Lake Athens has always had the reputation of being a fair-to-middling bass lake.
Going back to the 1970s it has always produced good numbers of 3- to 5-pound fish, but not really a giant killer.
The lake experienced a little bit of a heyday back in 1988 when a lake-record 14.19 pound bass was caught. The fish was landed in May so it wasn’t entered into Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s ShareLunker program. Athens did get its first ShareLunker the next year when a 13.81-pound fish was brought in.
Then there was a 24-year wait until December 2013 when the next ShareLunker, a 13.76-pound bass, was caught by local fisherman Jason Hanson. The next wait has been even shorter. Just 27 days until last week when another Athens’ fishermen, Frank Kirk, weighed in a 13.67, and suddenly the 1,800-acre lake is among the hottest big bass lakes in the state.
It and Lake Fork are the only lakes this season to produce ShareLunker, and Fork only has a one-fish edge at three to two.
The reason for Lake Athens’ emergence as a trophy bass lake may be as simple as the old real estate axiom of location, location, location.
Sitting outside the backdoor of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, the lake has been stocked with Florida largemouth bass more times in the last 11 years than it was the previous 25 going back to when Florida bass were first stocked in Texas.
“Right at the hatchery they have been getting additional stockings of fish that aren’t courtesy, but convenience. It has been going on since 2003,” said Richard Ott, TPWD Fisheries biologist for Lake Athens.
Ott explained that the stockings have not always been significant, often consisting of excess fry that the hatchery didn’t have pond space available to grown out to stocking size. Typically those don’t result in successful stockings.
“There is a low percentage of survival with fry, but even a low percentage can contribute. It only takes one to be a ShareLunker,” Ott said.
And while the department has stocked adult brooders in the lake since 2003, Ott said those typically carry an electronic identification tag that would have been found when the ShareLunkers were brought in.
DNA testing was not completed on Kirk’s fish last week, but the department did say that Hanson’s December bass was a pure Florida. Based on that information Ott speculates the fish is part of a 10,000 fingerling stocking in 2003 or possibly a larger stocking in 2004 since ShareLunkers are typically 9 years old or older. Precise aging on a live fish is impossible.
Ott said there are other things working in the lake’s favor in producing multiple big fish. After an extended period of low water levels the lake is nearly full again. One of the benefits of the low water has been improved habitat.
“The habitat is phenomenal. There is not too much or too little. It is just in the pocket of where you want it to be,” he said.
Ott said the lake also has a good forage base and the low water level may have concentrated the food source
It also doesn’t hurt that fishermen in Northeast Texas are more attuned to supporting the ShareLunker program than they are at a lake like Falcon that has a reputation for big fish, but only 20 entries in the program.
Lake Athens has operated under a 14- to 21-inch slot limit since the 1990s, but Ott said that really has not had impact on the fishery.
“Technically no (it doesn’t help) because no one harvests fish. If people would take more sub-slot fish we might see more of these big fish,” the biologist said.
With bass clubs, open tournaments and local fishermen, Athens does get a lot of fishing pressure. With two ShareLunkers less than a month apart, chances are it will only get more crowded in the coming weeks.
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