The lunker bunkers at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center are vacant now, but those closest to Toyota ShareLunker are hoping to see a full house in the water-filled holding vats over the next few months. It’ll be encouraging when the first lunker with a serious weight problem comes along to jump start the 33rd season of the fabled big bass program based in Athens.
The three-month spawning phase of ShareLunker got underway on Jan. 1 and runs through March 31. Anglers who catch big Texas bass weighing 13 pounds or more during that time span are invited to loan the female fish to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for genetics research and spawning efforts.
The ShareLunker program was built around the idea that trophy bass carry superior DNA that can be passed on to others by breeding them in a controlled environment. The theory makes good sense, but it hasn’t panned out as well as scientists originally hoped when the program launched in the late 1980s.
Still, ShareLunker has provided a great advertising platform for Texas bass fishing while serving as catalyst in the promotion of catch and release and proper handling of large fish.
The program has seen numerous tweaks and name changes over the years, but underwent a major overhaul in 2018 with a heavy emphasis on using program offspring to rebuild the state’s Florida bass hatchery program with ShareLunker descendants.
The restructuring also included the creation of multiple weight classes and a year-round participation framework aimed at boosting angler interest while providing fisheries scientists with valuable information about big bass distribution across the state and which lakes are producing them most frequently.
“Lunker Legacy” is at the top tier of the new weight class categories. It is the only category where fish are transported to the TFFC for spawning. Fish must weigh 13 pounds or more and be caught between Jan. 1 – March 31 to qualify.
Six Lunker Legacy fish were turned in last season, including three from Lake Fork and one each from Sam Rayburn, Kurth and Twin Buttes reservoirs. The heaviest ShareLunker was a 15.48 pounder caught on March 2 from Lake Fork by John LaBove of Greenville.
The Lake Kurth fish was the only Legacy Lunker with pure Florida genes. After a successful spawn, TPWD retained 18,000 fingerlings from the 13.34 pounder for use in its ShareLunker hatchery program.
The remaining ShareLunker categories are open for year-round entry:
Lunker Class: For bass that measure at least 24 inches or weigh 8 to 9.99 pounds.
Lunker Elite Class: For bass weighing 10 to 12.99 pounds.
Lunker Legend: For bass weighing 13 or more pounds caught outside the Jan. 1 – March 31 spawning window.
Entering is simple. Legacy Lunkers require a phone call to ShareLunker headquarters (903-681-0550). Entry in the other three categories must be carried out online by creating a free account at texassharelunker.com.
Electronic entries must be accompanied by two digital photos — one showing the fish on a measuring board and another showing it weighed on a digital scale.
TPWD has put plenty of bait on the table to entice angler participation under the revamped format. Each Lunker Legacy donar receives a free fiberglass replica of their catch, ShareLunker clothing and other neat goodies. Additionally, Lunker Legacy anglers are entered in two drawings for $5,000 shopping sprees to Bass Pro Shops and annual fishing licenses. This year’s Lunker Legacy drawing will be held during the Bassmaster Toyota TexasFest event set for May 2-6 at Lake Fork.
Anglers who enter fish in other categories receive a category decal and fishing-related gear. All participants are entered in a drawing for a Bass Pro Shops fishing package and an annual fishing license.
Recent TPWD reports indicate overall angler participation was fairly brisk during the first year under the new format with 486 program entries turned in by 380 anglers from 89 lakes.
Interestingly, five of those fish were 13-pound-plus Lunker Legend entries. The biggest was a 14.0 pounder that set a record for Lake Tawakoni. It was caught last May by Warren Sprague of Wills Point.
Lake Joe Pool produced two of the giants, including a 13.72 pounder caught last May by Steve Warren of Burleson and a 13.79 pounder reeled during June by Gregg Huneycutt of Mansfield. Lakes Fork and Tradinghouse Creek produced the other two Legacy Lunkers, according to ShareLunker program coordinator, Kyle Brookshear.
The smaller weight categories accounted for most of the program’s entries in 2018. Brookshear said the were 368 Lunker Class entries and 107 in the Lunker Elite Class, including a 12.85 pounder from Marine Creek Reservoir, an 11.90 pounder from Lake Palestine and a Ray Hubbard whopper that also topped 12 pounds.
The program’s new website contains a wealth of other information about the program, including a fluid “Hottest Lakes” chart to illustrate which lakes have contributed the most entries.
Fork was the overall leader last year leader with 73 entries, followed by Conroe (41), Athens (28), Sam Rayburn (21), O.H. Ivie (17), Gilmer (14), Sheldon (13), Lady Bird Lake (13), LBJ (12) and Falcon (11).
To learn more about the program and detailed instructions on entering a fish, see texassharelunker.com.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.