Words - Dan Oko || Photos - Dustin Doskocil
There’s no two ways about it, when it comes to largemouth bass, Texas is not just home to the whopper – it’s home to a whole mess of whoppers. Just ask the likes of Brittany Newman who on the first day of the new year of the third decade of the 21st century landed an 8.92-pound bass on Gilmer Reservoir not far from her home in Longview, east of Dallas-Fort Worth. Ten days later, on January 11, Christopher Caldwell caught a 12.4-pound mammoth on Lake Alan Henry, south of Lubbock.
Even the outbreak of coronavirus and social-distancing rules didn’t stop the big bassing action in the Lone Star state. On March 29, James Maupin of Cypress landed a 13.15-pound bass on O.H. Ivie Reservoir between Austin and Abilene. “It was something else getting that fish in the boat before she wrapped me up,” Maupin told the local paper. “It was the best day of fishing I’ve ever had in my life, for sure.
Though virtual strangers caught these fish over the course of three months on separate water bodies many miles apart, they each testify to the success of the Toyota Sponsored Sharelunker Program, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department initiative that encourages anglers to donate the biggest bass to the state for spawning purposes. Participants who do so receive assorted prizes, tackle, and recognition, as well as replica taxidermy of their fish, and a chance at a $5,000 shopping spree. Started in 1986, in recent years Sharelunker has expanded to offer different classes of recognition from 8-10 pound fish in the “Lunker” class, such as Newman’s catch, to bass topping 13 pounds in the “Lunker Legend” class.
Largemouth bass delivered to the state between January and March, and used for spawning, including Maupin’s monster, are part of the “Lunker Legacy” class. These bass are housed at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, a great destination for families and fishing fanatics, where the fish are next isolated in circular tanks. Once they have recovered from transport, they are placed in concrete raceways for breeding, the backbone of a stocking program focused on fast-growing Florida-strain largemouth that produces more than 3 million fingerlings annually.
“It takes a strong partnership between the anglers and the agency to help produce results like these,” says Sharelunker manager Kyle Brookshear of TPWD. “We are thankful to the anglers for loaning these world class size bass to our selective breeding program so that we can continue producing bigger, better bass.”
Above:Kyle Brookshear transporting the bass as part of the program
Four “Legacy” fish were donated to the state in 2020, with Maupin notching Sharelunker 585 and the program edging towards its 600th lunker donation. TPWD has even been able to identify the genetic offspring of several lunkers from previous breeding sessions. Entering the summer months, anglers can use a downloadable Sharelunker app to record and report their fish, adding to the biological database.
Judging from recent reports, river anglers also have a shot at big bass, as do kayakers. Several 2020 Sharelunker notables came from the Brazos River. So if catching a trophy largemouth is on your bucket list, make like the legendary Davy Crockett, hero of the Alamo. “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas,” he said.
Learn more about the Sharelunker Program