With just nine entries, this was not a stellar season for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Toyota ShareLunker program.
Only twice since the program began in 1986 has there been single entry numbers, the first being the first year of the program and the last time being the 2000-2001 season, which directly followed the largemouth bass virus outbreak in Texas.
This year there was no virus, but there was really odd weather.
“This has been a strange year temperature wise,” said Juan Martinez, ShareLunker coordinator. “We were two weeks late moving our brood fish in to spawn because it was too cold. I cannot explain the low ShareLunker entries this year other than the weather plus a lot of our West Texas lakes are low.”
The program started fast with one 13-pound-plus bass off Lake Fork in November and one from Fork and Lake Athens in December. After two each month from January through March, entries came to a screeching halt.
Included in the final total were three from Fork, two from Athens and one each from Palestine, Austin, Lady Bird Lake and Toledo Bend.
The Palestine bass, a 13.22 caught by Casey Laughlin of Rowlett in February, and the 13-pounder from Lady Bird Lake were both lake records.
Laughlin’s Palestine bass was also the second-ever from the lake. The first was a 13.14 caught by Lindell Booth Jr., of Chandler during the 2012-13 season.
The two Lake Athens fish, a 13.76 caught by Jason Hanson of Athens and a 13.67 caught by Frank Kirk of Athens, are the lake’s first ShareLunkers since 1989.
Historically, March has been the most productive month for ShareLunker entries followed by February and then April. More exact, the first two weeks of March and the last two weeks of February have produced more ShareLunkers than any other time period.
This season five of the nine ShareLunkers were pure Florida. Through the years 51 percent of entries have been pure Floridas. With improved DNA testing, the department now immediately returns a fish to the lake it was caught if it is not a pure Florida fish.
Three of the pure fish were paired with males and two successfully spawned, producing an estimated 143,000 fry. About 1 percent of those will be retained by the hatchery system for brood fish. Another three percent will be used in department research lakes and the remainder will be divided and stocked in the six lakes that produced ShareLunkers.
One of the complaints about the program has been that production was spotty in the earlier years and fishermen questioned whether it was worth risking a trophy bass’ life to have it transported to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center versus a quick release back into the lake.
However, through the years the department has improved its handling and spawning techniques with the big fish. Prior to the program nothing was known about handling this sized fish. Hatchery brood bass are typically much smaller, averaging about 4 pounds.
Since 2005 the best production year has been 255,000 fry in 2011. Average annual production has been 114,000, making 2013-14 an above-average production year.
The 71,500 average fry per spawning ShareLunker is also better than the average production of the typical hatchery female, which is about 35,000 fry per fish.
For the program, however, there is a bigger goal than just getting a successful spawn.
“While fry production is the start point to a good production year, it is all for not if they do not grow to stocking size (2 inches),” Martinez said. “Since 2005, the best year for ShareLunker production was 2011 with 193,389 fingerlings.”
With a total of 557 entries since 1986 there is little doubt the ShareLunker program has been a success on many levels including providing fish for the hatcheries and research, but also to educate fishermen about catch and release and as an advertisement of the quality of fishing in Texas.
However, not everyone is sold on the program. This year’s donor lakes shows the difference in attitudes about the ShareLunker program around the state with no entries coming from south of Austin.
While popular with fishermen im most of the state, it isn’t in the southern part of the state. It is especially disliked by guides at Falcon Lake. Despite several runs of great big fish fishing, Falcon has only provided 20 ShareLunkers and only a handful of those have been donated by local fishermen.
The department has attempted to placate South Texas fishermen by creating holding stations on a number of lakes and by involving local biologists in the program so fishermen don’t have to wait as long to handoff their fish. Those efforts and more haven’t seemed to help make inroads yet.
This year’s nine ShareLunker fishermen will be recognized at an awards dinner June 7 at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. Along with everyone receiving a replica of their fish, Randall Claybourne of Tulsa will be named Angler of the Year for catching the season’s largest bass, a 13.86-pound fish from Lake Fork.