Can the Ivie Hype Hold Up?

Kayak on a Budget
December 25, 2023
December 25, 2023

How Long Can the Bass Legend Keep Cranking Out Lunkers?

Feature Story by MATT WILLIAMS

LISTEN: (7 minutes, 32 seconds)


IT’S NO SECRET that Lake O.H. Ivie has had the hottest hand of all Texas lakes for heavyweight bass in recent times. The 19,000-acre reservoir near San Angelo has been on fire with lunkers for three years now. Depending on who you talk to, the bonanza doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of dying down anytime soon.

Nebraska transplant and YouTuber Ben Milliken of New Caney and his friend, Joe McKay, lit the flame in February 2021 when a first-time visit to ‘Ivie turned into a big bass beat down. Fishing on the heels of Winter Storm Uri, McKay kicked off the big bass blitz with a 16.40 pounder that ranks as the No. 18 heaviest Texas bass of all-time.

The former lake record anchored what may be one of the heaviest five-fish, single-day catches ever documented on camera on a public lake — 60 pounds! You can watch the beat down here:

News of the epic fishing trip raced across the world on social media outlets, spurring an onslaught of fishing traffic arguably unrivaled since the hey days of Lake Fork. The pressure hasn’t let up since, either. Nor have the reports of fairy tale fishing trips.

‘Ivie has produced 41 Legacy Class fish over 13 pounds for the Toyota ShareLunker program since 2019. It cranked out an all-time high 15 entries in 2023, including a 17.03 pounder that ranks No. 8 among Texas’ biggest bass of all time. The lake kicked out a combined total of 24 Legacy lunkers during the 2021 and 2022 collection seasons, including a lake record 17.06 pounder that is the biggest Texas bass reported since 1992.



Impressive as those records may sound, the sheer number of double-digit fish that have been caught and released at the lake over the last three years would probably shock the imagination if it were possible to put a finger on the total.

While Milliken may have put ‘Ivie on the map, Josh Jones made it a household name with big bass junkies.

Jones is a fishing guide and forward fishing sonar expert who has arguably caught more giants from ‘Ivie than anyone.

To wit:

He’s the first angler to turn in four Legacy Lunkers. In a September interview, Jones told me his boat had accounted for 84 double digit bass at ‘Ivie during 90 days of guiding in 2023 alone. 

He said he and his clients have cracked 50 pounds on their heaviest five fish 10 times. Last September, Jones and Larry Walker of Irving topped 50 pounds twice in as many days. He’s lost track of the times he’s busted 30 pounds.

Other guides like Brady Stanford, Wendell Ramsey, Brandon Burks and Dalton Smith have reported their share of storybook fishing days at ‘Ivie, many of them coming as the result of using forward facing sonar to sniff out suspended fish and making casts that otherwise would not have been made.

Casey Sobczak with a 14-2 lunker caught in 2021.

Casey Sobczak with a 14-2 lunker caught in 2021.
(Photo: Courtesy BA.S.S.)

Mike Stanford of New Braunfels entered this 12.21 pound O.H. Ivie ShareLunker last November.

Mike Stanford of New Braunfels entered this 12.21 pound O.H. Ivie ShareLunker last November.
(Photo: TPWD)

Roxy Mcfadden entered this 11.03 pound ShareLunker last July.

Roxy Mcfadden entered this 11.03 pound ShareLunker last July.
(Photo: TPWD)

The point to be made by all of this is ‘Ivie is still teeming with big bass and continues to crank them out like a gum ball machine. How long the run will last is anybody’s guess.

Lynn Wright thinks the lake may have already reached the peak of its current big bass cycle. Wright is the fisheries biologist who oversees the lake for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

He says all is still good in Bassville and he’s expecting another good year in 2024. What happens after that is anybody’s guess, because ‘Ivie has a nemesis that no one can deny.

The lake is starving for water.

In late October, the reservoir was 29.34 feet low or at 29.5 percent full. With such a robust bass population crammed into a shrinking body of water, something is eventually going to have to give, Wright said. 

“Falling water levels will result in less backwater areas and fish moving into main channel areas,” Wright said. “This will concentrate fish in the short term but will also increase competition for food and space and may result in poor fish condition.”

Wright says the lake is already showing signs that there is not enough food around, especially among younger, smaller fish.

“Fall sampling data has shown over the last two years that bass from 12-18 inches were in below average condition,” he said. “However, once bass reached about 20 inches the condition was good, likely due to being able to consume larger prey items. Water losses should slow as we approach the winter season and lake levels should be more stable with less evaporation. Beyond 2024 I think we’ll see bass condition continue to decline if we don’t get a good rain and large water level rise.”

 While ShareLunker entry numbers in O.H. Ivie remain significantly stronger than any other Texas lake, Wright pointed out a decline in mega-sized bass reported to the program over the last two years as a possible sign the fish aren’t getting enough to eat. 

“We observed half the number of Lunkers over 14 pounds in 2023 (7) compared to 14 over 14 pounds in 2022,” he said. “This may be a result of falling water levels and greater competition for food.”

Plenty of anglers have speculated over the last couple of years about the possibility that a new state record might be finning around in ‘Ivie. Wright believes it is certainly possible, but thinks the chances were a lot better a year or so ago than they are now.

“On one hand we’ve had two bass over 17 pounds caught in the last two years,” he said. “It’s possible there could be one out there in the mid-18s. On the other hand, water levels in O.H. Ivie are still dropping and fish weights are down a bit. So, while it’s possible, I think changing reservoir conditions are moving in a direction that it’s less likely we’ll see a state record compared to previous years.”

Both Smith and Stanford said they think there is heavier than the 18.18 pound state record right now.

“I truly believe there is a potential state record out there,” said Smith. “If there is though, there aren’t many. There have been two 17 pounders caught here in the last two years. If a fish that size eats a 1-2 pound gizzard shad, it’s going to be right there. I have personally witnessed a couple fish on forward facing sonar that I feel were 18 plus pounds.”

Like Smith, Stanford thinks there is a state record swimming around in ‘Ivie, possibly more than one.

“It just needs to be the right fish caught at the right time of year,” he said. “I see it all the time out here where some fish just get so much fatter than the others. I see plenty of long fish which can support that 18-19 pound frame as well. All it takes is one with both qualities caught just before it spawns, and it will be a state record.”

Jones isn’t quite as optimistic.

“I don’t think there is a state record in there,” he said. “We are catching many of the same fish and there are too many boats. If there was a state record out there, I think someone would have already kicked onto one.” 

It will be interesting to see what unfolds in 2024. Let the big bass wars begin.


—story by AUTHOR

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