After more than 31 years of collecting and spawning 13 pound or larger “lunker” largemouth bass, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Toyota ShareLunker Program is announcing big changes and an expanded mission. This is designed to better engage the public in the promotion and enhancement of lunker bass fishing in Texas public waters.
The ShareLunker participation season will now run each year from January 1 through December 31; a change from previous seasons. But similar to last year, only those entries collected between January 1 to March 31 will be accepted as broodstock for spawning.
“This provides the greatest opportunity to obtain eligible fish for spawning while minimizing the risk of additional handling and possible mortality,” said Kyle Brookshear, ShareLunker program coordinator.
Outside of the spawning window, the new year-round participation season will allow for anglers catching bass eight pounds or larger to submit information about their catch through a web application in four categories: eight pounds or larger, 10 pounds or larger, 13 pounds or larger and 13 pounds or larger with a spawning donation.
The goal is to increase the number of participants in the Toyota ShareLunker program and expand large fish catch rate data for fisheries biologists, Brookshear said. As a bonus, the new size categories open up more ways for anglers to receive prizes and incentives for participating.
“This citizen-scientist initiative,” Brookshear said, “will allow fisheries biologists to better monitor the impact of ShareLunker stockings across Texas and provide more incentives and opportunities for Texans to help us make our bass fishing bigger and better than ever.”
Other spawning program changes include converting the entire hatchery broodstock to pure-Florida ShareLunker offspring. Genetically pure offspring will be maintained in the hatchery, grown to adulthood, then distributed to production hatcheries and used as broodstock. Eventually, all hatchery-held Florida largemouth bass broodstock will be descendants of ShareLunkers, Brookshear said.
Additionally, attempts will be made to spawn all donated eligible ShareLunkers—regardless of the degree of genetic introgression. Offspring of female genetic intergrades will be combined and stocked back to the source locations for all ShareLunker entries for the year.
“People come to Texas from all over the country for our lunker bass fishing, and it’s still very rare to catch a 13 pounder,” said Mandy Scott, Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center director. “So that’s why ShareLunker is special. We learned a long time ago that these fish were important, and we wanted to try to capitalize on the big fish that we have in Texas already and make fishing even bigger and better.”
Brookshear said the program will announce the full list of changes and the new prizes closer to the beginning of the season. Anglers can also look forward to a complete rebranding of the program to include a new logo, graphics, and eventually more ShareLunker Weigh Stations to aid in the weigh-in process. Additionally, education and outreach specialists at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center are developing ShareLunker science curricula for Texas classrooms.
The roots of the ShareLunker program can be traced to the drought of the 1950s. That 10-year dry spell brought home to Texans the fact that the state’s burgeoning population had outgrown its water supply.
A few reservoirs had been built previously, but the 1960s and 1970s witnessed the completion of many more. Texas had only one natural lake—Caddo—and the native species of Texas bass, the northern, was adapted to live in streams.
Fish adapted to live in large lakes were needed to take advantage of the new reservoirs, and in 1971 TPWD brought the first Florida strain largemouth bass to Texas. They were housed at the Tyler Fish Hatchery (now closed), and the first Florida strain bass were stocked into Texas waters the following year.
Over the next several years bass from Florida, California and Cuba were brought to Texas to improve the genetics of the Texas bass population. The Cuban fish were obtained by sheer daring. Joe Bob Wells, a Levelland resident who fished in Cuba frequently, flew to Cuba in December 1984 and brought bass back to Texas via Mexico, since travel between the United States and Cuba was prohibited.
As the Florida strain genes worked their way into the bass population, fish grew bigger. In 1980 a 14.1-pound bass broke the state record of 13.5 pounds that had stood for 43 years. The record increased again and again, to the current 18.18-pound fish caught in 1992. Interest in bass fishing burgeoned along with the size of the fish.
As the program grew, it became obvious that the Tyler hatchery was inadequate, but there was no state money available to build a new hatchery, one tailored specifically to the needs of the program. It was decided to let cities bid to become the site and help raise the money for it.
Specifications called for the facility to be built within 50 miles of Lake Fork, because the majority of big fish are caught there. The Athens community pledged more than $4 million to win the bidding for the site, and the balance of the cost came from federal Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration funds and donations. No state money was used for construction.
For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass and a recap of last year’s season, see tpwd.texas.gov/sharelunker/. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program. Or follow the program on social media at facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram.
—story by TF&G STAFF