H eads up, Texas big bass hunters!
If you’re lucky enough to catch a giant bass weighing upwards of 13 pounds from a Texas bass lake and want it evaluated for the TPWD Toyota ShareLunker program, take note. Nobody is going to check out the fish. Not during November or December, anyway.
So, save yourself some wasted time and the fish some unnecessary handling. Don’t take it to the bank.
For those who might not be familiar with Toyota ShareLunker, it is a spawning and genetics research program run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department since 1986. The program solicits anglers who catch Texas bass weighing 13 pounds or more to loan the fish to the state agency for spawning and genetics research.
In exchange, anglers receive ShareLunker memorabilia and nationwide recognition through news releases. Plus, the angler who catches the biggest fish during the program season wins a lifetime fishing license and high quality fishing tackle.
ShareLunkers are always females. The big fish are paired with handpicked males for spawning in hatchery raceways. A portion of the offspring are retained for research and the rest are stocked into donor lakes.
The minimum weight for entry was set at 13 pounds based on the belief that jumbo bass have superior genetics offering the best shot for producing more giant bass though selective breeding.
For years the program has begun accepting entries on October 1. Beginning this year, however, the starting date will shift forward several months to coincide with the new spawning season put in place last year—January 1 to March 31.
The new spawning season was implemented because data showed nearly 90 percent of successful Sharelunker spawns occurred during that time frame, and 75 percent of Sharelunker entries were caught during the months of January, February and March.
TPWD implemented several other changes to the program under new leadership last season in hopes of making it more efficient. The changes also aim to rekindle angler support that appears to have faded with time. This included accepting non-pure Florida bass entries for spawning and eliminating private lakes as recipients of ShareLunker offspring.
Another noteworthy change was to begin relying strictly on ShareLunker offspring from pure Florida bass entries to rebuild TPWD’s Florida bass hatchery program within six to seven years. No headway occurred toward that goal last season because none of the fish managed successful spawns in hatchery raceways.
TPWD inland fisheries director Craig Bonds says even more tweaks are coming this season. This has the purpose of drumming up more angler participation in the program.
Thus far the program has served as a great public relations platform for promoting Texas bass fishing and getting the word out about catch-and-release. ShareLunker also has provided researchers gobs of opportunity to learn more about proper handling techniques for heavyweight bass. To date, the program has taken in 570 entries.
At press time, TPWD was still being tight-lipped regarding the additional changes, mainly because the details were still being ironed out. Bonds says the tweaks will be announced long before the January 1 season opener. He is confident they will be well received by the angling public.
“TPWD is in the process of relaunching the Toyota ShareLunker program to expand participation and increase engagement with our bass anglers,” he said. “We are very excited about the changes and will be sharing more news about the new program this fall.”
There was plenty of chatter circulating last year that ShareLunker’s changes may lead it toward a 12-month gig that would mirror Florida’s TrophyCatch program in a lot of ways. If that’s what comes down the pike, it could be a good thing.
Run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, TrophyCatch is an incentive-based conservation program designed for anglers who catch-and-release largemouth bass heavier than eight pounds. The FWC describes the program as a “citizen-science partnership” instrumental in ensuring that FWC biologists are able to make informed decisions for the management and improvement of Florida’s lakes and rivers.
Anglers can enter TrophyCatch electronically by providing quality photos of the fish, including one that shows it on a scale with the recorded weight in clear view.
Participants are eligible to win all sorts of cool prizes such as gift cards, fishing rods, decals, tackle discounts, etc. The value of the prizes varies with the club level in which a fish is entered. The bigger the fish, the bigger the club, and the bigger the prize. Everyone who enters a fish is automatically entered in a drawing to win a fully rigged Phoenix bass boat at the end of the season.
Not surprisingly, TrophyCatch has been very well received by its constituents. Through four seasons more than 5,325 catches have been approved, and it continues to grow.
It will be interesting to see whether Texas bass anglers respond likewise to tweaks in Toyota ShareLunker, once regarded as one of the most innovative freshwater fisheries programs in America.
Email Matt Williams at [email protected]