Freshwater Fisheries Research: Brandon Thompson

Brandon Thompson has his dream job in fisheries biology, improving fishing opportunities for fellow anglers.

Researcher with radio tracking device, caption below
Radio-tracking largemouth bass.

Brandon Thompson
Freshwater Fisheries Biology    
Eustis, FL



B.S., Fisheries Science 
   University of Wisconsin - Steven Point
M.S., Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 
   University of Florida



I started working for FWC in October 2005 at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s (FWRI) Eustis field office. During my seven years at FWRI, I’ve been promoted to a project leader. Prior to making the move to Florida, I worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in California and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.   

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on several projects. I’m leading a project that conducts monitoring and research on sport fish populations on the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes in central Florida. We also look at the community structure, which is all the species of fish found in the lakes, to determine the overall health of the system. Certain species of fish can be used as indicators of a healthy ecosystem. I’m also researching largemouth bass stocking to assess survival and develop techniques to improve survival after fish are released into the wild.

How is this information beneficial?

Research and monitoring on the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes informs managers of fish populations and size structures, letting them know if management action, such as regulation changes, should be taken. Using research conducted in our office, we strive to increase stocking success by improving the culture process and stocking procedures.  

What is your typical work day like?

One of the special aspects of my job is the diversity of projects to work on and people to work with. My job involves extensive field work during certain seasons and primarily office work during others. Many of our monitoring and research projects target largemouth bass, and when they are available for sampling in the spring, we can be on the water sampling up to five days a week for 10 hours per day. Although it would be great to be in the field working with the resource all year, we do need to spend time analyzing data that’s been collected and writing reports to share information with the public and scientific community. 

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

My primary goal as a fisheries biologist is to conduct research that makes fishing better for anglers. In past positions, I worked on habitat enhancement projects that transformed shallow, warm streams in cattle pastures into Class A trout streams. Projects like that provide anglers with more opportunities to fish, giving me the greatest satisfaction in my job. 

What are some of your biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found in my career is slowing down when designing and completing studies. When researching specific questions, many times I end up with more questions than answers. This scenario drives me to rush into the next project to answer the next question. With the advice of experienced biologists, I’ve discovered the value of taking time to thoroughly complete the current study and then prioritize additional research.   

What do you like most about your career?

When I started my career as a fisheries biologist, I simply wanted to be in the field working with fish almost 100 percent of the time. I chose this career because I love being outdoors and didn’t want to sit behind a desk. I still have a strong desire to be in the field, but as my career has progressed I have enjoyed every aspect of my work, from designing a study to analyzing data and writing reports. 

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

As far back as high school, fisheries was my career of choice. I had a passion for fish and the outdoors and knew I wanted to work in this field. I am truly blessed to have a job that I love doing everyday and to work with a great group of people. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

If I hadn’t ended up with a career in fisheries, I would still have found a way to work with fish, boats and water, likely as a fishing guide. Although guiding in Florida on a daily basis would be amazing, the challenges and diversity in fisheries research keeps my work interesting and rewarding. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

My advice to those wishing to enter the fish and wildlife field is get as much diverse experience as possible. There are always opportunities to volunteer, obtain an internship or work in a seasonal position. This experience allows you to determine if this field is right for you and may help you decipher specifically what you want to pursue. You may begin an internship with an agency to gain experience in freshwater fisheries, but then decide that working with wildlife fits you better. The field of fish and wildlife is very competitive because of the exciting nature of the work, and pursuing it with a good work ethic and positive attitude can be extremely helpful.  

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

When I’m not at work, I try to be in a boat fishing or diving as much as possible. Because I work with freshwater fish, I primarily target saltwater species. I do love hunting and take advantage of any opportunities that come up. I also love sports and regularly play pick-up games of basketball and volleyball. 

FWC Facts:
Biologists estimate 10,000-14,000 sturgeon live in the Suwannee River. Adult populations in other Gulf Coast rivers range from a few hundred to about 2,000.

Learn More at AskFWC