Will 2022 be another dream year for big bass?
There’s no better way to shake off the winter blues than to hit a Texas lake in search of an elusive ShareLunker largemouth bass. Everything else fades away as you feel the line go out, see the lure land and hope this time the bait gets a strike from that fish-of-a-lifetime.
Texas is an alluring destination for thousands of anglers from across the nation who come in search of this prized sportfish from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s world-class fisheries. During a three-month period, anglers who reel in a 13-plus-pound largemouth bass can loan it to the 35-year-old Toyota ShareLunker selective breeding program. It’s every angler’s dream to catch a ShareLunker.
Expectations are high for the 2022 season (January 1 through March 31) after a historic run in 2021 that was one “Wow!” after another. Overall, anglers landed 23 ShareLunkers at 10 different lakes across the state, the most during a January-through-March timespan since the 1995 season, which produced 27. Five entries were greater than 15 pounds.
After the harrowing days of Winter Storm Uri, anglers across the state woke up to fantastic tales of record-breaking bass to brighten their mornings. Was it the best ShareLunker season ever? The numbers tell the story.
Five entries were new lake records (Eagle Mountain, Lake Tyler, Lake Coleman, Lake Travis and O.H. Ivie). The Travis record had stood for nearly 30 years, broken with a 15.32-pound catch by 15-year-old angler Trace Jansen (see sidebar). Four entries were from water bodies that had not previously recorded entries in the Legacy program (Eagle Mountain, Lake Tyler, Lake Coleman and Lake Travis).
For the second season in a row, an angler submitted two entries from the same lake; this season from O.H. Ivie, last season from Alan Henry.
If you’re still following this trail of records, try these: Two times in February, two ShareLunkers were submitted in the same day. Two times in March, three ShareLunkers were submitted in the same day, including the big bass that enabled the program to reach the 600th ShareLunker mark.
Earl Nottingham | TPWD
Bigger, Better Bass
Not only can the program provide the moment of a lifetime for individual anglers, but the impact also reaches far across the state for current and future anglers. Legacy Lunkers are used for spawning, and their offspring are redistributed back into fisheries across the state to create the fish proclaimed in the program motto as “Bigger, Better Bass.”
ShareLunker entry classes for those big bass include the Lunker class (8 pounds or more), Elite class (10 pounds or more) and Legacy class (13 pounds or more). The Legend class is for fish weighing 13 pounds or more that are caught outside the January to March breeding window. Fish in the Lunker, Elite and Legend classes are not donated for spawning, but their catch information is entered into the program to provide more data on large fish.
The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is the home of the Toyota ShareLunker Program. Hatchery staff in Athens, along with the A.E. Wood Hatchery in San Marcos, produced 271,872 fingerlings following 18 successful spawns from 2021's Legacy Lunkers.
“We are thrilled with the number of ShareLunker offspring produced last season,” says Kyle Brookshear, Toyota ShareLunker Program manager. “We couldn’t have done it without the anglers who generously loaned us their 13-pound and larger bass for our selective breeding program. This generosity doesn’t just increase the Lunker potential of the lakes where those fish were caught, it also helps us in our effort to convert our entire hatchery broodstock to ShareLunker offspring, which will benefit every lake in Texas for future generations of anglers.”
Of the 23 Legacy-class ShareLunkers in the 2021 season, 21 were taken to TPWD hatcheries and 19 were available for spawning. Combined, they spawned a total of 18 times with the male offspring of previously spawned ShareLunkers. TPWD returned 20 of the 23 donated fish to the lakes where they were caught.
The 10 reservoirs that produced Legacy-class ShareLunker entries (O.H. Ivie, Sam Rayburn, Conroe, Austin, Travis, Palestine, Coleman, Fork, Eagle Mountain and Lake Tyler) received the resulting 271,872 ShareLunker fingerlings, with each one receiving more than 10,000 superior fingerlings. Lakes that contributed multiple Legacy ShareLunkers received additional fingerlings.
