Reward yourself. Participate in a state sponsored fishing program. There are over 30 states that offer awards, rewards, certificates and/or pins for your efforts.  You can even enter a state program if you are not a resident of that state.  An example would be if you are on vacation in a state that is not your own and you catch a trophy or record fish in that state.

State sponsored fishing programs are not structured like typical fishing contests where one competes against others on a certain date and body of water.  Instead, they recognize individual accomplishments over time or whenever a person catches a fish of notable size.

The most common fishing program that states run are those that refer to a “trophy” fish.  To be considered a trophy, a fish must exceed a minimum length or weight but, does not exceed the state record fish.  States will list what the minimums are for 20 to 30 to over 60 different species of fish.  It’s very possible that even though you catch a small fish it could be considered a trophy for its particular species.

States encourage people to submit their catches as it helps them collect data on and manage for large fish within its borders. Many states have separate catch-and-release trophy fish programs as well. Catch and release help increase the probability of future generations of trophy fish and it increases the chances of another angler catching one.

Recognition is also given to those anglers who catch a state record fish.  State records are less common than a trophy fish but, in addition to an award, certificate or pin the angler will have their name listed in the record books until someone comes along with a bigger fish.

Master Angler, slam’s and challenges are the second most common types of state fishing programs. Master Angler programs are similar to trophy fish programs but, can vary by state.  One state requires catching a qualifying fish of three different species and another state requires catching four different species in one year.

A slam typically requires catching 4 different sub-species of fish, usually trout, in their native waters. A slam could also require that a designated fish be caught in specific waters.  An example is Missouri that requires a smallmouth bass be caught in 6 of 12 designated streams.

Challenges may require a certain fish be caught that exceeds a minimum weight or length. Examples include one that requires catching a 40 pound or larger flathead catfish and another requiring the catch of a 5 pound or 21 inch or larger largemouth bass.

Many states are beginning to offer “first fish” awards to either kids of certain ages or even to those just taking up fishing to commemorate their first fish ever caught.  First fish awards usually have no qualifying length or weight requirements.

A couple of states have begun to give recognition and cash rewards to anglers whose efforts help manage fish and their habitat. Maryland recognizes those individuals who report their harvest of eligible invasive fish species and Idaho offers cash rewards for certain fish in selected water bodies.

Every state in America should have programs to help people become interested in, have fun with and help protect fish and their environment.  If you don’t have one in your state, contact its natural resource department and ask them to start one.  Programs in other states can be reviewed for ideas of what could be offered.  All the existing programs offer anyone the chance to reward themselves anytime they go fishing., find one to attend.