ATHENS—After getting off to a fast start with three entries in November and December, the Toyota ShareLunker season sputtered to an end April 30 with a total of only nine entries.
Low lake levels, unseasonably cold spring temperatures and windy conditions on many weekends combined to limit angler opportunities to catch big bass. But the fish were out there, and those who persevered will be rewarded with replicas of their catches and ShareLunker clothing at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center on June 7.
Two catches were new lake records. Ken Leonard of New Braunfels set the new mark for Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin with Toyota ShareLunker 556, a 13.0-pounder caught March 18. The first ShareLunker from that water body, it was returned to the lake March 22. Casey Laughlin of Rowlett caught the new Lake Palestine record, a 13.22-pounder, during a Media Bass tournament February 1. It was returned to the lake February 7.
Four of the nine entries were caught by out-of-state anglers, proving once again the tourism value of Texas trophy bass fishing. That value was underscored time and again by the 50 professional anglers at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) on Lake Fork in May. Every angler in the world championship of bass fishing commented on the quality of bass fishing on Lake Fork in particular and the entire state in general.
"Lake Fork is fishing better than any lake in Texas right now and probably the whole country," said three-time TTBC champion Keith Combs. "This event proved that it is still the best lake in Texas. Lake Fork is unbelievable! You really never know what you're going to catch. Every time I set the hook today, I thought it was going to be a 10-pounder. There aren't many places we fish on the pro tours where that happens."
Lake Fork produced three of the nine entries into the Toyota ShareLunker program during the season just ended, including the 13.86-pounder that earned Tulsa, Oklahoma, angler Randall Claybourne Angler of the Year honors for biggest bass. Lake Fork also produced the first catch of the season, a 13.29-pounder reeled in by Stephen L. Proctor of Pryor, Oklahoma, on November 21 and returned to the lake December 3.
Lake Athens, adjacent to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, produced two entries, both of which were pure Florida largemouth bass and therefore eligible to be spawned to produce fingerlings for stocking back into lakes producing entries. Time and the results of DNA testing on future program entries will tell if any of those fry grow up to become ShareLunkers themselves.
One of the Lake Athens fish, Toyota ShareLunker 553, caught by Athens resident Frank Kirk, spawned three times, resulting in 117,425 fry. Kirk released the fish back into Lake Athens on May 5. The other, caught by Jason Hanson, was the second-largest entry of the season at 13.76 pounds. The fish was held for spawning but did not and was returned to the lake on May 12.
Claybourne's fish, Toyota ShareLunker 552, was also pure Florida largemouth bass and spawned once, producing 26,015 fry. Claybourne released the fish back into Lake Fork on May 8.
A Toledo Bend Reservoir fish, 13.3-pound Toyota ShareLunker 557, caught by Lance Wakeland of Fenton, Missouri, indicated that more entries may be coming from that lake in the near future. After sporadically producing entries in 1996, 2004, 2006 and 2008, Toledo Bend has now produced entries for the last three years in a row. Number 557 was returned to the lake March 25.
Despite being covered up with boats and producing lots of big bass, Lake Austin managed to send only one fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program this season, a 13.19-pounder caught by Robert Whitehead of Austin. That fish, Toyota ShareLunker 555, died March 11.
Blake Eppinette of Downsville, Louisiana, caught 13.6-pound ShareLunker 550, a pure Florida largemouth bass, on December 27, 2013, from Lake Fork. It died two days later.
Anyone legally catching a 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass from Texas waters, public or private, between October 1 and April 30 may submit the fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.
Anglers entering fish into the Toyota ShareLunker program receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate and ShareLunker clothing and are recognized at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. The person who catches the season's largest entry will be named Angler of the Year. If the Angler of the Year is a Texas resident, that person also receives a lifetime fishing license.
The number to call to report a ShareLunker catch is (903) 681-0550. If poor cell phone service prevents use of the voice number, anglers can leave a phone number (including area code) at (888) 784-0600.
Official ShareLunker weigh and holding stations have been established at a number of reservoirs; a list is at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/sharelunker/holding/.
For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass, a list of official Toyota ShareLunker weigh and holding stations and a recap of last year's season, see www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sharelunker/. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program along with pictures where available.
Information on current catches, including short videos of interviews with anglers when available, will be posted on www.facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram. "Like" this page and you can receive notification and photos of catches as soon as they become available.
ShareLunker entries are used in a selective breeding program at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens. Some of the offspring from these fish are stocked back into the water body from which they were caught. Other ShareLunker offspring are stocked in public waters around the state in an attempt to increase the overall size and growth rate of largemouth bass in Texas.
The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible by a grant to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation from Gulf States Toyota. Toyota is a long-time supporter of the Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.
May 16, 2014