In addition, 12,854 advanced-sized ShareLunker offspring (excess future broodfish from previous Legacy class spawns) and 79,482 fingerlings were stocked in 2021 in Bois D’Arc Lake to support development of the fisheries resource in this new reservoir.
Kyle Brookshear | TPWD
Discoveries in the Lab
TPWD biologists went into the lab and made some incredible discoveries through their genetic analysis of the 2021 Legacy Lunkers, linking their lineage to both previous classes and to each other. ShareLunkers 587 and 600 from O.H. Ivie are related to each other, while ShareLunker 602 from Lake Coleman is likely the granddaughter of ShareLunker 410, caught at Lake Conroe in 2006.
Biologists were able to identify that at least two fish in 2021 — ShareLunker 597 from Lake Travis and ShareLunker 608 from Lake Fork — are fish from the pure Florida largemouth bass that were spawned in and stocked out of the TPWD hatcheries.
“Much like last season, when ShareLunker 583 was determined to be a sixth-generation offspring, it’s always great to see the genetic analysis reaffirm the efforts,” says Tom Lang, Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center director. “On the other hand, when ShareLunkers aren’t related to previous ShareLunkers, it’s great, too, because those fish add more big bass genetic diversity to the effort. You really can’t go wrong participating in the ShareLunker program.”
Of the 10 lakes that recorded Legacy Lunkers in 2021, there was one lake that shined the brightest. O.H. Ivie, which is a reservoir on the Colorado and Concho rivers in Concho, Coleman and Runnels counties, is located 55 miles east of San Angelo and was constructed in 1990. The fishery claimed an incredible 12 of the 23 Lunkers caught in the 2021 collection period.
Two of the O.H. Ivie anglers were Donald Burks and Jim Smith, both from Weatherford. Burks landed his catch of a lifetime, a 13.40-pounder, on February 23; Smith followed with a 14.42-pound Legacy Lunker on March 14. Both anglers not only got to experience the thrill of catching a 13-plus-pound fish, but after donating the fish to spawn, they had the opportunity to return the fish back to the spot where it was caught.
Kyle Brookshear | TPWD
Donald Burks made the ShareLunker trip with his son Brandon. Donald caught the Legacy Lunker after only an hour on the water, using an Alabama rig. Donald handed off the fish, his personal best, to TPWD biologists for the ShareLunker program and its trip to the Freshwater Fisheries Center. Father and son quickly returned to the water and, about 20 minutes later, Brandon caught a 12.40-pound Elite Lunker, which was also a personal best for him. The duo had nearly bagged two Legacy Lunkers in just a couple of hours.
“I had only ever been to O.H. Ivie one time in my life, but I heard about these fish being caught so I told my son, ‘Let’s go,’” says Donald. “It’s a great lake. Texas Parks and Wildlife has done a tremendous job in making it into an outstanding fishery through the ShareLunker program. It was a trip to remember and great to experience it with my son there as well.”
Jim Smith also reeled in his Legacy Lunker on his second trip to O.H. Ivie.
“We started off in Elm Creek, looking for some deeper water coming next to the shoreline,” he says. “We began with some moving baits and had some success bringing in smaller fish. My friend Rob hooked a fish that snapped his rod — he started hand-lining the fish through trees and brush.”
Around the time that his friend got the fish into the boat, Smith set the hook on the Lunker. They knew it was a big fish because it didn’t come up to the surface at all, and the rod was bent way over. The battle lasted two to three minutes before they got it into the boat.
“Neither one of us had seen a fish of that size in person,” Smith says. “We immediately provided fish care and handed it off to Texas Parks and Wildlife personnel who did an outstanding job of caring for the fish. Overall, it was a wonderful experience.”
Bringing Back the Bass
Everything came full circle for Burks and Smith in April when both anglers returned to O.H. Ivie to release their fish, an opportunity offered by the program.
“Some people were arguing that we were taking all the big fish out of here (O.H. Ivie),” says Burks. “I let them know we are going to put them back. The reason these fish are even here is because of the ShareLunker program that helps breed these big fish. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to return the fish and have the experience to see this come full circle. Now I just need to catch one that’s bigger!”
A Historic ShareLunker Week
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