While there are several reasons to appreciate the fall festivities in the month of October, bass anglers have added excitement as it also marks the beginning of ShareLunker season.
Some readers may be asking what's a ShareLunker... others are asking how can I get one?
To wade through some of the common questions, WesternBass sat down with Larry Hodge of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. for some answers.
Hodge has been part of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TTFC) for 11 years. The TTFC is the "headquarters for the Toyota ShareLunker Program". The Program allows bass anglers to "donate" their 13-pound-plus largemouth catches for spawning.
The gasps can be heard across the pond... a 13 pounder??? Yes, the ShareLunker Program only accepts teeners in their largie spawning pool.
Now is when the questions really come flooding in...
How many are there? What are they caught on? When can I get one? Where will I get mine? Wait... are they all really 13 lbs or bigger?
· The mission of the Program is to conserve and enhance trophy bass in the state of Texas.
· The season operates annually from October 1 through April 30.
· The Program's has many "official weigh and holding stations" throughout the state. Anglers take their fish to an official station. The Program strives to keep a bass at a station no longer than 12 hours from catch time, prior to being transferred to their care facility.
· The TTFC opened their largemouth care facility called the "Lunker Bunker" in 1996.
· The fish are transported to the Lunker Bunker from the holding station in a transport tank on the Toyota ShareLunker Transport truck.
· When the TTFC collects a lunker it is first DNA tested. If it is found to be a pure 100 percent Florida largemouth it can enter the spawning program. Those that do not "pass" their DNA test are restocked in their capture lake.
· ShareLunkers are numbered and tracked. Info on each can be found in the ShareLunker archives.
Q&A WITH HODGE
WB: Have you noticed any change in the lunkers that have been collected over the 11 years you've been with the Program?
HODGE: The most notable thing is that the number of entries that we get every year fluctuates quite a bit. A long-term average is about 20 to 25 fish each season; but I have seen years with as low as nine entries and other years with as many as 33. A lot of it depends on the lake levels across the state. When the lakes are full, they've had good levels of reproduction and anglers have good access to all of the areas of water, there tends to be more entries. Weather has a lot to do with it too. If every weekend is cold and rainy, then people don't care to go fishing and we don't see as many entries in those years. The old saying is true... you can't catch fish unless you have the line in the water.
WB: What's the process to be approved for spawning?
HODGE: As soon as they are put into the Toyota ShareLunker Transport truck they are treated with a chemical that eliminates any foreign object. Then they are taken to the facility in Athens, where they are sedated and given what amounts to a "fishy physical". A small piece of tissue is taken from its fin for a DNA test, which is done in San Marcos. They are examined from stem to stern and are injected with passive, integrated transponder microchip that an electronic reader can see to identify that fish by its number. At this time, they are treated for any injuries or scratches and chance of any fungal infections. Then, the fish is put to bed in a 1500 gallon tank, that it has all to itself, where it will remain until we get its DNA test results back. If it's pure, we hold it here and try to spawn it in the spring.
WB: What happens after they've spawned?
HODGE: The fingerlings are reared to about an 1 1/2 inch long. They are shared out to all of the lakes that have contributed to the Program during the season, just past. It isn't just the fingerlings that were produced from fish from that lake, but any fish from the Program. We try to mix 'em up to keep the genetics' pot stirred. Each lake gets a share, whether it is a private or public lake. That is the reward for the angler that donates their fish, because they've contributed to putting fingerlings back into the lake that they like to fish.
WB: You only accept teeners into the program? A 12 1/2 lb bass would be an impressive fish, would it really be rejected?
HODGE: They must be 13 or bigger. They're all females, because only the female bass can reach that size. A really big male would only be about half that size. Also they must be Florida strain, because they are proven to grow much bigger than the native Texas bass.
WB: What's the biggest lunker entry that you've seen in your career?
HODGE: It was a little over 16 pounds. I've seen two or three of those and that is a big bass! The first time you see a 16 lb'r it makes you say WOW!
WB: Do you have any advice on where to catch a ShareLunker?
HODGE: The lakes in the western part of the state are suffering from lower water conditions. Some are at half capacity or even less. The eastern half of the state always gets more rain than the western half. I'm working on the fishing forecast for next year and the basic advice is fish east of interstate 35, which runs pretty much down the middle of the state. You can catch fish wherever you go, but the chances are simply going to be better, if you can fish the way you normally do, in the type of water that you normally fish, using the techniques and lures that you normally use. That is how you will have more success in the eastern part of the state. In the western part, the fish are still there, but they may go very deep in deep river channels and places like that where it is harder to get to em.
Stay tuned for this season's ShareLunker entries.
PHOTOS courtesy of TTFC
· Top Right - ShareLunker 557 caught from Toledo Bend on March 18, 2014 by Lance Wakeland of Fenton, Missouri. The fish weighed 13.3 pounds and was 24.5 inches long and 21 inches in girth.
· Top Left - ShareLunker 554 from Lake Palestine on February 1, 2014 caught by Casey Laughlin of Rowlett caught Toyota while fishing in a Media Bass tournament. The fish weighed 13.02 pounds.
· Bottom Right - ShareLunker 550 caught by Blake Eppinette of Downsville, Louisiana from Lake Fork December 27, 2013. It weighed 13.6 pounds. The fish suffered from severe barotrauma (overinflated swim bladder) and did not survive despite efforts to save it.
Left - (The very first) ShareLunker 1 caught by Mark
Stevenson of Dallas, TX on
November 26, 1986 in Lake Fork using a Stanley jig. It weighed 17.67 pounds, length 27.5 inches, girth 24 inches.
STATS (Reported by TTFC)
· Through 2011, the TTFC has had a 72 percent survival of the Lunkers. They also state that they have learned more and improved their care methods for the bass over the years; thereby increasing the survival rate to 87 percent from 2012 to present.
· In the past four years, 41 ShareLunkers have been paired and 15 have spawned.
· Ninety-Six percent of offspring were stocked into public water bodies during 2005 to 2011.