Mark Stevenson sped up the introduction of the program when he reeled in a 17.67-pound state record bass on Lake Fork on a mild November day in 1986.
Prior to that, the program had only been a concept, and had yet to be formally designed or approved. But like an early arriving baby, some things can't be planned entirely, and that includes a rare state record bass brought to the marina alive.
That catch, the decision to immediately jumpstart the then Lone Star Lunker program, and Stevenson's willingness to donate it to TPWD's hatchery system to see if it could be spawned in captivity created invaluable publicity for Lake Fork and secured the future of the ShareLunker program.
Fast forward through 535 more bass 13 pounds and larger, the Toyota ShareLunker program starts another season Monday with possibly the biggest change in its history. Longtime program caretaker David Campbell has retired. Taking his place is Juan Martinez.
Martinez is inheriting a program that accepted just 13 entries last year, a slightly below average season that was impacted by statewide low lake levels. Lake Fork, the stalwart of the program with 249 entries — 224 more than runners-up Alan Henry and O.H. Ivie — only produced two entries.
Lake Austin was the top producer with five, and now has 17 total entries.
Gary Wingate caught the biggest fish of the season, a 14.39-pounder from Falcon Reservoir. It was one of two ShareLunkers from that rapidly shrinking lake.
There are two other changes this year, both of which should benefit the fish.
The first is that the state is being broken up into regions for collecting the fish. Instead of almost all of the runs for ShareLunkers originating from the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, crews will be sent from the nearest state hatchery. That should reduce the amount of time a fish is held in a livewell or tank.
Secondly, the crews will carry a scanner that will be used to determine if the fish has been injected with an electronic tag, a sign that it is a previous entry. If the fish has, the crew will be able to check to see if the fish is a pure Florida or a cross between a Florida and native bass. The crosses aren't typically used in the breeding program, so those fish will be released immediately back into the lake.
TPWD changed its DNA testing criteria in 2009, so results are only available on fish entered since then. However, about half of the 213 entries recorded have been pure Florida bass.
While an unintended benefit of the program has been a promotion of Texas' bass fishing, it has also provided biologists research into big bass including aging data, DNA information along with handling and care of big bass. It has also been a source of brood fish for the department's hatcheries.
Taking bass from the wild to the hatchery is an inexact science, but the program has had 68 fish produce a total of 86 spawns.
“We keep about 50 (ShareLunker) offspring for spawning purpose each year, and every two to three years incorporate some into the Florida largemouth bass future broods,” Martinez explained. “The reason we add SL offspring every two to three years into the Florida largemouth bass future broods, is because we only produce brooders during those years.”
Fishermen who donate their bass to the program, including those catching a cross not used in the breeding program, will receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate, ShareLunker clothing and are recognized at a season-ending banquet. The fishermen with the season's largest bass will be named Angler of the Year, and will receive a lifetime Texas fishing license if they are a Texas resident.
The ShareLunker season ends April 30.
Fishermen catching a ShareLunker should call 903-681-0550.
The public can now get immediate notifications of ShareLunker catches on their cellphone through Twitter by texting “follow ShareLunker” to 40404. No Twitter account is required.
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