Here’s a little-known fishing tidbit: The FWC stocked 27,000 sunshine bass in the canals of Gulf Cove in May 2019. Sunshine bass look like striped bass, but striped bass won’t survive in Southwest Florida because it’s just too hot here. But sunshine bass — which are hybrids that the FWC creates in hatcheries by cross-breeding female white bass and male striped bass — do just fine in here.
Striped bass are Florida’s largest freshwater game fish. The state record is over 42 pounds. While sunshines are smaller, they can get fair-sized. The state record is a chunky fish that weighed 16.3 pounds. But don’t get too excited about catching a bunch of 10-pounders in Gulf Cove any time soon — those 27,000 fish were fingerlings only about an inch in length.
Sunshine bass are incapable of reproducing, kind of like mules. The only way to get a mule is from crossing a female horse with a male donkey. Mules can’t make more mules, and sunshine bass can’t make more sunshine bass. The FWC creates and stocks sunshine bass to provide fishing opportunities that last as long as the batch of stocked fish are still around.
This is called a “put and take” fishery, because the fish are put into the water and then we hope to later take them back out of the water when they are harvested. This is different from a stocking program that’s designed to enhance or supplement the natural stock of a species of fish, such as the stocking of redfish that was done along Florida’s Gulf coast earlier this year. It’s hoped that those stocked redfish will survive and join the ranks of the area’s native redfish.
The Gulf Cove stocking of sunshine bass was coordinated by Eric Johnson, fisheries administrator for the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. Johnson says that the Gulf Cove stocking project came about after a request from local residents for help in improving the fishing in the Gulf Cove canal system. He says that those inch-long fingerlings should have grown to be in the 6- to 10-inch size range by now — big enough that anglers should be starting to catch some of them.
Like both of their parent species, sunshine bass are open-water fish that travel and feed in schools. Trolling in the canals will be a good way to find them. Another good strategy would be to fish live baits suspended mid-water under bobbers, or to fan-cast open water with small jigs, plugs or spoons.
The FWC has stocked sunshine bass in our area before. There used to be signs at boat ramps along the Peace River asking anglers to be on the lookout for sunshine bass, and to report any catches to the FWC. Obviously the number of sunshine bass in any stocked area will decrease over time, but there will likely be stragglers caught for years.
It’s also possible (maybe even likely) that some of the Gulf Cove sunshine bass will find their way out of the canal system and into the Myakka River and Charlotte Harbor by negotiating the Gulf Cove locks or by escaping via small watercourses through the mangroves, especially at times of flooding due to high tides or heavy rainfall.
Florida anglers are lucky that the FWC has programs such as this to provide fishing opportunities, but they need angler feedback. Johnson needs to know if anglers are catching sunshine bass from the Gulf Cove stocking project, and the more catches that are reported the more likely it becomes that the FWC will do it again.
If you catch one of these fish, please send an email to Johnson at email@example.com. If possible, include a photo of the fish — even if it’s a little guy that you released.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.