outstanding Angler Award. The First Fish Award acknowledges the first fish caught by an angler of any age. The Big Fish Award is handed out for multiple freshwater and saltwater species based on length requirements. Anglers then achieve Elite status by earning Big Fish awards for five different freshwater or saltwater species. The Outstanding Angler Award is a catch that does not qualify for any other type of award but still deserves recognition.

“Unless a catch is found to have broken the rules, every catch will receive an award, even if they do not set any records or qualify as a big fish,” said Simms. “Every catch that is submitted to us is special and represents fond memories and a joyful experience. It therefore deserves recognition.”

Anglers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with program rules and how to submit their catch prior to heading out to the water. Anglers are advised to pay close attention to the requirements for proper weighing and length measurements along with photos to accompany the application. Fish must be weighed on certified or legal-for-trade scales within three days of the catch date. However, anglers may also weigh their fish on their own personal scale and then get that scale certified within 30 days of the catch date.

Once the Angler Recognition Award application is complete with all supporting documentation, it must be submitted within 60 days of the catch date. The application and documents can be emailed to anglers@tpwd.texas.gov or sent via mail to Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, 5550 FM-2495, Athens, TX 75752.

Each angler who submits an application to the program has a chance to be featured as the “Catch of the Month.” One interesting catch will be selected by TFFC staff, and the photograph and description of their fish will be showcased on the Angler Recognition Program website each month. Photos must be submitted in conjunction with an ARP application for any of the award categories. Photos may be mailed or emailed but must be high quality and clear.

Participation in the program is growing, and in 2022, anglers received more than 660 official records or awards for their catch. Anglers set a combined 41 new state records and 393 waterbody records during the calendar year. State and waterbody records are awarded in overall and junior angler categories for public and private freshwater fisheries along with saltwater fisheries in the state. The program also officially recognized 307 Big Fish, 51 First Fish and 91 Outstanding Angler awards.

A few notable catches entered into the program in 2022 are below.

  • Andrew Ibarra caught a red porgy in the Gulf of Mexico with a rod and reel on February 20. The fish weighed 6.86 pounds and was 24.25 inches long. The catch is the new Jr. State Record and the new Jr. Water Body Record.
  • Brodey Davis set the new O.H. Ivie largemouth bass waterbody record at 17.06 pounds. It was the biggest in 30 years and the seventh largest largemouth bass ever verified in Texas (private or public). It had a length of 27.25 inches and a girth of 23.25 inches. The fish was caught on February 24 and donated to the Toyota ShareLunker program for spawning purposes.
  • Michael Springer caught a 12-inch Rio Grande cichlid with rod and reel on September 26. He was awarded a Big Fish award, State Release Record and the Water Body Release Record.
  • Tim Kapp caught a bowfin at Lake Fork with a fly rod on May 4. The fish weighed 9.34 pounds and was 27.5 inches long. The catch set a new State Record and Water Body Record.

Spring is a great time to head out with the family and enjoy the outdoors, so check out the current records, grab a pole and make memories chasing an Angler Recognition Program award or new record.

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